Program Information

‌‌Why is SHU's Occupational Therapy Program Unique?

In the context of a growing need for occupational therapy practitioners and increasing public interest in the profession, our program has made a commitment to remain intimate and engaging. The faculty of Sacred Heart University’s Occupational Therapy Program believes that learning naturally emerges from sustained interactions among students, faculty, and clients. With this belief in mind, our program is structured to encourage and nurture these interactions. The pedagogical methods we have chosen for our program include active, engaged teaching-learning experiences that allow faculty and students to get to know each other well and to support ongoing learning for our occupational therapy community.

The primary pedagogical method for our program is Problem-based learning (PBL) where small groups of students and a faculty facilitator work through a case to foster clinical reasoning and clinical decision making. Problem-based learning provides educational content while simultaneously creating a forum of engaging in interactions and clinical decision-making typical of team-based health care. Group interactions also support the development of professional behaviors critical to practice. The faculty regularly engage in continuing development in pedagogy and attend professional conferences and meetings to improve our teaching skills. As a result, faculty have implemented digital pedagogies, and new teaching, syllabi development, and assignment strategies throughout the curriculum. Faculty are beginning to introduce team-based learning strategies in larger sized classes. Team-based learning engages small groups of students in applying course concepts and collaborative reasoning to solve authentic, real-world problems.

Our department’s mission, vision, philosophy and curriculum design reflects the values of the University as a whole as well as the educational philosophy of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). 

The Occupational Therapy Program at Sacred Heart University prepares future practitioners with the knowledge, skills, and values that enable them to practice and lead with professional excellence, commitment to education for life, and true humanity. We are a learning community rooted in the Catholic Intellectual Tradition, dedicated to giving personal attention to each student in order to nurture self-knowledge, facility to move among different cultures and spiritual practices with an open mind, and respect for the diversity of humankind. We encourage students to think critically, analyze carefully, and articulate their beliefs and assumptions. As occupational beings, we advocate involvement in occupations beyond academics to foster balance, health, and wellness among our students. Through curricular and co-curricular activities, we stimulate innovation, creativity, and active engagement. We strive to develop students with the desire to contribute to the common good as persons and as professionals, promoting a just society through practice, service, leadership, and the search for truth through scholarship.

A vision statement is a guiding document that provides inspiration and assists in day-to-day decision making that allows the mission to be achieved. The vision of the occupational therapy department at Sacred Heart University is articulated by the acronym P.R.I.D.E. PRIDE stands for Principled, Innovative, Dynamic, and Excellent. As our guiding vision, PRIDE reveals our commitment to excellence in our program, our students, and ourselves. 
For our program this means:


  • We expect and ensure ethical behavior.
  • We make decisions with integrity.
  • We are respectful of others.


  • We are caring, attentive, and present in interactions with others.
  • We value and engage in service to meet needs.
  • We identify learning needs and share our knowledge and expertise.


  • We promote creativity, originality, and innovation.
  • We use innovative strategies and new technologies to promote learning.


  • We are actively engaged in learning and teaching.
  • We accept and support change.
  • We take initiative.
  • We seek and consider diversity of opinion.
  • We gather and use feedback to promote positive growth and change in ourselves and others.


  • We excel in our areas of practice.
  • We seek to exceed standards of competence.
  • We engage in evidence based practice and life-long learning.
  • We support and encourage curiosity.
  • We are globally focused.
  • We are committed to our professional organizations.


Occupation is the foundation of our profession. We believe in human occupation as a key determinant of health and well-being. Occupation is all that people need, want, and are expected to do, that is meaningful to them in their social cultural context, and has the potential to be an agent of change and health (Wilcock & Hocking, 2014).

Our beliefs about occupation

Involvement in meaningful occupation is a human right. Humans engage in occupations whose meaning is personally and socially defined. Occupations vary from basic survival activities such as eating and sleeping, to activities that allow humans to express their unique gifts, such as dance, art, or sport. Engagement in occupation impacts one’s health and an individual may choose either healthy or unhealthy occupations. Occupation has therapeutic value when an individual actively engages in it and grows and changes in positive ways. The process of participating in occupation is dynamic and shaped by the individual, the human and non-human environment, and the occupation itself. Occupation develops and changes over the lifespan and access to a full range of human occupations may be influenced by culture and society. The occupations of one individual have the possibility of impacting the occupations of others.

Our beliefs about human beings

Human beings are DOING beings (Wilcock, 1999). From the moment of birth, humans engage in activities that impact their health and well-being. An integral part of being human is the opportunity to choose our occupations. Throughout our lives, we interact with the world by what we do. However, humans also change over time, they BECOME. They learn. Change occurs in complex ways through interactions with occupations, others, and self- reflection.

