When she was in high school, Caroline Donsbach worked part-time as a nanny to a teenage girl with Angelman Syndrome, a genetic disorder affecting the nervous system.
“She had the cognition of a toddler,” Donsbach explains. “I was 16, 17, learning to drive and thinking about college and here was this young woman who wasn’t going to do these things.”
That experience ignited a passion in Donsbach to have a career devoted to helping others.
“And that’s what occupational therapy is,” she adds.
Donsbach was recently awarded a scholarship from the American Occupational Therapy Foundation, making her the first UTC student to receive a scholarship from the organization. According to its website, the American Occupational Foundation is a charitable, scientific and educational organization supporting occupational therapy research and increasing public understanding of the important relationship between everyday activities (occupations) and health.
Donsbach is currently in her second year of the three-year occupational therapy doctoral degree program at UTC. After completing undergraduate studies at the University of South Carolina, the Knoxville, Tenn., native says UTC was her first choice.
She’s built strong relationships with fellow students and professors in the occupational therapy program.
“We’re a small class; I found some really good friends. Our professors are really supportive and they have valuable clinical experience,” she says.
But her excitement shines when she talks about the community work she’s done with the occupational therapy program. From fall prevention screening at local health fairs to a Matter of Balance course, where occupational therapy and Master of Public Health students collaborated to help community members.
In the Matter of Balance course, she and other students met with local senior adults to discuss their fears of falling because “their fear of falling can be predictive of if they will fall in the future,” Donsbach says.
The students then worked with community members, providing suggestions for simple home improvements to minimize fall risks such as adding more light to dimly lit areas, moving pieces of furniture further apart, getting rid of rugs and adding brightly lit tape to edges of stairs, to name a few.