WVU School of Medicine unveils new interactive Occupational Therapy lab and classroom


Occupational therapy students in the School of Medicine have access to newly-renovated lab and classroom space that will be featured during an open house on Nov. 16. (WVU Photo)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia University School of Medicine students, faculty and administrators officially opened a newly-renovated lab and classroom space providing current and future Occupational Therapy students with the most up-to-date advancements in clinical learning.

Steven Wheeler, the chairperson of the Division of Occupational Therapy, said it feels great to unveil this new space. He said so far, it’s been open to students and the benefits are already present.

Students and instructors playing with children in new facility

“It’s really created is this state-of-the-art setup where we can really provide a quality education for our students in all of the different elements of what occupational therapists do,” Wheeler said.

Occupational therapists, Wheeler said, are involved in “so many different elements of rehabilitation throughout life”. That is why having this new, hands-on learning space will be so vital, Wheeler said.

“We’ve got, really, four distinct areas that allow us to kind of teach students in the context of the settings which they will eventually practice,” Wheeler said. “And I think that’s been a really valuable piece of the project. And now that the students are actually using it and the faculty are integrated into the curriculum, it’s really providing an incredibly valuable educational experience for our students.”

Four Distinct Areas:

  • Makers Space – rooted in collaboration, this area is arranged to foster the development of new ideas and the creation of devices and equipment to improve health, well-being, and functional independence.
  • Occupational Performance Lab – a dual purpose classroom that can be transformed with fold down mat tables to practice handling skills and a swing to learn sensory integrative strategies.
  • ADA accessible studio apartment – equipped with a bathroom, kitchen, couch and laundry, this space allows students to get experience in helping persons throughout their lifespan live safely and independently in their home.
  • Conference Room with Study Pods – Conference table, study pods and resource library to support group and independent study for faculty and students.
Occupational therapy instructor in ADA accessible studio apartment 

Katherine Szymanski, a WVU occupational therapy student, said she and other students are already seeing the direct benefits of the newly-renovated lab and classroom space.

She said they talk about it “all the time”.

“We had four weeks of classes before we got out in the field, and we were here real late at night working in that space in there because it’s just such a better environment than going home,” Szymanski said. “And, it allows us to collaborate more because we are in that shared space more often, so we get to learn stuff from my classmates. They get to learn stuff from me. It’s just better to collaborate in.”

Szymanski said she is “ecstatic” to have the new space. While the old facility was “okay”, it doesn’t compare to the new one, which allows her to get a “full education”.

Students learning how to use the lab from an instructor

“My patients are just going to better from it because I’ll be a better clinician,” she said.

For this, Szymanski said she is grateful.

“I’m really grateful for the university and to everybody that made this happen, especially Dr. Wheeler,” she said. “Because like I said before, we had a space, but it just wasn’t giving us what we needed, so just to have this space and to be able to work is amazing.” 

Wheeler said he, too, is grateful to have the new space. He thanked everyone who made “the combined effort” possible.

There were a lot of innovative ideas, Wheeler said, and it’s great to see some of them come to fruition.

“From those initial ideas, through the work of WVU’s facility staff, they were able to bring the skill set and the sort of the constructional skills to be able to make it happen,” Wheeler said. “But also, the financial support of being a part of the WVU School of Medicine really has been beneficial for us. Also, our collaboration and our being part of the larger Department of Human Performance. So, doctor Mary Beth Mandich was critical through the department role; Dr. Clay Marsh, through the School of Medicine role, and just so many different people just as part of that.”

Wheeler continued, “I’ll miss lots of people along the way there because there are so many different elements. But also, our faculty had great ideas and was very accepting of the change in the space. And, our students, who have really grasped the opportunity and they’re taking full advantage of everything that our lab provides for them.”

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