College of Allied Health Sciences
Department of Occupational Therapy

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Occupational Therapy News


Students teach driving skills to teens with autism

A driving program developed by East Carolina University graduate students is steering some local teens with autism toward greater independence.

When five students in the Department of Occupational Therapy went looking for resources this spring to help teens with autism become more independent, they found precious few. So they took action and created a week-long "boot camp" to help teenagers with high-functioning autism learn to drive.

Their first class of teens completed the program this summer and their experience continues to deliver results.

Read more about their experience.

10 Year Accreditation Awarded!

The MS in Occupational Therapy program received a 10-year re-accreditation from AOTA’s Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE®) Spring 2015. This is the highest level of award given by ACOTE.

Dr. Denise Donica presents in New Delhi, India

Dr. Denise Donica presents in New Delhi, India

Dr. Donica presented at the All India Occupational Therapists’ Association conference OTICON’ 2015 as an international delegate about Handwriting Without Tears and her research with the curriculum. She is also beginning an international pilot research study exploring the use of the curriculum in schools in India.

Jane Patton

Dr. Jane Patton Presents for AOTA

Dr. Jane Patton, professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy presented the American Occupational Therapy Association's Fieldwork Certificate Course in Fayetteville, Arkansas last month. The course provides occupational therapists with enhanced skills and strategies in supervising occupational therapy students.

Lauren CochranECU OT Student Chosen for Megan Cornog Memorial Highway Safety Scholarship

ECU occupational therapy student Lauren Cochran has been named the winner of the 2014 Megan Cornog Memorial Highway Safety Scholarship by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center (HSRC). Cochran is a student at East Carolina University (ECU), where she is pursuing a master's degree in occupational therapy. At ECU, the Department of Occupational Therapy named Cochran a Clinical Scholar, one of four students in her class expected to perform at the highest academic levels and complete a thesis. Read more about Lauren Cochran and this prestigious honor here.

anne dickersonDr. Dickerson Selected as 2014 Fellow by GSA

The Gerontological Society of America (GSA) — the nation’s largest interdisciplinary organization devoted to the field of aging — has named 61 exemplary professionals as its newest fellows. Dr. Anne Dickerson, professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy has been chosen as one of those fellows in the Behavioral and Social Sciences section. The status of fellow — the highest class of membership within the Society — is an acknowledgment of outstanding and continuing work in gerontology. This recognition can come at varying points in an individual’s career and can acknowledge a broad scope of activity. This includes research, teaching, administration, public service, practice, and notable participation within the organization. Fellows are chosen from each of GSA’s four membership sections. The new fellows will be formally recognized during GSA’s 67th Annual Scientific Meeting, which will be held from November 5 to 9 in Washington, DC.

OT Announces Special Issue of Occupational Therapy in Health Care
We are delighted to announce a special issue of Occupational Therapy in Health Care based on the Gaps and Pathways Project for Medically-at-Risk Older Drivers. 

This issue is unique in that pulls together papers from occupational therapists with expertise in driver rehabilitation and community mobility as well as researchers in the fields of gerontology, medicine, and psychology. The papers in this issue are all a result of the Gaps and Pathways Project, a three year collaborative project through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). As the Project Director of the Gaps and Pathways Project, Elin Schold Davis, AOTA's Coordinator of the Older Driver Initiative, assisted in the editing of the papers, and introduces the series of manuscripts. Dr Anne Dickerson, as a project consultant and editor of the journal, worked with all of these authors on the expert panel, the resulting resources developed from the project, and all of these excellent papers that will provide occupational therapy practitioners with a rich source of information and guidance in promoting and facilitating their clients participation in the community whether driving, using public transportation, walking, or support of their family or community.

Please visit the website of the journal (, including free open access to two of the papers for the next month (listed below). 

Driver Rehabilitation Programs: Defining Program Models, Services, and Expertise 

Decision Tool for Clients with Medical Issues: A Framework for Identifying Driving Risk and Potential to Return to Driving 
Debbie AminiAmini Receives Highest Honor from National American Occupational Therapy Association

Debbie Amini, EdD, OTR/L, CHT, FAOTA from the Department of Occupational Therapy received the Roster of Fellows from the National American Occupational Therapy Association. This award is one of the highest awards given by the Association and she joins an elite group of therapists who are recognized for their contributions to the Association. Dr. Amini was also awarded a 2014 AOTA Service Commendation for her work as Chairperson of the AOTA Commission on Practice from 2011-2014 and as a member of the Representative Assembly from 2011-2014.

Sarah JaramilloOT Student Receives Creed Award
Sarah Jaramillo, a student in the Department of Occupational Therapy, was one of 9 students, faculty and staff that were honored last week at the ECU Creed Recognition ceremony. Jaramillo was nominated by fellow student Nicole Biggs. Sarah was recognized as a student who demonstrates “purposeful citizenship by serving as positive role model as an East Carolinian” by the Office of the Dean of Students and the Student Conduct Board. Congratulations Sarah!

