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Alexander Lopez, JD, OT/L
Alex Lopez graduated with his B.S. in Occupational Therapy from Kean University in 1997, and then went on to pursue his J.D. from New England Law University in 2004. In 2006, Alex went back to his occupational therapy roots, in which he became an associate professor of occupational therapy at Touro College. Alex founded and is the executive director of PAR FORE (Perseverance, Accountability, Resiliency, Fellowship, Opportunity, Respect and Empowerment), a nonprofit 501 (c) (3) organization dedicated to serving at-risk youth. The occupation-based mentorship program helps to foster positive personal, social and physical growth and development through the game of golf and community activities. The program aims to prevent gang membership and promotes healthy engagement in occupation at the personal and community level. Currently, there are three chapters of PAR FORE- New York, Utah and New Jersey. Please visit the PAR FORE chapter page to learn more about Alex and this program.
Tell me about your career choices as an OT.
“I grew up in the inner city and never anticipated having the opportunity to make an actually career choice. I grew up believing there was very little promise of a productive future. As an adolescent, I always believed I would work in a factory, like my father and all of my brothers. However, in the military, I discovered that I had options. I have explored a number of jobs in my adult life. I was an electrician, doorman in a luxury hi-rise, carpenter, and attorney. In all my vocational pursuits, occupational therapy was the one profession that provided my life satisfaction. My heart and soul have been shaped by the many client encounters I have had in the rehabilitation process. I developed greater awareness of the needs of others as I joined them in their journey through trauma and illness. I matured as I watched client’s emerging from despair and hardship. Occupational therapy enriched my understanding of the value of human existence. Several years after practicing occupational therapy, I decided to pursue a career in law. I thought that I could better serve those in need as an attorney. However, I quickly realized that the profession of occupational therapy was more than a career choice that has altruistic value; it was a life choice that enriched and empowered me. Occupational therapy provided me great opportunities that no other life experience could have afforded me. Occupational therapy was the agent of my pursuit to meaningful existence. There are few professions that can allow you to both contribute to and benefit from health and wellness.”
What's your particular research interest within the field of OT?
“I have an interest in resilience. I found resilience theory fascinating in my experience in trauma care. I have witnessed children and adults succeed when challenged with the adversity. I think it is vitally important to our profession that we understand an individual’s propensity for dealing with adversity. We are uniquely qualified to address the holistic needs of our clients. If we better understand our client’s resilient capacities, we better tailor intervention strategies that meet their physical and psychosocial needs.”
Tell me more about your experiences of being a KUOT student.
“I can’t say enough about my experience at Kean. The faculty were supportive, knowledgeable, and trailblazers of the profession. I made life-long friends in the program. My classmates have been at every significant event in my life.”
What is most memorable about the program?
“This is a difficult question to answer, simply because I am still living those experiences. My most memorable experiences were the times I shared with my classmates. In law school, the say look to your left, then look to your right, one of you will not be here on graduation day. In Occupational Therapy School you say, look to your left, look to your right, one of you will be at your wedding, your child’s birthday, your 50th birthday party.”
How are you involved with advocating for the profession?
“I am an active member of a number of community boards that address the health, wellness, and safety issues for at-risk youth and people with disabilities. I have worked with a few college and universities to expand services for youth with special needs. I have provided advice and counsel to town officials on health disparities in under-represented communities and organized community groups to rally against violence. Lastly, I have been a member of the New York State Licensure board for 3 years.”
What is your advice for future OT students?
“Never forget why you decided to enter the profession. Most students who enter the occupational therapy profession have done so for altruism, compassion, and belief in humanity. When you find a job and are confronted with the day-to-day challenges of the job, never forget that occupational therapy is not a job, it is your life.”
Scott Matthews, OT, MS
Scott Matthews OT, MS graduated from Kean University with a bachelors of science in occupational therapy in 1997. Some of his first jobs were with the pediatric population where he began to hear a consistent theme among parents of the dearth of access to and the lack of intense pediatric therapy. Similar stories were emerging of how kids failed at various activities, social events, and recreational experiences within the community. It was also at this time that the topic of brain plasticity was an emerging area in the therapy literature. Matthews merged the research information and personal stories with his passion for occupational therapy, and established Intensive Therapeutics in 2005. Intensive Therapeutics is a community-based program that uses a family centered approach to provide individual and group therapy services to children with special needs. Because the therapy doesn’t take place in a hospital or large therapy clinic, the experienced staff and motivated volunteers have created a fun experience where kids can achieve their maximum potential. Intensive Therapeutics focuses on group-oriented programs which are appropriate to the social settings of children. Services are also offered within the community itself-in parks, arenas, and fields, because Matthews maintains that these services are more effective within the community as opposed to in a medical clinic.Intensive Therapeutics has received national and local recognition for their unique approaches and results and is incorporated as a non-profit organization to help bring down the cost of treatment. Intensive Therapeutics recently featured in the photo gallery section of Kean News! Watch the video from Intensive Therapeutics recent fundraiser with the New York Giants!!