Our beliefs about learners

Graduate learners enter the occupational therapy program with unique and diverse experiences and knowledge that impact their understanding of the occupational therapy content. They enter with varying levels of readiness, curiosity, and motivation. Learners transition from undergraduate to adult learners as they become more self directed in their learning process, value the information being learned, understand its importance, and are challenged to solve relevant problems (Kearlsey, 2010; Knowles, 1980; 1984). Adult learners value equal partnerships with their teachers and learning can happen both in and outside of the classroom. Active engagement fuels the learning process as adults learn best by doing, creating, and revising. Sacred Heart University students value service to the human community.

Our beliefs about Occupational Therapy Education

Clinical reasoning is fluid and dependent upon multiple factors. We, therefore, believe that learning activities should facilitate mastery of knowledge, skills, behaviors, and thinking processes required for competent occupational therapy practice. We recognize that students may enter the graduate occupational therapy program with ideas that knowledge is absolute and concrete. Our job as educators is to facilitate students’ transition to use knowledge in a contextual fashion.  Students must be able to consider multiple aspects of a situation in context to determine the best course of action, as there is usually more than one right answer. Building upon foundational knowledge acquired from undergraduate and graduate courses, students engage in self-directed learning to independently identify and find further information needed for the novel application and integration of knowledge required in learning activities designed to elicit clinical reasoning. Faculty guides, encourages, and facilitates learning. Utilizing feedback and evaluation of faculty and peers, as well as self-reflection facilitates growth throughout this recursive process. Faculty and students alike can be change agents as we are collaborative partners in the learning process.

We value and respect our students as individuals, and accept diversity in all forms. Through a variety of learning activities students learn to consider and understand the impact of diverse cultures and societies on human occupation and health. We utilize a variety of learning activities and teaching strategies to allow access for all types of learners. Similarly, students are taught to adapt their teaching style to the style and needs of the client. 

As a profession rooted in helping others, and a program situated in a Catholic University, service is an integral part of what we do. We believe that through service, service learning, and community experiences at home and abroad, students will learn the true meaning of occupational justice.

In our constantly changing world, therapists need to solve new problems, manage and adapt to a variety of new situations and clients; and become self-directed, lifelong learners. Our program strives to instill intellectual curiosity and the independence to learn what they do not yet know.  Students learn to seek out, understand, and use current evidence to support their clinical decisions. Concurrently, to be effective in our profession, creative problem solving and innovation is key and we strive to promote creativity and innovation throughout our program and model it with our teaching. Technology has altered the way in which students learn. Certain course activities are presented using a wide variety of pedagogical strategies and digital tools appropriate for today’s adult learners.

Professional excellence in the current healthcare environment demands interprofessional communication, collaboration, and respect as well as enculturation into the professional behaviors and ethics of one’s own discipline. Our program believes in interprofessional collaboration and promotes and encourages activities with the other disciplines represented in our college as we simultaneously encourage students to take on more and more aspects of their new professional role as an occupational therapist. Learning occurs both in and outside of the classroom and engagement in professional activities as a student, promotes important professional habits and behaviors.  We challenge students to reflect on ethical decision making and consideration of the consequences of one’s actions throughout the curriculum.

Finally, therapists give of themselves and must ensure they take care of themselves as well as their clients. Our students are occupational beings and we believe in the importance of balancing the demands of graduate school with maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Through learning activities that promote self-knowledge and reflection, students are encouraged to develop an occupational plan for balance, optimal readiness for learning, and wellness.

Our curriculum aligns with AOTA’s philosophy of education, has a strong emphasis on problem-based learning, and a variety of high impact learning practices because we believe they are most suitable to graduate level education and the needs of the profession to promote competent practitioners.

Occupational Therapy Curriculum Design

Our curriculum design is portrayed in the symbol of the tree of life. This tree reflects our beliefs about the complexity and interactive nature of human learning. The process of learning symbolized by the tree is recursive. The tree is growing in a rich environment that nurtures the unique development and emergence of the professional identity. Each student learns from faculty, each other, our professional scholars, and expert clinicians. Each member of the learning community grows from these interactions and changes the learning environment. Faculty, staff, and students in our learning community engage in these interactions reflectively considering the potential impact on ot‌hers and the profession.‌

  • The Roots consist of the foundational knowledge students need to become an exemplary practitioner as well as the knowledge they bring with them to the program;
  • The trunk symbolizes the learning process including problem based learning pedagogies, active-engaged experiences, service-learning, interprofessional experiences, fieldwork, mentoring, and co-curricular activities.

  • The tree branches symbolize the growth of the skills, abilities, and professional behaviors of the entry level clinician graduating from our program.  The tree’s branches circle back to its roots, demonstrating the continual process of learning and the integration of new information with prior knowledge as an occupational therapist grows throughout a lifetime of practice. 