Dr. Mary Hildebrand

Dr. Hildebrand Presents at Conference

Dr. Mary Hildebrand from the Department of Occupational Therapy was invited to present at the AOTA Specialty Conference-Adults with Stroke in Las Vegas, NV, December 6-7. The topic of her presentation was "Psychological and Emotional Impairments after Stroke". 

The Department of Occupational Therapy Focuses on Driver Rehabilitation and Safety

Faculty at the Department of Occupational Therapy at East Carolina University are doing their part in providing older drivers with the rehabilitation evaluation they need to retain their independence while keeping them safe on the road.

In her blog post "Research shows that we tend to drive better as we age…. up to a certain point", occupational therapy professor Anne Dickerson wrote, "Through the department's research for the older driver initiative (ROADI), professors and students are focusing on the most effective and efficient methods of driving evaluation and intervention. The program includes state of the art evaluation tools such as an interactive driving simulator that can challenge any type of driver in the safety of the clinic, a "vision coach" that evaluates visual field and processing speed, as well other tools to measure an individual's cognitive, physical, sensory, and perceptual skills.


"Driving evaluations by occupational therapists are necessary for individuals living with medical conditions that may affect the skills required for driving," said Dickerson, "Driving school instructors are trained to address and focus on the rules of the road and the safe control of the vehicle, but not the medical condition faced by the senior driver. Select an occupational therapy practitioner who is trained and/or certified as a driving rehabilitation specialist [CDRS, or SCDCM] if the driver is concerned with the effect of his or her medical condition on driving safety."

Dr. Jennifer Radloff joined the occupational therapy department staff in early 2013 and has contributed greatly to the department with her certified driving rehabilitation specialist certification. During a learning lab in October, her students learned about an occupational therapist's role in assessing community mobility as an aspect of Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs) as well as the role of the OT specialist in driving rehabilitation. Students worked in experiential labs with an adapted van and drove with either handle controls or a left foot accelerator thanks to Driving Rehabilitation Services.OT students use adapted van

Other sites of interest regarding older driver safety are:

Read Dr. Dickerson's post from Feb. 2013 ="">here

View a video interview with Dr. Dickerson on the College of Allied Health Science's instagram page here


Mary Hildebrand

Hildebrand awarded for teaching practice

Dr. Mary Hildebrand was honored with the "Award for Outstanding Practice in the Area of Teaching" at the 2013 North Carolina Occupational Therapy Association annual fall conference in October. Congratulations Dr. Hildebrand!


Occupational Therapy students on segways

OT Students Learn First Hand About Various Mobility Options

Second year Occupational Therapy students participated in a hands-on lesson about community mobility last week, riding Segways in front of the College of Allied Health Sciences building and driving adapted vans. During the session, Dr. Jennifer Radloff educated the group on a occupational therapist's role in assessing community mobility as an aspect of Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs) as well as the role of the OT specialist in driving rehabilitation. Students worked in the experiential lab with an adapted van and drove with either handle controls or a left foot accelerator thanks to Driving Rehabilitation Services. Through this lesson they learned about different types of options on a mobility van and using a Segway as an alternative transportation option. 

Dickerson, Donica & Hildebrand Present at Summit

Drs. Anne Dickerson, Denise Donica, and Mary Hildebrand spoke at the AOTA NBCOT 2013 Education Summit in Atlanta, GA this month. Dr. Dickerson and Dr. Donica presented, "Pedagogy for Enhancing Scholarship: A Framework for Successful Student-Faculty Research Endeavors (Parts 1 and 2). Dr. Hildebrand presented a poster entitled, "An Occupational and Physical Therapy Student Lab: First-Steps for an Interprofessional Education Collaboration in a College of Allied Health Sciences".

Trujilo & Amini
Trujilo & Amini Published

Congratulations to Dr. Leonard Trujillo and Dr. Debbie Amini for their publication entitled "Creating a custom fabricated neoprene orthosis for optimal positioning", featured in the Oct. 2013 issue of the Journal of Hand Therapy {V26, No.4 pages 365-368}.  

Anne 2010

Dr. Anne Dickerson, professor and Director of the Research for Older Adult Driver Initiative (ROADI), has contributed to expanding the knowledge of driving and occupational therapy this summer.

May 13, 2013 – Dr. Dickerson was plenary speaker at Wayne State University Institute of Gerontology Conference with a presentation: Driving with Dementia:  When to Give Up the Keys.

