Two faculty members within the Department of Occupational Therapy at Colorado State University were welcomed into the American Occupational Therapy Association’s Roster of Fellows during the 2023 AOTA annual conference in April. Associate Professors Andrew Persch and Marla Roll etched their names onto the fellowship roster, which recognizes their significant contributions to the profession.
Established in 1973, the Roster of Fellows honors OTs who, through their knowledge, expertise, leadership, advocacy, and/or guidance, have made a significant contribution over time to the profession with a measured impact on consumers of occupational therapy services. Through the years CSU-OT has seen many faculty members earn this accolade for their tremendous contributions to the field, with Persch and Roll continuing the success.
Roll, in addition to being an associate professor in OT, is the director of the Assistive Technology Resource Center at CSU which ensures equal access to technology and electronic information for CSU students and employees with disabilities. Since taking the helm as director in 1996 Roll has greatly influenced the creation and implementation of electronic accessibility measures on CSU’s campus. Roll has relentlessly advocated for accessibility and inclusion at CSU and her guidance has led to multiple outcomes or initiatives, such as:
- accessibility as one of five key priorities for CSU’s division of information technology
- two new CSU policies related to information accessibility and an inclusive physical and virtual campus
- disability and electronic inclusion are now considered in all efforts of the CSU Inclusive Physical and Virtual Campus Committee
Roll serves as chair of the Inclusive Physical and Virtual Campus Committee, co-chair of the College of Health and Human Sciences Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice Committee, and a member of four other university committees focused on accessibility, technology, and diversity.
Roll has been an active fieldwork educator for Level I and Level II experiences for over 20 years mentoring students into OT work. In her time with the ATRC Roll has mentored over 40 students while they were employed as teaching assistants or assistive technology service providers. Roll also secured funding to annually support an OT student as a graduate assistant for the ATRC. These students learn how to integrate inclusive technology into education and health care, as well as educating peers about assistive technology and disability.
Roll has incorporated research initiatives within ATRC to promote the crucial importance of inclusive technology in higher education. One notable contribution is her active participation as a committee member for occupational therapy thesis and doctoral students, resulting in the publication of 10 papers and the delivery of numerous presentations. Additionally, Roll has taken on the roles of Co-Principal Investigator (Co-PI) and Principal Investigator (PI) for various federally funded projects and internal university grant funded projects, which have facilitated the creation and implementation of inclusive technologies.
Persch has seen a plethora of success in his 15+ years of being an occupational therapist, with the AOTA fellowship being his most recent accomplishment. An expert in his field, Persch has had success in his work with people with intellectual disabilities, and those who serve them, due to his education and his personal experience as an OT clinician. Persch credits Dr. Jane Case-Smith, his early career mentor, with helping shape his focus. Persch is a passionate researcher, educator, practitioner, volunteer, and collaborator.
As a researcher, Persch co-authored and co-created the Vocational Fit Assessment (VocFit), a tool used in special education and vocational rehabilitation to inform shared decision-making and customized employment of people with intellectual disabilities. To date, this instrumental tool has yielded more than $3.3 million in federal funding. The National Institutes of Health, one of the world’s largest funders of biomedical research, currently funds Persch as PI in his project to quantify the evidence for reliability, validity, responsiveness, and clinical utility of VocFit titled Vocational Fit Assessment and Employment Status in People with Intellectual Disabilities. More impressive than VocFit’s funding is the impact it has had on the occupational therapy community and beyond, with more than 10,000 registered users across North America and Europe. In addition to the NIH-funded grant, Persch has been PI, Co-PI, or Co-I on 13 other externally funded grant projects, totaling more than $11 million. Persch has also authored 16 peer-reviewed journal articles, 5 book chapters, 10 editor-reviewed publications, 21 peer-reviewed scientific abstracts and two continuing education publications.
Beyond his impactful research, Persch is also very active in regard to service, leadership, advocacy, and mentorship. He served as Chairperson-Elect and then as Chairperson of AOTA’s Special Interest Section Council from 2017-2020. He was also a member of AOTA’s Centennial Commission and one of the invited participants to AOTA’s Vision 2025 Summit. He has received several service commendations for his contributions to AOTA. Since 2018, Persch has served as an Early Career Reviewer for the NIH Center for Scientific Review. Additionally, he has chaired the department’s Admissions Committee since 2019, leading development of a holistic admissions process with aim of advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the student body.
Persch plays a crucial role as a mentor in his capacities as a researcher and educator. He provides valuable support to fellow faculty members, a post-doctoral fellow, two Ph.D. students, and multiple master’s students, both through his grants and their individual research endeavors. His dedication to teaching and mentoring has been a driving force in his academic career, which is evident in his teaching methods and the positive influence he has on student learning. When instructing future professionals, Persch emphasizes the significance of critical thinking as a dynamic process that can be taught and acquired. Furthermore, he underscores the importance of clinical reasoning as an active integration of clinical knowledge and critical thinking.
Being invited to join the AOTA Roster of Fellows is an incredible honor and a prominent milestone in an occupational therapist’s career. With the addition of Persch and Roll, CSU-OT now has seven full-time faculty who are members of the fellowship, advancing the reputation of the department as a premier program in the United States.
The Department of Occupational Therapy is a part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.