Occupational Therapy outstanding graduate makes the most of pandemic challenges

Shannon Perrins outdoors in the snow with a cabin and mountains in the background

Like so many students, Shannon Perrins has been faced with many challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which impacted her master’s degree in Colorado State University’s Department of Occupational Therapy. In addition to completing her second semester online her first year, and completing half of her last semester online from a remote hunting lodge in Alaska, Perrins’ required fieldwork scheduled for summer 2020 was canceled and had to be rescheduled for a later time. Despite these challenges, Perrins made the most of her experience at CSU to succeed and graduate.

Overcoming adversity

Hailing from Anchorage, Alaska, Perrins was drawn to CSU because of the highly ranked OT program, the outdoor opportunities in Colorado, and the livability of Fort Collins. It wasn’t only the pandemic that was challenging for Perrins and her husband. She managed by working two caregiving jobs while in school, while her husband worked the night shift as a Larimer Country sheriff. The pair saw each other for only two hours each day, when he woke up in the evening to head out to work.

“That was one of the most challenging aspects of grad school,” said Perrins, “having to balance seeing my husband and our schedules!”

Perrins also adapted and overcame the ordeals that the COVID – 19 pandemic threw at her education.

“COVID-19 and having to do school from home during spring 2020 was super challenging,” she said. “I struggled to pay attention during class and got distracted by my dog constantly! I also had my fieldwork canceled and had to take a summer off while many of my friends were able to complete their fieldwork experiences. I had to remain flexible, optimistic, and work with what I was given by pouring myself into my two caregiving positions. I also got to see Colorado by hiking 14ers every weekend, camping, and exploring. I made the most out of my weird situation and I loved it!”

Heading to Alaska

Shannon Perrins with her husband and dog outdoors with mountains in the background
Perrins with her husband and dog in Alaska.

Because CSU finished the Spring 2021 semester virtually, Perrins and her husband decided to pack up their lives and move to their family’s remote hunting lodge in Alaska for the final weeks of the semester to work as caregivers for the lodge and the 18 horses that live there. They drove the Alaska-Canadian Highway for a beautiful spring break trip.

“Once we got to Alaska, we flew out to Rainy Pass Lodge to work for my in-laws hunting lodge in the remote Alaskan wilderness,” said Perrins. “It was just us, our dog, and 18 horses in the middle of the beautiful Alaskan wilderness. Thankfully I had good internet access so could complete my classes and assignments. I fed horses, chopped firewood, stocked cabins with firewood for the upcoming year, and maintained the lodge property all on top of finishing my assignments the last month of school. It was challenging but I did it!”

Mentor, faculty, and staff support

Perrins credits Alison Herman, academic fieldwork coordinator and Debi Krogh-Michna, fieldwork program assistant, with helping her through the experience of having her fieldwork experience canceled and finding another placement.

Linda Crawford, CSU alumna, a Colorado OT, and president of the Occupational Therapy Association of Colorado, helped open doors for Perrins. Through their relationship, Shannon developed an interest and passion for chronic pain OT and went on to write her capstone thesis on how OT can address chronic pain.

“Linda was extremely supportive to me throughout my last year of OT school and was a wonderful mentor,” said Perrins.

Perrins also cites Linda McDowell, the now-retired graduate programs coordinator and communications specialist in OT, as someone who encouraged her throughout her time at CSU.

Activities while a student

Shannon Perrins on a horse with a mountain in the backgroundPerrins made a positive impact on both the CSU community and the greater Northern Colorado community. During her two years at CSU, she was a part of the Student Occupational Therapy Association (SOTA), where she was the rep to the Occupational Therapy Association of Colorado as well as the social chair. She was a part of the Night to Shine in Fort Collins during her first year

at CSU. “It was the best night of the year – I danced the night away with so many new friends with various disabilities,” she said.

As part of her caregiving experiences, Perrins was employed at Foothills Gateway, primarily working with children helping them “work through challenging situations, communicate, advocate, and adapt fun experiences.” She also worked with an older gentleman and CSU alum with MS. “He taught me so much about life and how to help him succeed in daily life,” she said. “He was my

teacher in so many ways and I am so grateful to have gotten to work for him. He and his wife became wonderful friends and mentors to my husband and me throughout our time in Fort Collins.”

After graduation

Shannon Perrins on top of a mountain with a crossPerrins is currently studying for the National Board Certification in Occupational Therapy and will be taking the exam in January. After completion, she will begin applying for jobs in the OT field. As her time in the OT program draws to a close, she says she will miss her fellow students, the comradery, and the stimulating conversations they had daily in classes. She also values the many positive experiences she had with the CSU-OT faculty.

“I could name off almost every professor I had over the last two years of the CSU-OT program and describe how they have helped me grow in my professional career as well as personally,” said Perrins. “Getting to attend CSU was a great privilege, mainly because of the quality of the professors and staff!”

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

Gretchen Gerding, director of communications, contributed to this story.