OTA: Alumni Perspectives

Cheryl Deal, 1999

Cheryl Deal, 1999

Life-changing and most appreciated are the words to best describe my occupational therapy learning opportunity at Penn State Mont Alto! I discovered OT as working as a behavioral health nursing assistant (a much needed 2nd job to supplement my full-time employment in human services while a single parent). I observed the creative and empowering treatment approach offered by OT, and fell in love.  I knew that a degree in occupational therapy was a good fit for my existing skills that I held as working with persons with mental health disorders.  While in OTA program, I gained valued friendships and built a sense of pride for my skills.  Most importantly, I was creating a new life for myself and my son to become a positive role model. I wanted a career that would offer not only financial stability but also to add meaning to the lives of others. I wanted to work in a behavioral health setting and was placed for fieldwork placement to support my personal goals.   I was able to participate in a fieldwork at an inpatient psych setting with immediate job offer upon graduation.  Now fast forward 17 years – I have had so many career opportunities as a COTA to work in diverse clinical settings and utilize my therapeutic use of self and creativity!  I have also had personal development and have chosen a non-traditional route for offer my OT training to continue my education to achieve Master’s degree in psychology and hold certifications in complementary modalities for Reflexology and Reiki Healing.  I feel blessed to work within a setting treating brain injury populations to offer holistic rehabilitation approach for mind-body-spirit healing.  I feel I can truly apply my learning from PSU OTA program and utilize my skills for supporting persons with behavioral health needs and cognitive disorders.  My Master’s Degree offered a blessing to be welcomed “home” as an adjunct Instructor at Penn State.  The gift of a degree in OT has offered me amazing opportunities beyond my dreams!  My belief has always been to keep learning and growing.  Your degree and knowledge will take you far!

Haylee Deitrich, 2015

Haylee Deitrich, 2015

Since officially graduating in December of 2015 I have been working full time with the Lincoln Intermediate Unit #12 doing school based therapy. This school year I have been working in 2 different school districts and 7 different schools with students ranging from 5 to 16 years old. I was lucky enough to complete my second clinical rotation through the LIU and accepted the job one month after graduation. I knew I loved occupational therapy when I decided in high school it was going to be my career, and I knew even stronger than my love for occupational therapy was my passion for the elderly. I had my heart set on working in a skilled nursing facility after graduation. I completed my first clinical rotation in this setting and loved every minute of it. After graduating in December I was presented with an opportunity to work in a school based setting. Since then I have found my passion isn't for a particular age group, my passion is to help people and make a difference in their lives. One reason, out of many, that occupational therapy is so special is because it does not limit you. There are so many different options and ways to make a difference in someone's life. In addition to my full time job, I also have a PRN job in
a skilled nursing facility. I am blessed to have "the best of both worlds" and that I am able to do what I love daily, by making a difference in the lives of people of all ages. I am so thankful for the Penn State Mont Alto Occupational Therapy Assistant Program and to have been given the tools and knowledge necessary to be a successful certified occupational therapy assistant.

Jillian Elliot, 2006

Jillian Elliot, 2006

After completing this program and starting a career as an occupational therapist, I was surprised of the affect my education at Penn State Mont Alto had on my attitude and success in the field. The OTA program at Mont Alto was a great learning experience that thoroughly prepared me for my career in occupational therapy. Penn State Mont Alto was a great choice for my studies because it is a small community close to home with wonderful educators who have helped me reach my goal in life, which is to make a difference in other people’s lives. I am so thankful for my experiences at Penn State Mont Alto and encourage all to take part of this amazing program.

Emily Harver, 2015

Emily Harver, 2015

Penn State Mont Alto’s Occupational Therapy Assistant program allowed me to not only grow professionally but personally, in ways I never imagined. After graduation, I got a job in a skilled nursing facility. I was able to apply the skills and knowledge that I learned from the program right away. The professors help you to thoroughly understand the concepts you’re learning about and strive to help you succeed. The encourage you to embrace your strengths and work with you to be confident in occupational therapy. I am proud to call myself a graduate of the Penn State Mont Alto 2015 Cohort!

Cheryl Hayduk, 1994

Cheryl Hayduk, 1994

As a 1994 graduate of the Penn State Mont Alto Occupational Therapy Assistant program, I have been blessed to enjoy a long career as a COTA. When I entered the program as a non-traditional student with two young sons, I had no idea the path my education would take me! My primary focus has been in school-based therapy. I have made lifelong connections and been afforded the opportunity to be involved with the growth and development of a countless number of children. Whether it is experiencing the first time a toddler makes eye contact with you as you work on functional communication skills or running into a parent in the community 15 years later and she beams when she tells you that you were the one who taught her six year old how to tie his shoes and he is now in college, you will reap so many rewards from a career as a COTA! My avocational passion is travel! As an independent contractor, I have tremendous flexibility and autonomy in my work that allows me to pursue my travels and maintain the all-important balance of work, play and leisure. The possibilities are endless for you as a COTA! Enjoy the journey!

