Third time’s a charm

Shechtman wins third PHHP Teacher of the Year award

By Brittany Valencic
Shechtman and grads2
Dr. Orit Shechtman with Emily Maltby, Emily Szafranski and Zari Whittaker, 2015 graduates of the college’s bachelor’s in health science, pre-OT track.

Amid an office brimming with books on the human body, there is a wall filled with shiny plaques honoring her achievements. Now, Orit Shechtman, Ph.D., OTR/L, an associate professor in the department of occupational therapy, can add another plaque to her collection.

Shechtman has been named the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions’ Teacher of the Year, an honor that was awarded to Shechtman after the students in her classes worked together to nominate her.

“It feels great because I was nominated by my students,” said Shechtman, whose previous teaching awards include the college’s Teacher of the Year in 2006 and Teacher of the Year at both the college and university levels in 1998. “It feels really good, especially when I saw the letter and it’s not just one student, but the whole class. It is just a wonderful feeling.”

Shechtman teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in the Master of Occupational Therapy program and the Rehabilitation Science doctoral program, as well as in the Bachelor of Health Science program. Her award for undergraduate teaching is especially notable since the classes she teaches at the undergraduate level — anatomy, neuroscience and pathophysiology — are the BHS program’s most demanding.

“I have a lot of enthusiasm for the subject and I love teaching about the human body and how it works,” said Shechtman, who sometimes will spend hours making an animation, such as flowcharts of basal ganglia functions, for one of her lectures. “I really try to make it real; I give lots of real world examples, and I attempt to make it interesting as I explain what happens in the body.”

She focuses on trying to make learning for her students active, requiring them to think, rather than just listen. This helps them understand the material instead of just memorizing it, which is also important, she said. But her active learning doesn’t only apply to her students.

“The reason I don’t get bored teaching the same courses over and over again is because I try to continually reinvent myself as a teacher,” she said. “There is so much new information out there and I am always trying to keep current and keep my own brain going.”

Shechtman’s drive also carries over to her research, where she focuses on grip strength and sincerity of effort, musculoskeletal disorders and wheelchair ergonomics, along with the assessment of driving on driving simulators. The common thread between all of these topics is her focus on assessments.

Shechtman’s work with sincerity of effort looks at grip strength tests to determine a person’s level of disability. This concentration is where she thinks she has had the most influence, she said.

“In order to do almost any research, you have to be able to have good assessments,” she said. “It’s extremely important even though it may not seem like glamorous research and doesn’t get a lot of publicity, it’s really at the base of making things valid.”

Assessment is also the precursor to intervention, she said. And her research on grip strength is making a difference.

“I know in courts, lawyers are using this research to advocate for their clients,” said Shechtman, whose research has helped serve individuals in worker’s compensation and disability compensation cases. “It’s just wonderful … I think that this research has made significant impact in the clinic and beyond.”

Although Shechtman is proud of her research, she believes her teaching is even more impactful, which is why she loves teaching so much, she said.

“Touching the lives of students and preparing them for their careers is very fulfilling,” Shechtman said. “It touches my heart and makes it all worth it.”

Not only is her work in the classroom the accomplishment she is most proud of, but helping her students is the most rewarding.

“Truly, the most satisfying thing is having a student who starts out really struggling … and then seeing their eyes light up when they get it, followed by earning a good grade,” she said. “It’s very satisfying when I know I helped somebody along.”

Shechtman’s lessons go further than the classroom. She tries to show students the importance of life long learning and loving what you do, she said.

“Just do what you are passionate about,” she said. “If you can make your work fun, you have really made it, because then it’s not work anymore.”