How did Kean University prepare you to be a clinician?
"At Kean, I learned the belief that OT can truly be utilized in a holistic manner. For many, the problem arises once you begin employment... You find yourself forced to choose between psycho social, physical disability and pediatric environments in which to work. It always bothered me…why can’t we use all of our knowledge? Why can’t we run groups (a psycho social focus), with children (a pediatric focus), who have had a stroke (a physical disability focus)? I wanted to use everything I learned from Kean!"
How did Kean University prepare you to be an entrepreneur?
"I think Kean and the OT Dept helped me become an entrepreneur because I stayed true to what OT is all about. If you listen to parents and create programs that they want, the programs “sell” themselves. Intensive Therapeutics runs occupational therapy programs which are truly about the occupations of children: bike riding, handwriting, sports, ADL’s, etc and our approaches are evidence-based. In my opinion, this is what OT should be doing."
What research have you conducted throughout your career?
"Every summer we collect data for our 2 programs which is part of our student program. We use it as a program evaluation, but also as pre-post data on each child that attended. We were published in OT Practice in January 2008. Research is an important part in justifying what we do and will also help communicate what OT can do for the families that we serve."
Can you share a fond memory you have from your time at Kean?
"I met my wife at Kean University."
Why would you advise someone to go to Kean for OT?
"KU is in the community where we (Intensive Therapeutics) provide services. It is a valuable resource once you graduate and a strong program to get you ready for the working world."
Vicky Schindler, PhD, OTR
Vicky Schindler, currently the occupational therapy program director at Richard Stockton University, graduated from Kean College in 1983 with a bachelors in occupational therapy. Vicky began her career working as a staff OT in Muhlenberg Hospital. She went on to work as a senior OT at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York and then as the Director of Rehabilitation Services at the Ann Klein Forensic Center. Vicky’s particular area of interest within the field of OT is mental health, for which she feels she was well prepared at Kean University. Vicky stated, “Kean prepared me to be a clinician with a specialization in mental health through the overlapping aspects of the curriculum and fieldwork in all areas of OT, especially mental health”. Within this specialized area, she has served in many roles as an advocate, a fieldwork supervisor, a researcher, and a professor. Her current, ongoing research connects passion in mental health to many of the roles she has acted in. Vicky explains her research by saying, “I have focused my research on the development of social roles among people with mental illness with a particular focus on the student and worker roles. For the past 6 years I have conducted a program at Stockton which assists people diagnosed with mental illness to begin, continue or resume these roles and have conducted research on the effectiveness of this program”.
Vicky fondly remembers her time as a student in the Kean Occupational Therapy program “Two of my best friends I met when I was at Kean. We’re still in touch on a regular basis today. I tell my students this every year-you come in on the first day as complete strangers, spend every day of the next 2 years together, and then it’s over. OT school is very intense and the bonds that you create can be lasting.” Vicky appreciated the entire faculty throughout her time at Kean and specified 2 particular professors who deeply impacted her education. “Beverly Bain and Claire Glasser are both authentic, consummate OTs who had a love of practice and education.”
Vicky has stayed actively involved in OT advocacy throughout her career. Most recently, she, along with the other faculty at Stockton, hosted the annual NJOTA conference at Richard Stockton University. She has also served on the NJOTA board in the past. Another aspect of her involvement in the field is her experience as a clinical supervisor for occupational therapy students. Vicky stated that she learned from the very start of her education at Kean that “as OTs, we have an obligation to the field to educate the next generation of OTs.”
Vicky believes the three most important attributes of a successful occupational therapist are to be competent, caring, and a lifelong learner. With her strong career background, her activism within the profession, and her current roles as both an educator and a researcher, Vicky has demonstrated that she possesses all of these qualities. Vicky’s professional success exemplifies the type of sterling education that Kean University’s Occupational Therapy program offers.