Christopher Hepfer, 2009

Christopher Hepfer, 2009

I graduated with an Associate Degree in Occupational Therapy from Penn State Mont Alto in 2009. The faculty members who taught the curriculum were excellent. They taught me not only the basics of the field but also gave me the professional skills needed to land an occupational therapy assistant job several weeks before I graduated. I work in the hospital setting helping individuals of all ages regain functional independence following strokes, orthopedic surgeries, or other acute occurrences. I enjoy my work on a daily basis and am proud to be a Penn State alumnus.

Elizabeth Martin, 2014

Elizabeth Martin, 2014

It is hard to put into words what my journey with occupational therapy has meant to me, but if I had to pick a few it would be adventure, laughter, creativity, and flexibility. Frustrated with college because I wasn’t passionate about the degree path I had started, I started researching alternative degrees and ended up finding Penn State Mont Alto’s occupational therapy assistant program. It quickly became apparent to me that OT was not just a career, but a lifestyle. I loved the hands-on classes and I learned how to balance school, work, rest, and leisure. Some of my favorite opportunities have been to work in a psychiatric hospital in Washington State; spending a year taking “travel therapy” assignments in Las Vegas, California, and Philadelphia; and currently, providing school-based OT for K-12th grades with a private pediatric therapy company. Every day challenges me to think outside the box and be flexible, whether it’s coming up with new activities, dealing with behaviors, or collaborating with a team to find solutions. I am so thankful to be an occupational therapy practitioner and for Penn State Mont Alto’s role in equipping me to do a job that brings me such joy!

Laurie Myers, 2013

Laurie Myers, 2013

It was a bit scary returning to college in my thirties, but deciding to enter Penn State Mont Alto’s Occupational Therapy Assistant Program was one of the best decisions I ever made. The instructors are professional, knowledgeable, and caring. They want you to succeed as a student and, ultimately, as a COTA working in the field. The curriculum is extensive so that graduates will be well-prepared to enter the field of occupational therapy in any setting. My cohort felt more like a family, with everyone working together and supporting each other along the way -- a truly wonderful experience! Shortly after graduation, I accepted a COTA position in a skilled nursing  rehabilitation setting. I work with clients providing OT interventions following joint replacements/injuries, strokes, cardiac issues, surgeries, and illnesses; as well as clients requiring OT for pulmonary, diabetic, and wound care. I am so blessed that, through Occupational Therapy, I am able to make a difference in the lives of my clients every day. I am proud to be a graduate of Penn State Mont Alto’s Occupational Therapy Assistant Program!

Meredith Payne, 2012

Meredith Payne, 2012

Over the course of a year, I worked at two outpatient hand clinics, one assisted living facility, and three skilled nursing facilities to gain experience and become adaptable and flexible in a variety of settings with many different therapists and patients. This prepared me for something very unique that my heart was set on. Currently, I am on my first assignment as a 'travel therapist' at the location of my choice, California. Basically, a travel therapist provides temporary help for a facility that needs short-term coverage. Not only do I have the opportunity to use my skill set and grow from learning in new environments, I am also getting to do something I love—travel. Occupational therapy offers so many different opportunities. Every therapist is bound to find an aspect of OT that fits them where they can thrive!

Erin Potteiger, 2014

Erin Potteiger, 2014

I absolutely loved my experience at Penn State Mont Alto and am thankful for each of my professors who helped shape the COTA I am today.  After graduating and passing the NBCOT exam, I found a PRN position in a skilled nursing facility where I was able to grow and gain skills within that setting.  Along with working PRN, I found a position as an activities assistant with one of my former fieldwork supervisors and worked there until I found a full-time COTA position.  I am currently employed at an outpatient pediatric facility, which has been an amazing learning experience.  I love my job and it has been so rewarding to see the improvements and progress of each client.  I really feel that I am making a difference in the lives of these children and I enjoy helping each child acquire the skills they need to be a successful adult someday as well as appropriately function in their day-to-day life; whether that be getting ready for school, a job, or just playing.  Each of the courses I took in the program along with fieldwork placement helped prepare me for the NBCOT exam and my career.  I have completed several continuing education courses since graduating which has continued to help me gain knowledge and skills for my position.  Occupational therapy is a wonderful career choice and has so many different avenues and branches to choose from and I highly recommend the program at Penn State Mont Alto.

