Pat Sample retires after 32 years in the Department of Occupational Therapy at CSU

Living in Minnesota in the late 1980s and working as a Methodist minister in the Twin Cities area, Pat Sample was ready for a change – an opportunity in life to do something different. While attending a conference in Ohio, she met an individual who lived in Fort Collins. Although the relationship didn’t work out as planned, it did help create a move from the Midwest to Colorado.

Portrait of Pat SampleWithin a few days after her move she was hired as a part-time job coach in the Department of Occupational Therapy at Colorado State University. As Sample shared, “It was all about people knowing people.”

Although thankful for her new part-time job, it didn’t quite meet her living expenses. While at work one day, dressed in business attire, she was asked by one of her colleagues if she was going to a funeral, to court, or for a job interview. After responding that it was for an interview elsewhere, she was hired full-time to continue working in Transition Services, which is now the Center for Community Partnerships and a direct service arm of the occupational therapy department.

For the love of grants

Transitions Services was focused only on supportive employment at that time. These services which were funded through grants also provided research opportunities to study individuals with disabilities in transitioning from school settings to adult life.

Therefore, Sample with Cathy Schelly, co-director, submitted a grant to the U.S. Department of Education and it was funded. This led to receiving additional grants. Along with other colleagues, Sample wrote grants which supported program development for youth with emotional disorders and intellectual disabilities. Transition Services/CCP also received funding from the state for supported employment with people who had experienced a traumatic brain injury. This grant opened up Transition Services/CCP to work with a new group. Most of Sample’s research grant proposals after this time were focused on life outcomes and care access for persons in northeast Colorado with TBI.

Grant funding was plentiful at the time. “We received grant after grant,” shared Sample. “I wanted to help others and receiving grants allowed us to do that.”

Teaching research in the classroom

After working in Transition Services/CCP for four years, Sample became a faculty member in the department. Given her success with grants, it was inevitable that her experience would be valuable in the classroom. She quickly determined, however, that she needed to expand her grant writing from program development to research projects.

This led to furthering her own education and she received her Ph.D. in occupational education: special needs in 1995 at CSU. “I was proud of my dissertation on transition services for students with emotional disorders,” commented Sample.

Collaboration with others

She continued her research with people who had experienced TBI. Were these individuals able to live on their own again? Were they able to get jobs? Were adequate interventions being provided? These were just a few of the questions that Sample asked as she started working with these individuals.

Following this work, she further expanded her research to include children with TBI, resulting in the development of the Brain Check Survey – Screening Tool. Sample shared that she was supported in this research by others within the department including Nikole Johns, research associate and David Greene associate professor; Lisa Daunhauer, associate professor in the human development and family studies department and a number of occupational therapy master of science students.

“We wanted these students to be diagnosed properly and to be able to have a chance to succeed in school,” commented Sample. “This was important so that the appropriate interventions could be provided.”

“This tool became a big deal,” said Sample. It has been recommended by other organizations including MindSource, previously the Colorado Brain Injury Program of Colorado and Colorado Kids with Brain Injury. “The need for the BCS all started as multiple agencies began working in the schools.” Sample went on to share that she has appreciated the great collaboration that she has had with people involved in these organizations since the early 1990s.

In addition, Sample has collaborated with Craig Hospital, the Rocky Mountain Regional Brain Injury Center, and the Colorado Injury Control Research Center. This has resulted in funding that has not only benefited individuals in the state of Colorado but also surrounding states including the Dakotas and Wyoming.

Thesis adviser and mentor

But her work didn’t stop there. Her passion for helping others resulted in being awarded a small grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This allowed Sample and Johns to conduct follow-up qualitative research by interviewing many of the individuals who experienced traumatic brain injuries from the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995.

Sample and Johns have been involved in multiple research projects through the years. Johns shared, “She has been my mentor for 22 years. It was an honor to work with Pat all while striving to improve services and outcomes for those with TBI. Her commitment and passion to her research was inspirational. The adventures were numerous, but the ultimate honor was working together with the survivors from the Oklahoma City Bombing. Pat may have started as my thesis adviser, but that mentorship turned into a lifelong friendship.”

A single grant

It all started with a single grant in 1990 and through the years Sample has affected people’s lives near and far. According to Sample, there has been high praise from throughout the United States, referring to what Colorado has been able to do regarding assisting individuals with traumatic brain injury. Not only in educating people about brain injury, but helping people get back on their feet through providing various supports to enable them to remain in their current living situations.

Projects that are real

From bringing qualitative research into the classroom to advising students, she has made a big impact in other areas as well. Her research expertise has continued through instructing students in the OT 631 – Program Assessment and Development course in which students are able to work with local community organizations. “I really enjoy being involved with projects that are real,” continued Sample.

In addition, she enjoys learning from others. She commented that in her retirement she will most miss the Knowledge Exchange, an event that the department holds each year. She has enjoyed catching up with alumni and seeing the research of the faculty and students.

Wisdom and friendship

Pat Sample and David Greene
Pat Sample and David Greene

Thinking back on Sample’s career, others in the department shared about their experiences with her. Greene, a colleague of 25 years said, “I‘ve known Pat for as long as I’ve been at CSU-OT. We have become inseparable comrades in the worlds of qualitative research, writing, teaching, and thick friendship. Together we designed, carried out, and published original work. One thing emerged as a crystal-clear theme in all the work she accomplished: all experiences became richer when students were brought in. She has been a successful grant writer and researcher – especially in the area of brain injury and services for those who have experienced brain injury. But her spark really ignited whenever she could recruit students to share in the experiences – which was whenever she was doing or teaching research – which was all of the time!”

“She’s kind, fair, caring, very funny, and a dear friend. CSU-OT will not be the same without her. Lucky are those who can say ‘I knew her when,’” said Greene.

Anita Bundy, current occupational therapy department head shared, “Pat and I began teaching in OT at the same time. Back in the 1990s we had adjoining cubicles on the third floor of the occupational therapy building. Pat and I often went to lunch to commiserate on the events of the day. We also got into mischief. I had a large Raggedy Andy doll that I used in teaching. At night, Andy often moved around the third floor. Faculty would come in the next day to find Andy perched somewhere in their cubicle. One time, Pat and I fastened Andy to a sheet and lowered him out the window so that he was looking through the department head’s office window. Pat scattered when my phone rang—sure that the department head was calling to yell at us.”

“Needless to say, I miss having Pat in the department: her wisdom, her friendship, her contributions to students and our colleagues,” said Bundy. “We touch bases regularly—and for that I am grateful.”

A dream come true

Pat Sample sitting on motor scooterReflecting back on her own experiences, Sample said, “It has been about helping others in this world. Being at CSU has been a dream come true.”

She commented, “I would like to do lots more reading and learn how to play the ukulele in retirement.” However, she is eager to simply see what shows up. “I am most excited to see what new adventures are ahead.”

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