Sarah Levin, MS, OT
Sarah Levin is an enthusiastic and motivated graduate student, currently completing her second Level II Fieldwork in Columbus, Georgia with the US Army. After completing her first fieldwork placement at Newark Beth Israel, Levin requested to be placed in a setting that would provide new and further challenging experiences. Her placement in the US Army is highly unusual, and is giving her a unique insight into the field of Occupational Therapy.
As the sole Occupational Therapy student at Martin Army Community Hospital, Levin is greatly involved in the wide-ranging rehabilitation processes which concern OTs in the Army. Levin has the opportunity to be working with five different Occupational Therapists and with a variety of clients. The people with whom she works include soldiers after deployment, who have diagnoses directly related to trauma they may have experienced, as well as their dependents who present more standard diagnoses. Sarah finds deep fulfillment in her Fieldwork placement, stating that “working with the Army has shown me that this is definitely the career path that I want to try and pursue.”
However, Levin isn’t finished yet. With her typical “go-getter” attitude, she is aiming higher to earn her Clinical Doctorate, her DScOT, to further her studies in Occupational Therapy. Kean University takes great pride in her accomplishments and the entire faculty wishes her well as she continues to advance in her career as an Occupational Therapist.
Peggy Swarbrick, PhD, OT
Peggy Swarbrick, PhD, OT, CPRP has a strong academic background firmly rooted in occupational therapy, earning almost every degree an occupational therapist can earn(OTA, BS, MA and PhD). She started her educational journey by receiving an Associate’s degree in OT from Union County College in 1986 and then worked as an OTA. She went on to complete a Bachelor’s degree at Kean University in 1991. In 1996, she earned a Master’s degree from NYU. Furthering her higher education, she pursued training and earned additional credentials by completing the NYU doctoral program in 2005. In 2008, she finished a post-doctoral fellowship at UMDNJ-SHRP in Advanced Training and Research, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, in the Department of Psychiatric Rehabilitation and Counseling Professions. Her career has been varied, and she feels fortunate to have worked in several roles and settings. She continues to wear many hats, as a researcher, educator, administrator, and writer in the areas of wellness, recovery, self-help, poverty, and peer delivered services. Dr. Swarbrick has been recognized numerous times for her outstanding involvement in and service to the field of occupational therapy, particularly in her area of specialty, mental health. She has made significant contributions to the growing field of occupational therapy research and literature, evidenced by her numerous articles and chapters that have been published.
How did Kean University prepare you to be a clinician?
“I developed the capacity to think globally and act locally on personal and professional levels and now at the levels of research and policy. I was fortunate to have personal experiences working as an OTA. I feel the Kean OT program was very well- rounded and practical yet it challenged me”.
Briefly discuss your involvement in OT advocacy.
“I became involved on the NJOTA board in 1987 after attending the 1986 conference in Princeton and responded to their call for volunteers. I initially did not feel as though I truly fit into this powerful and talented group. However, I was embraced by genuine, warm OTs. Though I had a big learning curve, my commitment was recognized, and my yearning to contribute and grow was valued and inspired. The involvement in NJOTA offered me valuable experiences. I was very involved in the licensure movement and also become involved in AOTA activities during that time. At this time I have been involved in writing chapters in some OT textbooks highlighting the OT role in mental health advocacy”.
Do you have one particularly fond memory of your time at Kean, and can you think of the Kean professor who impacted you the most?
"Dr. Karen Stern had a tremendous impact on me—When Dr. Stern (Karen) started teaching at Kean she also was consulting at Marlboro Psychiatric hospital (where I was working as an OTA). At that time, my goal was to take psychology courses at Kean. She mildly stated that I may want to consider exploring the options of pursuing the OT program. I had doubts, though I took a risk, and applied to and joined the program. She was an incredible educator and role model and truly became a colleague and friend after I completed the coursework. She was completing her PhD coursework while I was a student, which planted a seed for me and ultimately inspired me to pursue graduate work. Karen was a true role model on so MANY levels! I truly miss her! I can confidently say this holds true for so many others whose careers she mentored, inspired, and nurtured”.
Why would you advise someone to go to pursue their OT education at Kean?
“I strongly recommend that students pursue their OT education at Kean. Occupational therapy has lost a focus on a holistic approach and therapeutic use of self in so many areas of practice. The faculty is extremely dedicated both to the field and to their students, and I believe they place the necessary attention on preparing competent, caring students who maintain a holistic focus on all areas of specialty students pursue. I think this is a strength of the Kean OT program which ultimately benefits consumers of services and society”.