David Greene transitions into retirement after nearly 30 years at CSU

David Greene teaching student in biomechanics course using skeleton modelAfter almost 30 years in the Department of Occupational Therapy at Colorado State University, David Greene will be transitioning into retirement at the end of the spring semester. He has taught numerous courses, inspired many students, touched many lives and is a respected colleague and friend. As Greene shared, he is thankful for second opportunities; opportunities that helped pave his life.

Passion for working with others

Greene’s passion for helping people with disabilities began when he was a boy. His father had a spinal cord tumor and became paraplegic after surgery. As a physical therapist worked with his dad along with his mom, they became very hopeful and motivated. “I wanted to get involved,” said Greene.

It was not just because of these experiences with his dad that he had this desire to help others. Greene grew up around people with disabilities. He had two uncles who lived in an apartment above him who had cerebral palsy from birth. “I was always in a caregiver environment,” he continued. “I was getting meals to them, putting them to bed, etc. Because of my experiences, I later realized being a therapist was the path I wanted to pursue.”

So, Greene applied to a physical therapy undergraduate program. “I didn’t get into the program,” he said. “They said my GPA was too low.” He took prerequisite courses to raise his GPA. His GPA was still too low. He talked to an adviser to get some advice on how to get into physical therapy school. The advice he received was to not apply again. He was told that he would never get into the program; that he would never get into any physical therapy school.

But that didn’t stop him from pursuing his dreams of helping people with disabilities. The next year he applied to an occupational therapy program. As a matter of fact he applied to more than one school and didn’t get admitted, but he was placed on the alternate list for one of the schools and then finally was admitted into the program.

Finally fitting in as a student

“We started learning about anatomy and neuroanatomy and I finally felt like I fit in as a student,” commented Greene. “I was never good in school. I was a slow learner. I had to take time to figure it out. In anatomy I could read the material over and over and still couldn’t figure it out so I made models. Then I understood it. And then other students started coming to me for help.”

His love for anatomy continued to grow. After graduating from occupational therapy school Greene applied for a Ph.D. program in anatomy at Louisiana State University. However, Greene’s desires for an anatomy degree were quickly dashed. “The department thought my biology GRE score was too low,” shared Greene. “They thought I couldn’t make it.”

David Greene playing his guitar
David sharing his love for music

But again Greene was grateful for a second opportunity. An anatomy instructor vouched for him and decided to give him a try. It was at LSU he completed all of his Ph.D. degree except for his dissertation before his move from the Deep South to Fort Collins.

Louisiana to Fort Collins

Upon his arrival to Fort Collins he pursued possible positions in the occupational therapy department at CSU. Not yet qualified for these faculty positions, he started working in the community as an occupational therapist. Later a position opened up at CSU for which he was eligible on the condition that he complete his Ph.D. dissertation. So in the fall of 1989 Greene was hired as an assistant professor in the occupational therapy department at CSU and his pursuit of completing his Ph.D. degree continued.

“I checked into finishing my Ph.D. degree in anatomy at CSU; however, they didn’t accept part-time students,” commented Greene. “Then I applied for the Ph.D. program in the School of Occupation and Educational Studies and was admitted. I later found out that they weren’t initially going to let me in; however, a fellow colleague had vouched for me.” Greene found himself again grateful, this time for an opportunity to complete his degree.

Inspiring students

Student pulling on strings of hand skeleton to see how muscles moveNow having been employed at CSU for almost 30 years, Greene has used that same spirit to inspire his students. As he gets ready to retire, some of the first-year occupational therapy students shared how he personally motivated them in their graduate studies. Terah Perran shared, “He believes in each one of us even when we do not believe in ourselves.”

Emily Vaughn echoed that comment by saying, “David’s reassuring voice has played over and over in my head throughout my time at CSU and has played a major role in my ability to keep moving forward to pursue my degree.”

Not only inspiring students in their pursuit to becoming occupational therapists, he has used what he learned as a student himself when it comes to teaching students in his biomechanics of human occupation course. With skeletons on each tabletop accompanied by heaps of string and small glue guns, it’s truly a hands-on learning environment. Greene has students use strings to represent the different muscles and ligaments of the human body. By gluing them onto the skeleton, students are able to see how each muscle moves the skeleton simply by pulling on them.

David Greene demonstrating human body movements with skeleton modelGreene makes sure each student has the ability to ask questions one-on-one while he walks around the classroom. And instead of PowerPoint slides depicting what each body movement may look like, he has been known to jump up and stand on a table in order to better demonstrate it in front of his class.

“I’m honored that I was given two years to absorb the infinite knowledge of hand models, p-values, wheelchair mechanics and quality song-writing that exists in David’s brain. While he’s been an outstanding educator, he has been an even stronger mentor and for that, he will be dearly missed,” shared Haleigh Chwirka, second-year student.

Megan Wadley, second-year student, summed it up saying, “He is thoughtful, genuine, down to earth and encourages all of us to stay curious and develop a love for being a lifelong learner.”

Recognized for achievements

Greene has received numerous awards for his teaching and many accomplishments including the Pennock Service Award, The Institute for Learning and Teaching Innovation Award, Provost’s N. Preston Davis Award for Instructional Innovation, Outstanding Teaching Award, CSU Alumni Association’s Best Teacher Award and the Ellie Gilfoyle Teaching Excellence Award during his time at CSU.

When asked about these honors he shared that it was not about the awards. It was about the experiences. “I enjoy helping students understand concepts and having fun while doing it,” said Greene.

Memorable moments

A colleague of Greene’s entire CSU tenure, Pat Sample, shared, “David Greene has been my friend, my colleague, my mentor, my brother, my loyal ally, my collaborator, my ukulele instructor and occasionally, my necessary brick wall. What more could I ask for?”

Looking back over the years, Greene is thankful for many memorable moments. “I’m thankful that I was given chances to make it finally work,” said Greene. “Also, I am thankful I obtained my Ph.D. degree and getting tenure as a faculty member. Also, as a thesis adviser, I was able to publish students’ work in journals with their names on them. My thesis advisor introduced me to the world of publications this way, and I’m grateful I had the chance to do the same with my thesis students.”

Greene added, “The high points of this career have been the chance to work with and learn from quality people in our department – people like Linda McDowell, working together through year after year of a way-too-complex admissions system; and Pat Sample, my ‘partner in crime’ in teaching and research.” Greene said, “These partnerships provided the chance to do very challenging and serious work, but simultaneously experience the levity and joy of life as we admitted and prepared our future generations of occupational therapy practitioners.

Looking forward to retirement

David Greene with his wife Donna hiking in the mountains“Reading for fun, writing, playing music, volunteering, hiking, spending time with the grand kids are just a few of the things that I look forward to in retirement,” commented Greene. Also high on his list is either starting or working at a non-profit organization with his wife, Donna. They are especially interested in working with individuals and families who have run into hard times and experience homelessness.

And that is no surprise – making sure people have the opportunity, that second chance, is always what it’s been about for him.

The Department of Occupational Therapy is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.