Leadership message: Department of occupational therapy

By Sherrilene Classen, Ph.D., M.P.H., OTR/L

Based on a successful entry in a competitive national application and selection process, the department of occupational therapy was honored to host the 2024 Occupational Therapy Summit of Scholars this month at the University of Florida. This event is considered the premier occupational therapy research conference for occupational therapists and occupational scientists.

Ninety of the nation’s leading and up-and-coming (including 10 postdoctoral fellows and 20 Ph.D. students) occupational therapy scientists gathered on our campus to network, present cutting-edge research, receive feedback on their work, learn about funding opportunities, and engage with mentors and collaborators. Hosting the 2024 OT Summit of Scholars recognizes our leadership on a national stage as a top tier research department. 

Sherrilene Classen, Ph.D., M.P.H., OTR/L, FAOTA, FGSA
professor and chair of the UF department of occupational therapy

The summit’s theme was “Unleashing Creative Possibilities.” As such, this event provided participants with a place, space, time and opportunity to:

  • Tour three of the UF OT research labs, including the Mobility, Activity and Participation Lab, the Technology in Occupational Performance Lab and the Sensory Development Lab, as well as the SmartDriverTM driving rehabilitation clinic.
  • Engage with colleagues and interact with junior, mid-career and senior researchers during the opening reception at UF’s Harn Museum.  
  • Examine and explore advanced strategies, different methodologies and creative opportunities to further inform leading edge research via the eight rapid fire impact presentations.
  • Expand professional networks and refine ideas with colleagues and collaborators during the 27 poster presentations, 11 works in progress presentations and the 24 concurrent paper presentations    
  • Communicate directly and ask questions to representatives from national funding agencies and professional organizations, including the National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research, the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research, the American Occupational Therapy Foundation, the American Occupational Therapy Association and the National Board Certification for Occupational Therapy.
  • Be informed directly by the editors and editorial board members of our profession’s scientific journals, i.e., the Occupational Therapy Journal in Research and the American Journal of Occupational Therapy, on opportunities to publish research and disseminate scholarly work.  

The UF occupational therapy department is also leading the way in several scientific areas.

For example, during this summit:

  • Department faculty led three panels addressing strategic partnerships with government, small business and industry, and shared strategies and tips for securing funding, successfully effecting research, and building sustainable and reciprocal relationships.
  • UF OT directors and principal investigators Drs. Jessica Kramer, Hongwu Wang, Chiung-ju (CJ) Liu, Stefanie Bodison and Sherrilene Classen along with their Ph.D. students, presented the results of funded scientific projects in participation among individuals with developmental and learning disabilities; robots to enhance occupational performance; aging in place; the connection between brain and behavior in the pediatric population; and autonomous vehicle use and community mobility. 

Over the last seven years, we have committedly worked toward reaching the UF OT department’s vision: “By 2025 UF OT will be a vibrant nationally recognized pre-eminent research and educational entity in the USA.” During the 2024 OT Summit of Scholars we celebrated being at the zenith of this vision. Likewise, we are consistently contributing to the PHHP vision: “To excel in developing and delivering innovative, sustainable solutions to pressing health-related challenges for the greater good of individuals and communities in Florida, the nation and the world.”

Our research has an impact on students, clients, organizations and communities as we develop, share, lead and teach innovative solutions for: individuals with developmental and learning disabilities to participate fully in society; using robots to support independence in everyday functions of people with disabilities; aging in place of older adults;  enhancing activities among the pediatric population through better understanding the brain-behavior interplay; and enabling clients to pursue autonomous community mobility options or stay on the road safer and longer.  We are proud to be ranked fifth among the public OT departments in the U.S., and we are committed to continuing to excel in our research, education and service mission!

Dr. Sherrilene Classen is a professor and chair at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions’ department of occupational therapy.