Outstanding occupational therapy grad overcame every obstacle in her path to walk across the stage at graduation

Nikki Casey in front of a lake on a sunny day
Nikki Casey is a 2022 Outstanding Graduate from the Department of Occupational Therapy.

Nikki Casey did not have an easy journey to get to Colorado State University. Overcoming several hurdles throughout her undergraduate experience at the University of Texas in Austin, she maintained optimism for the future and never stopped pushing herself as far as possible, no matter the insurmountable challenges she faced.

This spring, Casey will be graduating with her master’s degree from the Department of Occupational Therapy, an achievement that demonstrates her stalwart dedication to her goals. Learn more about how she leaned on her family, her faith, and her experiences in OT for support in the Q-and-A below!

Where are you from and what brought you to CSU?

I’m from Houston, Texas! It was always a dream of mine to live in Colorado, and CSU has a great OT program so it quickly became my dream school.

What obstacles have you overcome to get to graduation? How have you persevered through unforeseen circumstances?

I experienced some personal challenges during my undergraduate education at the University of Texas in Austin. Within those four years, I lost a family member suddenly, I was diagnosed with a brain malformation that caused daily headaches, and my sister was diagnosed with cancer. This was all devastating to me and my family.

Nikki Casey smiling in front of a lake and fall foliage.
Despite the hurdles she encountered, Casey achieved her goal of getting her post-graduate degree from CSU’s OT program.

I still knew I wanted to go to OT school, so I decided to take a year off to have brain surgery that had the chance of taking away my headaches. During this year, I applied to multiple grad schools, but I didn’t get into CSU. This was tough, but I was accepted into a school in Dallas that I committed to going to. I had the brain surgery, but it was clear soon after that it was not successful. I began to struggle significantly with my mental health from the events of the previous few years and, about a month before I was supposed to move to Dallas to begin the OT program, I decided to take another year off because I was not mentally or emotionally ready to begin. This was by far the hardest decision I’ve ever made.

My second year off consisted of lots of therapy, including a chronic pain therapy group that I joined (probably the best decision I’ve ever made). I also had to apply to grad schools again because the school in Dallas that I was supposed to go to would not let me defer (a blessing in disguise). As I was reapplying, I thought, why not apply to CSU again? And I ended up getting in!

This second year off brought so much acceptance of the circumstances my family and I had been through. I also sought after my faith, and all the healing and growing I’ve done I owe to God and the amazing friends and family who helped me understand his love. These last two years at CSU have been a time of immense gratitude. When I reflect on my experiences, I can’t believe that it all brought me here!

I still battle with headaches, and everything that happened during those years was incredibly difficult to go through, but I wouldn’t change anything because it made me who I am and allowed me to be where I am now. I wouldn’t have met any of the people I now call close friends or those who have opened amazing doors for my future. My experiences with pain (both emotional and physical) have helped me connect with people in a deeper way. I will be working with many people who are experiencing pain in my future practice as an occupational therapist, and I feel lucky to get to understand them in ways that other people may not be able to.

How have your academic experiences here and your professors, mentors, and advisers helped you overcome these obstacles and/or be successful in your major? 

The accommodations I received through the Assistive Technology Resource Center were so helpful for me! The headaches I get can make it hard to study or work on assignments, so learning about the different options that are available to students at the ATRC was huge for my success as a student. Having professors and advisers who truly care about their students’ well-being also helped a ton!

What activities have you been most involved in?

I worked as a teaching assistant for one of the program’s first-year courses this past fall. It was such a special experience getting to build relationships with some of the students in the cohort below me and with the faculty I worked with. It felt like we were a team!

I’m very involved in my church’s young professionals ministry. It’s a small group of people who are focused on loving others and building a community around God. I also recently started mentoring high school students in Greeley, many of whom are refugees from various countries.

What are some accomplishments that you are most proud of during your time at CSU? 

It’s not necessarily an accomplishment, but I’m proud of the way I carried myself through this program. The coursework was definitely difficult and rigorous, but I feel like I never let it get me down. I tried to make the most of the time I spent in class with friends and always tried to have fun! I’m also proud of the relationships I’ve made, as well as the relationships I’ve been able to keep up from back home.

What will you miss most about CSU? 

I’m going to miss the people the most. And the Oval!

What are your plans after graduating? 

After I finish classes in May, I’ll have one more clinical fieldwork to complete. I’ll be doing this at Perkins School for the Blind in Boston. This opportunity is truly a dream, and it would not have come true if not for my adviser who opened the door for me! I hope to one day work with kids with visual impairments, but I currently have no idea where I’ll end up geographically!

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