July 11 & 12, 2013 – Trinity University, Dublin Ireland invited Dr. Dickerson to present a two day workshop with Dr. Tadhg Stapleton:  Workshop for Occupational Therapists on Addressing Driving Issues in the Irish Context of Practice.  Since there was a wait list of 40+ therapists, Dr. Dickerson will be returning to Dublin to repeat the workshop in August.

July 29-30, 2013 – Dr. Dickerson was one of the key facilitators of the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies' mid year meeting of the Committee on Safe Mobility of Older Persons (ANB60).  The meeting's objective was to begin a process to build a taxonomy of terms focused on: How We Approach Evidence of Driving Impairments/Driving Competence:  Developing a Resource to Promote Shared Understanding Among Researchers, Clinicians, Policymakers, and Licensing Officials. Dr. Dickerson will be one of the content experts for this ongoing project.

August 18-20, 2013 – Dr. Dickerson will participate in sessions meeting at the Annual Conference for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists including:  The Pathways Project:  Update and Plans for the Future, Pathways and Champions:  Strategies for Empowering Driver Rehabilitation Specialists, and Creating Poster Presentations:  Driver Rehabilitation Specialists Can Be Stars.


Debbie Amini, EdD, OTR/L, CHT, assistant professor, is in the news again!  She was quoted in an article in the Aug/Sept. issue of Living with Arthritis

From the article:  Setting up, grilling, time on your feet—it's enough to make you shy away from hosting a cookout altogether. But it doesn't have to be so exhausting! We asked certified hand therapist Debbie Amini, EdD, OTR/L,CHT, from the department of occupational therapy at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC, for tips to help your party go smoothly. Here's how to sidestep joint pain and fatigue while enjoying everything a barbecue has to offer—food, friends and fun!

Read the full article HERE.

Hildebrand in Africa June 2013a

While visiting Johannesburg, South Africa, Dr. Mary Hildebrand spent June 18-21, 2013 observing occupational therapy in a neuro-rehabilitation inpatient unit and outpatient clinic.

Hosting Dr. Hildebrand were South African occupational therapists and co-owners of RehabMatters-Occupational Therapy Service, Haley Norval and Sacha Hildebrandt. Other excellent OT practitioners observed at the clinic and hospital were Tarren and Natalie (Robyn and Justine not pictured.)



Dr. Debbie Amini, assistant professor, was quoted in an story titled, "Graduations can be a real handful" in June 19, 2013 edition of the LA Times. 

From the story: 

At graduations, the sheer number of handshakes completed by one person in a relatively short amount of time could result in ligament damage and soft tissue trauma, said Debbie Amini, an occupational therapist and assistant professor at East Carolina University.

"Especially if you have some overzealous graduates," she said. "All it takes is somebody who is really excited to squeeze and shake too hard."

Read the entire story here:

The OT faculty attended the 93rd annual American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) conference and expo in San Diego, April 25-28, 2013.

Dr. Denise Donica received a Recognition of Achievement award for her outstanding contributions in handwriting research and education.

Dr. Anne Dickerson, Dr. Debbie Amini and Dr. Denise Donica received 2013 AOTA Service Commendations, recognizing them for their contributions and service.

The faculty made the following presentations:

Debbie Amini EdD, OTR/L, CHT

  • (AOTA) Talk About Revision Update – The Occupational Therapy Practice Framework
  • (SIS) PDSIS Annual Program: Manual Ability Measure – A Client-Centered and Function Based Assessment in the Adult Rehabilitation Setting
  • Tools of the Trade: Educational Theory and Strategies for New Faculty

Anne Dickerson PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA

  • (AOTA) Older Driver Initiative Update: Evidence and Tools Clinic Ready
  • (AOTA) Talk About: Driving Simulation as a Critical Tool in Your Clinic
  • (AOTA) Reimbursable Triage to Address Driving and Community Mobility as an IADL in the Generalist Setting: AOTA/Genesis Rehab Champion's Model
  • Innovative Technology to Improve Functional Outcomes for Vascular Amputees: Case Study

Denise Donica DHS, OTR/L, BCP

  • Efficacy of a Multisensory Handwriting Curriculum with Kindergarten Students in a Half Day Program
  • Assessing the Validity of the Shore Handwriting Screening Among Pre-Kindergarten Students

Mary Hildebrand OTD, OTR/L

  • (SIS) WISIS Annual Program: Aging and Work – The Role of OT with Aging Workers
  • (AOTA) Evidence-based Literature Review on Occupational Therapy and Adults with Stroke

Carol Lust EdD, OTR/L

  • Effectiveness of Implementing the Alert Program Into a Kindergarten Classroom

Jane Painter, EdD, OTR/L, FAOTA

  • Effectiveness of Tai Chi on Fear of Falling and Health related Quality of Life for Community Dwelling Older Adults in a Continual Care Facility
  • Fear of Falling and its Relationship with Anxiety, Depression and Activity restriction Among Community-Dwelling Older Adults

Leonard Trujillo PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA

  • A collective review of completed research projects evaluating the effectiveness of the Interactive Metronome as an occupational therapy intervention
  • Fear of Falling and its Relationship with Anxiety, Depression and Activity restriction Among Community-Dwelling Older Adults

ECU Occupational Therapy was in the news!  Dr. Denise Donica recently spoke about "Handwriting Without Tears" at a 2-day workshop in Cary, NC.

