New OT Diversity Scholarship aims to break barriers

Jasmine Tran posing with Bruce and Teresa Boynton at scholarship dinner
Jasmine Tran posing with Bruce and Teresa Boynton at the 2022 scholarship dinner

The 2022 fall semester marked the beginning of a new scholarship in the Colorado State University Department of Occupational Therapy which reaffirmed their commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice.

The OT Diversity Scholarship was created to encourage students from diverse backgrounds to enter the field of occupational therapy, which currently is largely made up of white females. Studies show a diverse healthcare workforce helps to improve outcomes for people from diverse backgrounds and it aligns with the diverse workforce policy goals of the American Occupational Therapy Association. CSU’s OT department is working toward this goal of diversifying its student body to contribute to a more diverse OT workforce.

It’s all about perspective

The data show that the occupational therapy profession is composed of nearly 80% Caucasian females. According to Kimberly Rousseau-Simmons, a spring 2022 graduate of the Department of Occupational Therapy and the founder of the Diverse-OT student organization, this can cause difficulty connecting to the client population since they are incredibly varied across the socioeconomic spectrum. The hope is, by making occupational therapy education more affordable for diverse candidates the profession will be enriched by differing perspectives.

“Differing perspectives mean more theories and models that are culturally based and culturally sensitive and have a foundation outside of western European, hetero-normative ideology,” Rousseau-Simmons added.

“Put our money where our mouths are” was what occupational therapy alumna Deana Muñoz told Rousseau-Simmons in 2021.

“Meaning if we want to support diverse students, we need to do more than just offer moral support,” said Simmons. Thus, the idea to create a scholarship specifically for diverse students within the department was conceived.

The first domino to fall

Teresa Boynton (’73, ’89), a CSU occupational therapy alumna, and husband Bruce Boynton (’73) have a history of and passion for investing in diversity-based initiatives within Colorado State University. After the Diverse-OT club reached out to the College of Health and Human Sciences development staff about starting a diversity-centered scholarship fund, they immediately thought of the Boyntons. It was a match meant to be and the work began to draft the new scholarship criteria.

With the Boyntons leading the way, 16 other donors have joined the cause and given to the OT Diversity Scholarship fund.

“We believe supporting students from diverse backgrounds helps to drive creativity and acceptance and diminish discrimination. Supporting diversity through the OT Diversity Scholarship fund aligns with the CHHS goal of establishing a caring community where everyone’s contributions are valued, and all voices are heard – the type of community where we all want to live and work,” the Boyntons stated.

The trailblazer

Jasmine Tran, a student in the occupational therapy master’s program who hails from Denver, was the recipient of the OT Diversity Scholarship in its inaugural semester this fall.

As a first-generation college student, Tran discovered the scholarship while perusing the financial aid options within the occupational therapy department. The scholarship criteria require students to be from a traditionally under-represented population, committed to furthering the cause of Diversity in occupational therapy, with preference to students involved in the Diverse-OT Club or other cultural organizations. With Tran checking all the boxes and submitting her essay, she was eventually chosen as the first awardee.

Jasmine Tran demonstrating a piece of equipment at Aggie Labs
Scholarship awardee Jasmine Tran demonstrating a piece of equipment at Aggie Labs

“I feel empowered, honored, and grateful to be the inaugural recipient of this scholarship. My values and motivations align with the purpose of the scholarship and vision to diversify the profession and student experience,” Tran explained. “By having this scholarship, I allocate more time in learning about resources, community services, advocacy, and overall ways to advance the cultural climate on campus and within the OT profession.”

Built to grow

For the College of Health and Human Sciences, this is just a starting point. The next step, and a major goal for the College’s development staff, is to raise a minimum of $50,000 in order to create an endowment to fund the scholarship in perpetuity. Tej Patel, a current co-president of the Diverse-OT club, described the scholarship as a vehicle for the department to support diverse students and let them know they are valued not just with words, but with their actions.

As summed up by Patel, the Diverse-OT club members believe change begins with small steps, such as advocating for the scholarship. The hope is this small step along with many other small steps will inspire additional support for DEIJ initiatives. The mere existence of this scholarship leads to greater visibility of Diverse-OT and its vision.

“When we talk about justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion, we realize that these cannot be achieved without direct financial support,” added Patel.

The College of Health and Human Sciences along with the Department of Occupational Therapy continues to support diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice initiatives including more accessibility for the diverse population.

“Accessibility must be at the top of every department’s to-do list. Recognizing economic barriers to higher education is a fault we can correct. We as a society lose out on some amazing people and interventions because not all potential students have a financially stable support system,” said Rousseau-Simmons.

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