Alex Lopez graduated with his B.S. in Occupational Therapy from Kean University in 1997, and then went on to pursue his J.D. from New England Law University in 2004. In 2006, Alex went back to his occupational therapy roots, in which he became an associate professor of occupational therapy at Touro College. Alex founded and is the executive director of PAR FORE (Perseverance, Accountability, Resiliency, Fellowship, Opportunity, Respect and Empowerment), a nonprofit 501 (c) (3) organization dedicated to serving at-risk youth. The occupation-based mentorship program helps to foster positive personal, social and physical growth and development through the game of golf and community activities. The program aims to prevent gang membership and promotes healthy engagement in occupation at the personal and community level. Currently, there are three chapters of PAR FORE- New York, Utah and New Jersey. Please visit the PAR FORE chapter page to learn more about Alex and this program.
Tell me about your career choices as an OT.
“I grew up in the inner city and never anticipated having the opportunity to make an actually career choice. I grew up believing there was very little promise of a productive future. As an adolescent, I always believed I would work in a factory, like my father and all of my brothers. However, in the military, I discovered that I had options. I have explored a number of jobs in my adult life. I was an electrician, doorman in a luxury hi-rise, carpenter, and attorney. In all my vocational pursuits, occupational therapy was the one profession that provided my life satisfaction. My heart and soul have been shaped by the many client encounters I have had in the rehabilitation process. I developed greater awareness of the needs of others as I joined them in their journey through trauma and illness. I matured as I watched client’s emerging from despair and hardship. Occupational therapy enriched my understanding of the value of human existence. Several years after practicing occupational therapy, I decided to pursue a career in law. I thought that I could better serve those in need as an attorney. However, I quickly realized that the profession of occupational therapy was more than a career choice that has altruistic value; it was a life choice that enriched and empowered me. Occupational therapy provided me great opportunities that no other life experience could have afforded me. Occupational therapy was the agent of my pursuit to meaningful existence. There are few professions that can allow you to both contribute to and benefit from health and wellness.”
What's your particular research interest within the field of OT?
“I have an interest in resilience. I found resilience theory fascinating in my experience in trauma care. I have witnessed children and adults succeed when challenged with the adversity. I think it is vitally important to our profession that we understand an individual’s propensity for dealing with adversity. We are uniquely qualified to address the holistic needs of our clients. If we better understand our client’s resilient capacities, we better tailor intervention strategies that meet their physical and psychosocial needs.”
Tell me more about your experiences of being a KUOT student.
“I can’t say enough about my experience at Kean. The faculty were supportive, knowledgeable, and trailblazers of the profession. I made life-long friends in the program. My classmates have been at every significant event in my life.”
What is most memorable about the program?
“This is a difficult question to answer, simply because I am still living those experiences. My most memorable experiences were the times I shared with my classmates. In law school, the say look to your left, then look to your right, one of you will not be here on graduation day. In Occupational Therapy School you say, look to your left, look to your right, one of you will be at your wedding, your child’s birthday, your 50th birthday party.”
How are you involved with advocating for the profession?
“I am an active member of a number of community boards that address the health, wellness, and safety issues for at-risk youth and people with disabilities. I have worked with a few college and universities to expand services for youth with special needs. I have provided advice and counsel to town officials on health disparities in under-represented communities and organized community groups to rally against violence. Lastly, I have been a member of the New York State Licensure board for 3 years.”
What is your advice for future OT students?
“Never forget why you decided to enter the profession. Most students who enter the occupational therapy profession have done so for altruism, compassion, and belief in humanity. When you find a job and are confronted with the day-to-day challenges of the job, never forget that occupational therapy is not a job, it is your life.”
Scott Matthews, OT, MS
Vicky Schindler, PhD, OTR
Vicky Schindler, currently the occupational therapy program director at Richard Stockton University, graduated from Kean College in 1983 with a bachelors in occupational therapy. Vicky began her career working as a staff OT in Muhlenberg Hospital. She went on to work as a senior OT at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York and then as the Director of Rehabilitation Services at the Ann Klein Forensic Center. Vicky’s particular area of interest within the field of OT is mental health, for which she feels she was well prepared at Kean University. Vicky stated, “Kean prepared me to be a clinician with a specialization in mental health through the overlapping aspects of the curriculum and fieldwork in all areas of OT, especially mental health”. Within this specialized area, she has served in many roles as an advocate, a fieldwork supervisor, a researcher, and a professor. Her current, ongoing research connects passion in mental health to many of the roles she has acted in. Vicky explains her research by saying, “I have focused my research on the development of social roles among people with mental illness with a particular focus on the student and worker roles. For the past 6 years I have conducted a program at Stockton which assists people diagnosed with mental illness to begin, continue or resume these roles and have conducted research on the effectiveness of this program”.
Vicky fondly remembers her time as a student in the Kean Occupational Therapy program “Two of my best friends I met when I was at Kean. We’re still in touch on a regular basis today. I tell my students this every year-you come in on the first day as complete strangers, spend every day of the next 2 years together, and then it’s over. OT school is very intense and the bonds that you create can be lasting.” Vicky appreciated the entire faculty throughout her time at Kean and specified 2 particular professors who deeply impacted her education. “Beverly Bain and Claire Glasser are both authentic, consummate OTs who had a love of practice and education.”
Vicky has stayed actively involved in OT advocacy throughout her career. Most recently, she, along with the other faculty at Stockton, hosted the annual NJOTA conference at Richard Stockton University. She has also served on the NJOTA board in the past. Another aspect of her involvement in the field is her experience as a clinical supervisor for occupational therapy students. Vicky stated that she learned from the very start of her education at Kean that “as OTs, we have an obligation to the field to educate the next generation of OTs.”
Sarah Levin, MS, OT
Sarah Levin is an enthusiastic and motivated graduate student, currently completing her second Level II Fieldwork in Columbus, Georgia with the US Army. After completing her first fieldwork placement at Newark Beth Israel, Levin requested to be placed in a setting that would provide new and further challenging experiences. Her placement in the US Army is highly unusual, and is giving her a unique insight into the field of Occupational Therapy.
As the sole Occupational Therapy student at Martin Army Community Hospital, Levin is greatly involved in the wide-ranging rehabilitation processes which concern OTs in the Army. Levin has the opportunity to be working with five different Occupational Therapists and with a variety of clients. The people with whom she works include soldiers after deployment, who have diagnoses directly related to trauma they may have experienced, as well as their dependents who present more standard diagnoses. Sarah finds deep fulfillment in her Fieldwork placement, stating that “working with the Army has shown me that this is definitely the career path that I want to try and pursue.”
However, Levin isn’t finished yet. With her typical “go-getter” attitude, she is aiming higher to earn her Clinical Doctorate, her DScOT, to further her studies in Occupational Therapy. Kean University takes great pride in her accomplishments and the entire faculty wishes her well as she continues to advance in her career as an Occupational Therapist.
Peggy Swarbrick, PhD, OT