OT student recipient of RCAW award


Erin Schofield,a second year graduate student in occupational therapy, was selected as the recipient of the 2013 ECU Research and Creative Achievement Week Graduate Education Poster Presentation award. Her entry was titled "Examining the use of the Shore Handwriting Screening to assess the handwriting skills of pre-kindergarteners." 

Schofield was also accepted to present her research in poster form at the national American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) conference that will be held at the end of this month in San Diego. She will be attending with her project mentor, Dr. Denise Donica.

Congratulations to them both!


Students inducted into Delta Beta chapter of Ph Theta Epsilon

Pi Theta Epsilon 02

The Delta Beta chapter of Pi Theta Epsilon, occupational therapy honors society, inducted its second class of members on Tuesday March 19th at 6:30 pm.

The 8 inductees were welcomed by the current charter members, family, friends, and faculty of the Occupational Therapy Department. The inductees were encouraged by the East Carolina University College of Allied Health Sciences Dean, Dr. Stephen Thomas, to consider different views of their role as occupational therapists and the impact they can make both today and in the future in the community that surrounds them.

The current Pi Theta Epsilon officers who conducted the induction ceremony include: Brittany Robertson, President; Monica Powell, Vice President; Alana Justice, Secretary; Erin Schofield, Treasurer; and Dr. Denise Donica, Faculty Advisor.

The new inductees include (from left to right and bottom to top) Madeline McCauley, Elizabeth Gibbs, Andrea Sparks, Lauren Armstrong, Elisabeth Sitton, Hannah Flaherty, Caitlin Davis, and Kathleen Brinkley (not pictured). The program concluded with some inspirational words from Dr. Leonard Trujillo, the chair of the Occupational Therapy Department.


Occupational Therapy News - 2012

The Class of 2012

Class of 2012


Occupational therapy students inducted into honor society

Pi Theta Epsilon 01
Front row, l to r, Chelsey McKeel, Stacia Pomeroy, Alana Justice, Brittany Robertson
Back row, l to r, Monica Powell, Caitlin Zawistowicz, Kelly Pippin, Erin Schofield, Farrell Wiggins, Keli McColl, Sarah Timmons, Dr. Denise Donica (faculty advisor)

Eleven students were inducted into the Pi Theta Epsilon honor society for occupational therapy students and alumni at a ceremony conducted on Monday, October 29 at the Health Sciences Building.

This induction marked the beginning of the very first chapter of PTE in North Carolina. There are currently over 80 active chapters nationwide.

Pi Theta Epsilon recognizes scholastic excellence of occupational therapy students, contributes to the advancement of the field of OT, and provides a vehicle for OT students to exchange information and collaborate regarding scholarly activities.

Dr. Denise Donica is the faculty advisor for the ECU chapter.

Donica appointed to state board

photo 073a

Dr. Denise Donica, assistant professor of occupational therapy at East Carolina University, has been appointed by Gov. Bev Perdue to a four-year term on the North Carolina Board of Occupational Therapy.

Donica is the first from ECU to serve on the seven-member board, which oversees regulations and licensing for all occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants in North Carolina. Her term ends Oct. 1, 2016.

Donica is a certified handwriting specialist and researcher in the efficacy of handwriting curriculums and student success. She also is faculty advisor of ECU's Delta Beta Chapter of Pi Theta Epsilon, the national honor society for occupational therapy students and alumni. The chapter is the only one in North Carolina and one of 80 active chapters in the United States.

Donica received a bachelor's degree in psychology/criminal justice, and a bachelor's degree in occupational therapy from Indiana University, and a master's and doctoral degree in occupational therapy from the University of Indianapolis.

Food Lion announces donation of $25,000 to endow the Freedom Scholarship in Occupational Therapy


The Freedom Scholarship was originally established by Nathan Black, a 2003 graduate of the occupational therapy program who passed away in 2011. It provides support to ECU OT students who are military members, veterans, spouses or children of a military member or veteran of the Armed Forces of the United States. It also includes students who are working with Wounded Warrior Battalion initiatives.


The Freedom Scholarship was originally established by Nathan Black, a 2003 graduate of the occupational therapy program who passed away in 2011. It provides support to ECU OT students who are military members, veterans, spouses or children of a military member or veteran of the Armed Forces of the United States. It also includes students who are working with Wounded Warrior Battalion initiatives.