The curricular sequence and co-curricular activities

The curricular sequence begins with the solid roots of basic knowledge and skills for occupational therapy; the sciences, therapeutic use of self, occupational therapy theory, and activity analysis. Next, students engage in three semesters of problem-based learning courses with associated labs, seminars, and fieldwork experiences. They end with advanced courses and activities appropriate for those about to enter the profession. The course series each build upon earlier courses in a recursive process that layers and scaffolds greater complexity of thinking over the foundations of basic content knowledge.

Embedded in the curriculum are multiple extra-curricular opportunities for students to engage in collaboration with faculty and each other.

Foundations(Roots) Trunk Professional Engagement and EBP(Branch) Professional Relationships(Branch) Occupational Therapy Process(Branch)


❖   Introduction to OT

❖   Applied Functional Anatomy & Neuroscience

❖   Therapeutic Use of Self

❖   Human Conditions across the Lifespan

❖   Human Occupation & Activity Analysis

❖   Health Policy & Law

PBL process

Active engaged learning

Interprofessional learning experiences

Service learning

Branches from Introduction to OT

❖  Research I & II

❖  Capstone I & II

❖  Portfolio


Branches from Therapeutic Use of Self

❖  Health and Wellness

❖  Level I FW

❖  FW Seminars

❖  Groups

❖  Leadership &   Management

Branches from all foundational courses and the problem based learning process

❖  PBL, Topics, and Laboratories in Mental Health, Pediatrics & Adolescence, and Adults & Geriatrics

❖  Groups

❖  Needs Assessment and Program Development,

❖  Health, Prevention, & Well-being

❖  FW


❖   Orientation

❖   Pre-program quizzes



❖  Capstone Poster Presentations


❖  Pi theta

❖  ConnOTA /AOTA conference

❖  Student Conclave

❖  Capitol Hill Day

❖  Pinning

❖  Mock interviews

❖  Lunches and movies

❖  IPE experiences and   service learning

❖  Peer mentoring

❖  Curricular review and program evaluation surveys / focus groups

❖  Service learning

❖  IPE experiences

❖  NBCOT prep


The curriculum and the extra-curricular activities combine to allow our program to meet the following program objectives.

Program Objectives

Our PRIDE vision was further distilled into program objectives to match the ideas reflected in PRIDE, as well as our mission and our philosophy of learning statement.

Consistent with our vision of PRIDE, by graduation our students will:

  • Practice in a safe, legal, and ethical manner.

  • Respond to unmet needs in underserved communities through leadership, advocacy, or service.

  • Identify areas for creativity and innovation in practice and scholarship.

  • Demonstrate self-reflection.

  • Exhibit critical thinking, clinical reasoning, and competence in skills requisite for entry-level occupational therapy practice.

  • Engage in professional activities.

See what Dr. R. Kent Crookston, author of Working with Problem Faculty:  A 6-Step Guide for Department Chairs (2012), published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. says about the ‎‌‎
‌Curriculum Design and Approach to Learning
The curriculum utilizes a Problem Based Learning (PBL) approach. PBL incorporates small group tutorials led by expert faculty members or clinical practitioners, designed to bridge course content with practice by having students actively engage in the clinical reasoning process through case studies.

Students solve clinical problems through self-directed and peer group study, evidence-based research and discussion in order to integrate a theoretical and foundational knowledge base into the application of occupational therapy assessment and intervention strategies and skills. ‌Students actively engage in and develop the clinical reasoning skills requisite to team collaboration, leadership and evidenced-based practice.

PBL provides students with the foundation for self directed, life long learning necessary for a practicing professional. The curriculum incorporates fieldwork and community-based practice opportunities where students actively use clinical reasoning in the design of assessment, intervention and follow up strategies based on evidence, leadership, supervision and management, research and entrepreneurship. Students are provided with a strong educational background to address the physical, cognitive, emotional, social and spiritual needs of their clients in order to design occupation based interventions which enable clients to participate optimally in their own living environments of work, school, play, home, society and community.

Class Size and Structure

‌‌‎The maximum class size is 55. Faculty/student ratios are determined by teaching/learning strategies. Typical faculty/student ratios in laboratories are 15-18 to one with additional faculty during more intensive labs. PBL tutorials are in a small group format, typically with 6-8 students per facilitator. The faculty for this program is highly involved with the students and gets to know them well as individuals and future colleagues.



  • Wilcock, A. & Hocking, C. (2014) Occupational Perspective of Health, Third Edition.  Thorofare, NJ: Slack
  • Wilcock, A. (1999) Reflections on Doing, being, and becoming. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, 46, 1-11.
  • Knowles, M. (1984). The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species (3rd Ed.). Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing.
  • Knowles, M. (1984). Andragogy in Action. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Knowles, M. S. (1980) The Modern Practice of Adult Education. Andragogy versus pedagogy, Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall/Cambridge. 
  • Kearsley, G. (2010). Andragogy (M.Knowles). The theory Into practice database. Retrieved from