Date of Paper/Work


Type of Paper/Work

Doctoral Project

Degree Name

Doctor of Occupational Therapy


Occupational Science/Occupational Therapy

First Advisor

Julie Bass

Second Advisor

Kathleen Matuska


Doctor of Occupational Therapy


In school communities, addressing student mental health and establishing safe, supportive relationships have become part of our everyday work. National statistics currently report one in five children in the United States struggles with a mental disorder (One in Five Minds, 2020). Students are presenting with increasingly complex psychiatric, behavioral, and trauma experiences that impact their ability to access education and navigate the tasks of adolescence-with life-long health results. This doctoral project has explored youth mental health prevention and promotion interventions for the occupational therapy practitioner and contributing factors such as youth marginalization, social inequity, and youth health literacy deficits.

Throughout my career, I have worked in diverse settings, serving in different roles. Each experience has taught me skills and built upon core professional values to shape my practice. I have worked collaboratively with patients, parents, and peers to create programs that expanded the role of occupational therapy in a given community and have been privileged to work with individuals who have experienced significant loss or trauma. Their stories have inspired me to develop professional competencies to create safe, supportive environments that teach skills and allow healing. Through facilitating successful occupation and engagement in community, I have helped individuals define and create their next chapter of meaningful living.

My three knowledge translation projects apply the occupational therapy lens to maximize effectiveness and student engagement in implementation of mental health promotion programs in a school serving adolescents with special needs. The project aims are to improve mental health literacy of adolescent students with special needs by offering a pilot curriculum within the science class of a special education setting, to increase awareness of occupational therapy contributions to a school-based mental health program for adolescents with special needs through a professional presentation at an interdisciplinary national conference, and to introduce entry-level occupational therapy graduate students to the process and outcomes of a pilot mental health literacy curriculum for adolescents in a special education setting through completion of an educational module.

The projects, themselves, and their outcomes have been significantly impacted by societal changes of the COVID-19 pandemic. The mental health literacy pilot, begun in a middle school classroom, was converted and successfully delivered through virtual learning. Despite changes, both students and staff consistently reported positive increases in knowledge of mental health with effective strategies for coping in everyday life. The interdisciplinary conference proposal is currently stalled as we await the conversion of the conference to a virtual format. The presentation for occupational therapy graduate students was successfully developed for virtual delivery. The questions and dialogue with the students were insightful and hopeful about the future of occupational therapy in addressing mental health needs in school-based practice.

In reflection, I can identify two aspects of achievement in these doctoral projects. In the first, my clinical expertise has been honed into an innovative, successful intervention approach for youth-supported by science and implemented with creativity and flexibility. The second is the understanding that completion of an advanced practice degree comes with a responsibility to share one’s narrative, from both a scholarly and a clinical perspective, to guide and encourage others in their practice. If the work resonates, they carry it forward in multiple directions similar to a pebble that creates ripples in a pond.