Occupational Therapy Ph.D. students from Saudi Arabia gain valuable research experience at CSU

Rana Alarawi standing in front of her research board
Rana Alarawi standing in front of her research board at the CSU Grad Show

More than 7,500 miles or roughly 19,000 laps around the famous Oval at the center of Colorado State University’s campus is what separates Fort Collins, Colorado, from Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. With such a vast distance separating the two cities, it is noteworthy that several Saudi Arabian students have come to CSU to earn their degrees in occupational therapy.

The Department of Occupational Therapy’s highly competitive Ph.D. in Occupation and Rehabilitation Science Program has 13 total students enrolled, with five of those students hailing from Saudi Arabia. CSU’s Occupational Therapy Program is recognized as a top program in the United States, ranked #7 in the nation by U.S. News and World Report, and its positive reputation and nationally recognized faculty are part of what drew the Saudi students to Fort Collins.

Well-known professors

Rayyan Bukhari, a Ph.D. student in the Occupational Therapy Program, notes that the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission ranks CSU as one of the most prestigious and nationally recognized institutions in the United States. Among other reasons, the CSU Occupational Therapy Ph.D. program has become known internationally for having trailblazing faculty in their respective research areas.

“Aside from the program’s worldwide distinctiveness, the program comprises some pioneer professors who are well-known globally for their contributions and knowledge in the fields of occupational and rehabilitation science,” said Bukhari.

Rayyan Bukhari standing in front of a mountain river
Rayyan Bukhari, Occupational Therapy Ph.D. student

Rana Alarawi, another CSU occupational therapy Ph.D. student from Saudi Arabia, also attributes the program’s faculty as a main reason for choosing CSU, citing Department Head Anita Bundy as someone she wanted to work with due to Bundy’s extensive research and contributions to the profession and to pediatric occupational therapy.

Alarawi, who is researching risky play and how parents appraise risk in letting their children engage in risky play, was keen on finding a program that allowed her to conduct research and gather findings. Lucky for Alarawi, Bundy is still very active in her research and the program as a whole promotes and supports many types of occupational therapy research.

“As someone who is interested in obtaining a doctorate degree and who wants to learn how to conduct rigorous research, I appreciate how research is valued here at CSU-OT and how supportive and inclusive the environment is,” said Alarawi.

In November 2022 Alarawi took advantage of the research support and showcased her research at the annual CSU Graduate Student Showcase with her research poster titled Psychometric Properties of an Instrument Measuring Parents’ Risk Appraisal. Risky play involving such activities as climbing and jumping can help children improve their resilience and physical health but a focus on injury prevention and safety has resulted in a decline in children’s risky play. Alarawi’s research looked at a questionnaire for measuring how parents appraise risk and what influence it has on their children’s engagement in “risky” activities.

Taking it international

Many Saudi students, including Bukhari and Alarawi, are receiving a top-tier education in Fort Collins and then return to Saudi Arabia to obtain positions with universities as professors and lecturers, bringing their experiences with them.

“I look forward to passing on my knowledge and all the things I have learned here at CSU. My time and experience at CSU-OT has provided me with a unique perspective to carry into my studies and future career,” Alarawi added.

For Bukhari, he will return to his position at King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences within the occupational therapy department, where he was a lecturer before coming to the United States to pursue his Ph.D. Additionally, Bukhari will be a clinical educator and therapist at King Abdulaziz Medical City in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Welcoming program

Faculty in the CSU Occupational Therapy program have long-distance collaborations in countries such as Canada, Norway, Japan, Australia, and Denmark, just to name a few, helping to get the CSU-OT name out around the world. Additionally, having international students make the trek to Fort Collins is also a welcome treat for the department.

“The Saudi students have been fantastic. They are well-prepared and a joy to have with us. They add a whole new and very welcome, cultural layer to our program,” said Anita Bundy, head of the Department of Occupational Therapy.

The Saudi Arabian students have had a positive experience working with the faculty in CSU’s occupational therapy department. “Feeling welcomed, respected, and included from day one made my study abroad experience more enjoyable than I had anticipated,” said Bukhari.

That is one lesson that will span the 7,500 miles.

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