Jenna Rockwell. 2016

Jenna Rockwell. 2016

Meaningful. That’s one word that describes occupational therapy and the academic program at Penn State Mont Alto. Upon entering, I knew that a degree in occupational therapy is what I would achieve however I received much more than that. I built valued friendships with my cohort, professors, and fieldwork supervisors. Also, a new sense of meaning and purpose have brightened my life. Through my fieldwork placements I was able to experience Fulton County Medical Center and Greencastle Antrim School District. Penn State Mont Alto provides an enriching and rewarding atmosphere as the OT department is blessed with a two story house to foster learning. The education received will prepare you for the responsibilities and duties of the work force as every professor puts forth their best efforts in teaching the fundamentals of occupational therapy across the lifespan and practice settings. This has led me to accept a full time COTA position at Frederick Memorial Hospital in Maryland. Throughout my journey in becoming a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant, I have truly found my niche and I strongly believe you will as well.

Ben Shank, 2010

Ben Shank, 2010

My experience at Mont Alto started out differently then most OTA students, because I transferred to Penn State from Hagerstown Community College. It was the best decision that I have ever made. From the very beginning of my OTA classes at Mont Alto, I felt accepted into a program that I knew nothing about—just like the rest of my class. I was one of two males in a class full of females so that was different from what I was used to in a regular classroom. I learned so much from the very beginning and was not afraid to speak out and ask questions when I didn't know something or couldn't find an answer. The best advice I can give to others is don't be afraid to ask questions because the instructors know what they are teaching and are willing to help you figure out an answer.The experience at Mont Alto allowed me to explore a wide variety of locations through fieldwork which led me to the career that I have now as a COTA at City Hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va., working in acute care in an inpatient setting as well as outpatient rehabilitation where I work with client's with upper extremity injuries. So don't be afraid to follow your dreams and let Penn State Mont Alto be the place where they start.

Carol Shaffer, 2008

Carol Shaffer, 2008

As an older student, Penn State Mont Alto was an energy boost—mentally, physically and spiritually. I remember thinking, "Am I making the right decision in going to college this late in my life?"  The OTA program at Penn State Mont Alto first taught me how to re-engage in a new life before learning how to engage others with disabilities. The faculty were knowledgeable, excellent with direct communication, and creative while also demonstrating lots of patience. Climbing the hills of Mont Alto is a journey and one that I will never forget.

Melanie Wheeler, OTA 1998, OT 2004

Melanie Wheeler, OTA 1998, OT 2004

Penn State Mont Alto’s OTA program provided me with a strong scholastic, clinical, and interpersonal foundation to launch a fulfilling and lasting career in occupational therapy.  In fact, I was so satisfied with my student experience in the OTA program that I returned to Mont Alto three years after graduation to complete the weekend OTA to Bachelor’s in OT bridge program that was offered at the time. I have been happily employed as a full-time school-based practitioner for 19 years at one of my original OTA fieldwork sites, Lincoln Intermediate Unit 12, serving both school-age, and pre-school age children and families in multiple Adams and York county school districts as well as the LIU 12 specialized pre-school program. Because of the inspiring educators at PSU Mont Alto and their early encouragement to embed the meaningful occupations of lifelong learning and professional development into my OT practice, I completed a Master’s Degree in Exercise Science in 2008 and received a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy (OTD) in 2013. Since receiving my OTD, I have published an article related to my capstone project in Advance for OT, guest lectured at various local colleges, presented on numerous topics related to contemporary school-based practice at both AOTA and POTA conferences, and currently serve as an accreditation evaluator for ACOTE. Needless to say, none of these accomplishments would have been achieved without the OTA program igniting my passion for OT and learning. I am forever grateful for PSU Mont Alto and the positive impact the OTA program has had on my life, both personally and professionally.

Ashley Alexander, 2017

Ashley Alexander, 2017

The crazy thing is I would’ve never saw myself in the healthcare field ten years ago.  Ten years ago I was graduating with a bachelors degree in elementary education.  Years later, I was introduced to occupational therapy while I was working at Franklin County Head Start and like many people I thought to myself “ what is occupational therapy?”  Upon further 
research,  I discovered the Penn State Mont Alto occupational therapy assistant program.

Family is the best word I can use to describe the occupational therapy assistant program at Penn State Mont Alto.  At the beginning of the program, we all started out as strangers, however by the end of our journey we became a close knit family and support system.  The connections I made, in this program, with the professors and my peers helped me in my professional career and with my future.  Mont Alto offers an eclectic and diverse way of teaching to help all students learn and be successful.  The professors ingrained and helped, us students, develop key principles that we use everyday in the 
field.   The education and support system I received, at Mont Alto, helped me to be successful in my field placements in a skilled nursing facility and  pediatric outpatient facility.

Prior to my field placements,  I saw myself working in the pediatrics area however after my field placement I found a new love working with the geriatric population.  After graduation, I soon found myself working full-time in a skilled nursing facility and working PRN at another skilled nursing facility doing what I love!  I’m forever grateful for the years I spent learning at Mont Alto and I’m proud to call myself a Penn State alumna of 2017!