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Rowan-Cabarrus Community College launches occupational therapy assistant program

Rowan-Cabarrus Community College

SALISBURY — Rowan-Cabarrus Community College’s first class of the new occupational therapy assistant program is now in session.

The occupational therapy assistant program is the latest launched at Rowan-Cabarrus. As part of the board of trustees meeting, the college held a tour of the space used for the program for trustees and the college foundation’s board of directors, as well as leaders from the Leon Levine Foundation, elected officials and community leaders.

“Occupational therapy assistants help patients of all ages and with all different types of disabilities and challenges to participate in everyday life activities,” said Amy Mahle, chairwoman of the new program. “They are patient, reliable and compassionate individuals.”

The college recognized the need for certified occupational therapy assistants in the region as it explored health occupations and workforce opportunities several years ago. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, occupational therapy assistant positions are projected to increase by 43 percent between 2014 and 2024. The average annual salary in Rowan and Cabarrus counties is $52,000 to $53,800, respectively.

“We are pleased to be one of only seven community colleges in North Carolina that offer the occupational therapy assistant program,” said college President Carol S. Spalding.

The new program is housed in the newly renovated health and sciences building (Building 600), which faces Interstate 85 on the North Campus. It was funded in part by the 2010 Rowan County bond issue and a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration.

“I hope that you’ll see how the new facility and equipment lends itself to innovative teaching and learning approaches that will help enhance the overall student experience by supporting student engagement, persistence and success,” said Wendy Barnhardt, dean of health and education programs. “Occupational therapy is a vibrant, growing profession, and students can look forward to dynamic careers working in multiple settings with people of all ages.”

The curriculum prepares students to work under the supervision of a registered/licensed occupational therapist in screening, assessing, planning, and implementing treatment and documenting progress for clients receiving occupational therapy services.

“Health care in our region will be enhanced as our students train on state-of-the-art equipment, graduate and enter the workforce as occupational therapy assistants,” said Michael Quillen, vice president of academic programs.

Graduates will be eligible to sit for the national certification examination administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy. Job opportunities include hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, long-term or extended-care facilities, sheltered workshops, schools, home health programs, and community programs.

Under the supervision of an occupational therapist, assistants focus on providing treatment that will assist patients as they learn how to function independently in their homes and their communities and help people regain skills lost because of injury.

“We are excited to show you the new space for this program and allow you to see a few examples of how our students are using problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, compassion, a desire to work with patients and teamwork to achieve their goals,” said Mahle.

The students will be trained as generalists so that they are qualified to work in any setting after graduation.

Earlier this year, the college foundation exceeded its first-ever multimillion-dollar fundraising campaign, raising more than $8 million. Part of the campaign’s success included a $300,000 challenge grant from the Leon Levine Foundation for the support of health care education.

“I can’t thank the Leon Levine Foundation enough for their confidence in our ability to meet this challenge and secure the funds we need for health care education,” said Spalding.

The Leon Levine Foundation offered $300,000 to the college’s foundation for health care education if the health care education gifts within the foundation’s “Building a More Prosperous Community” major gifts campaign reached $1.2 million for health care education by May 31, 2016. The Rowan-Cabarrus Foundation reached its $1.2 million goal with the support of numerous community members and organizations like Novant Health and the Rowan County commissioners, whose recent donations helped the campaign meet the challenge grant’s goals.

“Being able to purchase the latest medical equipment, on which our students are trained, is an important factor in their ability to gain employment and our commitment to deliver a skilled health care workforce currently in demand by our local health care providers,” said Carl M. Short, chairman of the Rowan-Cabarrus board of trustees.

Additionally, the Rowan County commissioners allocated $65,000 to the college for health care lab facilities.

The program, with more than 60 qualified applicants, accepted a class of 20 students. The average age is 31, with a range of students from 19 to 51 years of age.

“Students told us that they chose this program for many reasons – from wanting to be successful and becoming someone who can help others to knowing that they have an end goal as an occupational therapy assistant in only two short years,” said Mahle.

Occupational therapy focuses on functioning in the daily “occupations” of life. Common occupational therapy interventions include helping children with disabilities to participate fully in school and social situations, helping people of all ages who are recovering from injury to regain skills, and providing support for older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes.

“We are excited to start this new program and are so pleased that these students are here, ready to make a difference within our institution and within the community,” said Short. “We can’t wait to see them be successful.”

For more information about Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, visit www.rccc.edu or call 704-216-7222.

The college has eight-week fall courses beginning Oct. 18. Spring classes will begin Jan. 8.

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