By Selene Rodriguez
South Texas College Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) students recently hit a remarkable milestone, making an impact on therapy professionals statewide by presenting a significant collaboration with the Rio Grande Valley Down Syndrome Association at the 2023 Texas Occupational Therapy Association conference held in Houston.
“We encourage our students to not only attend these types of events but to lead them, which helps build their confidence as medical professionals and gives them an opportunity to network with future peers,” said Layman D. Miller, OTA program chair, who serves for the state organization as an OTA representative.
Six students presented “Occupations without limits,” a project developed earlier in the year, where they helped children with Down Syndrome learn important life skills through games and activities.
“Every year our students work on a community project based on the needs in our area. Last semester we partnered with the RGV Down Syndrome Association to see what techniques or strategies our students could implement to help improve the lives of children born with Down Syndrome,” explained Miller. “The end result was outstanding, so we encouraged them to share results.”
Divided into four categories: first aid, cooking, financial and home management, the students created a program based on visual aids to help the patients learn various skills such as doing their laundry, caring for wounds , calling 9-1-1 and handling money with tools such as color-coded cash, pictures of ingredients and step-by-step recipes.
“To speak in front of well-known therapists as a student was nerve-racking, fortunately we received amazing feedback. Many people were surprised we were part of an assistant program, saying it was a doctoral-level presentation,” said OTA student Annika Ruvalcaba. “The best part was realizing how much we have learned when we have not even gone out into the field yet. To make an impact on people that have been therapists for a long time was an amazing feeling.”
For Ruvalcaba, a level-two student who applied to the program after completing a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science in 2021, this is only one of many resources that STC has provided for her to succeed.
“I went into Exercise Science because I was interested in the training side of therapy, but after, I started looking for more. I should have just applied at STC from the beginning, I’m learning so much more than I ever thought possible,” she said. “Most schools just want you to graduate and move on, but STC is different. Everyone at STC wants you to be ready for the field and properly prepare you for the job on day one. Our incredible participation at the state conference is the best proof of that.”
Encouraged by her instructors to constantly seek opportunities to network, grow and give back to the community, Ruvalcaba’s passion for the profession has only grown since she started the program in 2022.
“I fell in love with occupational therapy because of how holistic it is. We don’t just treat a patient’s injury or strength, we look at how a broken arm or a disability might affect their daily activities and figure out adaptations to improve a patient’s life,” she explained.
Ruvalcaba is expected to graduate in May 2024 and plans to expand her knowledge while working in the field before starting a doctorate degree in Occupational Therapy.
“As an OTA I can work anywhere ranging from school districts to hospitals or nursing homes. My mom has a home health agency and wants me to work with her, but I just want to explore all my opportunities before I move out of town to pursue a doctorate,” she said. “I didn’t expect a two-year program to be this rigorous, but I’m grateful for it. Wherever my next step is, I’m certain STC has prepared me well for it.”
For more information on Occupational Therapy Assistant or other Nursing and Allied Health programs offered at STC, visit nah.southtexascollege.edu or call 956-872-3100.