Vision, Mission and Philosophy

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, 2014).

Occupational Therapy Program Mission Statement

The Occupational Therapy Program at Sacred Heart University is rooted in the Catholic Intellectual Tradition and fulfills the University’s Mission in preparing 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. The Program realizes the University’s Mission through a commitment to engaging students in service to the human community especially to those in need. We value diversity in backgrounds, beliefs, and thought. We are a unique learning community dedicated to giving personal attention to each student through nurturing in our students, self-knowledge, a facility to move among different cultures and spiritual practices with an open mind, respect for the diversity of humankind, and an ability to generate empathetic and effective therapeutic relationships. We encourage students to think critically, analyze carefully, use evidence, 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, our unique program stimulates interprofessional collaboration and active engagement. Through problem-based learning, collaborative group work, digital pedagogies, and sustained interactions with faculty, we strive to develop students who are competent occupational therapy professionals with the desire to contribute to the common good promoting a just society through practice, service, leadership, and the search for truth through scholarship.

Occupational Therapy Department Vision

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, Responsive, Interprofessional, Dynamic, and Excellent.  As our guiding vision, PRIDE reveals our commitment to excellence in our program, our students, and ourselves. 


  • 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 interact collaboratively, share knowledge with and engage with interprofessional teams of health professionals, students, clients, and caregivers.
  • We communicate respectfully with interprofessional teams to develop constructive team climates.
  • We address differences constructively in a way that strengthens team effectiveness.
  • We understand our own and other's roles and responsibilities and are able to appropriate share leadership based on that understanding.


  • We are actively engaged in life-long 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 education for life.
  • We support and encourage curiosity.
  • We are globally focused.
  • We are committed to our professional organizations. 
  • We demonstrate professional behaviors in all contexts.

Occupational Therapy Program Philosophy

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 choose to 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 approach to the occupational therapy process is inherently holistic, and client-and-family centered, collaborating with our clients to discover client's strengths and needs in the meaningful aspects of their being, occupations, and life contexts.  

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, life-long learners who make decisions rooted in evidence and theoretical plausibility. 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, theories, and frames of reference 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 the development of a professional identity through enculturation into the professional behaviors, values, 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 to facilitate the development of a professional identity.  We challenge students to reflect on ethical decision making and consideration of the consequences of one’s actions throughout the curriculum, in fieldwork, and co-curricular activities.

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 (AOTA, 2014), 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 and pedagogies used to facilitate and scaffold knowledge, skills and professionalism including problem-based learning, group work, active-engaged experiences, service-learning, interprofessional experiences, fieldwork supervision, mentoring, and co-curricular activities.
  • The tree branches express our three curricular themes of occupational therapy assessment and intervention, therapeutic and professional relationships, and evidence-based practice and professional identity. Courses within each theme prepare students in the knowledge, skills, professional behaviors and values they need for entry-level practice.
  • The leaves symbolize the Program's PRIDE Student Learning Outcomes which cycle back to the roots, demonstrating the continual integration of new information with prior knowledge through a process of life-long learning to nurture the occupational therapist's continued professional development.

The Curricular Sequence

The curricular sequence begins with the solid roots of foundational 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. 

The curriculum and the co-curricular activities combine to allow our program to meet the Program’s PRIDE Student Learning Outcomes. See Tree Curriculum Description

PRIDE Student Learning Outcomes

Our PRIDE vision was further distilled into program student learning outcomes 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 occupational and educational needs in underserved communities through leadership, advocacy, and service
  • Interact collaboratively and communicate effectively with individuals, populations, and interprofessional teams.
  • Demonstrate readiness, habits, and skills for self-directed, life-long learning and self-reflection.
  • Exhibit critical thinking, clinical reasoning, use of evidence, and competence in skills requisite for entry-level holistic application of occupational therapy process.
  • Engage in professional activities and demonstrate professional behaviors.


American Occupational Therapy Association. (2014). Occupational therapy practice framework: Domain and process (3rd ed.). American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 68(Suppl. 1), S1–S48. 

Kearsley, G. (2010). Andragogy (M. Knowles). The theory into practice database. Retrieved from

Knowles, M. (1984). The adult learner: A neglected species (3rd ed.). Houston, TX: gulf Publishing.

Knowles, M. (1984). Andragogy in action. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Knowles, M.S. (1980). The Modern practice of adult education. Andragogy versus pedagogy. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall/Cambridge.

Wilcock, A. (1999). Reflections on doing, being, and becoming. AJOT, 46, 1-11.

Wilcock, A. & Hocking, C. (2014). Occupational perspective of health (3rd ed.). Thorofare, NJ: Slack.