Three Tufts Occupational Therapy students work with a child.

From Tufts to Therapeutics

The Department of Occupational Therapy benefits from interdisciplinary sharing and accessible spaces in the new Collaborative Learning and Innovation Center.

by Alexandra Erath, A16

A five-minute walk from Tufts’ Medford /Somerville campus lies the newly opened Collaborative Learning & Innovation Complex (CLIC) at 574 Boston Avenue. A former industrial warehouse, the 95,000 square foot building boasts a gardened courtyard, soaring ceilings, and a sun-drenched top floor, and has quickly gained a reputation for being one of the most inviting spaces on campus, with students of all majors flocking to its many meeting spaces.

CLIC houses the Departments of Physics and Astronomy, Community Health (CH), Entrepreneurial Leadership Studies, Human Factors Engineering, and Occupational Therapy as well as the Controls, Robotics, Identification, and Signal Processing Laboratory (CRISP)—all departments with the potential for a high level of collaboration.

The Department of Occupational Therapy (OT), which offers a variety of graduate degree and certificate programs, has particularly benefited from its new facilities. Previously located at 26 Winthrop Street, the OT faculty and students are enthusiastic about the new location.

“The building is great for OT,” says Keren Ladin, an assistant professor in both the occupational therapy and community health departments. “Having the research labs in the same building, and neighbors such as the community health, engineering, and faculty and researchers from child development departments are already leading to synergies in terms of innovative research, course development, and cross-pollination of ideas.” 

“The entire building is being used for teaching and research purposes,” says Gary Bedell, associate professor and chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy. Bedell says the increased physical space has created all sorts of new opportunities for the department.  “You’ll find our students in and of the classrooms testing out wheelchairs and assistive technology and equipment that they’ve designed —as well as studying in groups in the small meeting and huddle rooms,” he adds.

 

Occupational Therapy Programs

 

Tufts Graduate Programs in Occupational Therapy emphasize rigorous scholarship and empirical research driven by a spirit of inquiry and teaching, the desire to understand processes and outcomes of daily occupation and participation, and the development and assessment of practical applications.

 

CLIC is well equipped to meet the unique needs of the OT program. The building now includes a practice kitchen and bathroom for simulated therapeutic activities, an interactive space for actual and mock patient interviews and evaluations. In addition, the new space is wheelchair accessible, a key factor in the OT department’s ability to host events for the community at large. 

The department’s move also means increased visibility on campus. Samantha Cooper, G16, says OT had less of presence in their previous off-campus location. “Now that we have moved to the new building and share a space with other disciplines, the hope is to establish greater recognition.” 

Improved collaboration was one of the goals of constructing facilities to host these departments. The OT students unanimously cite their new proximity to other departments as one of the benefits of their move to 574 Boston Avenue. “The shared student study spaces were designed to promote collaboration,” Cooper explains.  “Flyers posted around the building disseminate a great deal of information about the happenings and accomplishments of members of other disciplines, as well as scientific posters and events.”

As a member of both the occupational therapy and the community health departments, Ladin fosters collaboration, multidisciplinary teaching and research between the departments. “It is already paying off,” says Ladin. “We have CH mentors for OT student research projects now, and CH undergrads working in my lab and with OT faculty on research.” Ladin developed a health research breakfast seminar with her colleague, Professor Linda Tickle-Degnen that is regularly attended by OT and CH faculty, as well as other departments and visitors from outside Tufts. 

Michele Jacquin and Taylor Rose demonstrate a sensory board that includes a doorknob, lock, latch, zipper, and buttons.

Michele Jacquin and Taylor Rose, M.S. candidates in Occupational Therapy, demonstrate a sensory board they created for the Perkins School for the Blind. (Alonso Nichols, Tufts University)

Interdisciplinary collaboration follows naturally from some courses. Taylor Rose, G16, is enrolled in an occupational therapy assistive technology course, which is cross-listed with human factors engineering. “It’s been really cool to see a different perspective on the same problem,” she says. “We’re working in interdisciplinary groups to complete final projects where we build actual pieces of assistive technology and help problem solve for people in the community.” Rose’s group is focused on creating a sensory room for one of the classes at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown.  “We’re creating a mobile with ribbons and lights that Perkins’ students can sit under, and a sensory board with different objects they can touch and play with,” explains Rose. “Our goal is to engage all the senses of the students, keep them engaged, and hopefully help with their functioning along the way.” The shift towards collaboration has been a welcome one, she adds. “I hope that there’ll be more overlap in classes, because I’ve really enjoyed it.”

OT also has access to the human factors engineering fabrication lab that we have stocked with plastic, metal, and synthetic materials that students can use to create these projects. “The goal is to continue to create a space of shared interdisciplinary educational and research initiatives to fabricate and test assistive technology and equipment,” says Bedell.

Bedell believes that the new facilities will have an enormously positive effect on the future of Occupational Therapy at Tufts.  “The new building can be used as a brainstorming hub that facilitates innovative work and combines the expertise of multiple stakeholders across departments, campuses, and the community,” he says.  “We are excited to be a part of this important work that will have an impact on the quality of people’s everyday lives.”