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STEP-UP Program Inspires Recent Graduate to Pursue Occupational Therapy Career

After spending the summer immersed in occupational therapy (OT), Andra Owusu ‘18 was inspired to pursue her dream of earning a master’s degree and joining the profession. Her passion was fueled by a program to increase diversity in OT and other health care fields.

Owusu, who majored in health science in the College of Education, Nursing and Health Professions, participated in the STEP-UP (Summer Training & Enrichment Program for Underrepresented Persons) program at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. STEP-UP prepares minority and first-generation college students to apply to graduate programs in occupational therapy. The program is also offered for nursing, physical therapy, and pre-med students.

After hearing about the STEP-UP program from Claudia Oakes, associate professor of health sciences, Owusu applied because of its mission to help minority students achieve their career goals. “Occupational therapy is an exciting and fast-growing field, but it lacks diversity,” she said.

“This experience gave me hope that one day the field will have a diverse workforce.”

During the four-week program, participants shadowed occupational therapists at hospitals and inpatient and acute care facilities. Owusu particularly enjoyed shadowing at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) due to her interest in pediatrics. They also attended classes with OT graduate students, met with admission counselors, and received help with résumé development and GRE preparation.

 Owusu appreciated the opportunity to speak with students who completed the STEP-UP program last year and were accepted to the Thomas Jefferson University OT program. “It was surprising to know that they were once like me,” she said. “They were able to encourage us and share their personal journeys toward this career path. Listening to their stories gave me the additional push I needed to continue despite any difficulties or setbacks I might experience.”

 Owusu is now applying to graduate programs and spent the rest of the summer shadowing occupational therapists and working as a certified nurse assistant. “Overall, this was an amazing experience and I would highly recommend it to any student who wants to pursue a career in these health fields,” she said.