Alumni in Action
Sally Kamps (Irons), Class of 1956
Sally Kamps, a University of Minnesota Occupational Therapy (OT) graduate (class of 1956), attributes two life events to her ongoing work helping people overcome challenges: the experience she gained in the University’s OT program, and the struggles her childhood best friend endured, living with cerebral palsy.
“I used to go to the original Curative Workshop with her for treatments and observed occupational therapy in action and that had a lasting impression on me and influenced my decision about a career choice,” she says.
Sally devoted the earliest part of her occupational therapy career working with psychiatry patients at University Hospital, and then with people recovering from strokes at Methodist Hospital, where she worked closely with a speech therapist. The two started a group called The Communications Center, for stroke patients and their families to better understand the changes in their lives and how to deal with them.
Sally’s retirement from Methodist and the OT profession in 1982, marked, in some ways, an escalation of the kind of thinking she brought to the Communication Center; connecting people who have special needs with services to help them thrive.
She and a minister at Colonial Church started a program called Tapestry which brought special needs and typical high school kids together to promote acceptance, understanding, and inclusion through fun activities. Later, after her husband's death in 2003, Sally was searching for meaning in her life. And again, she partnered with the minister and his wife, who were starting a group for high school special needs kids called Young Life Capernaum. Sally volunteered over the years and still remains on the Board.
“When those kids graduated from high school, we could see a need for something more, so we started Beyond Limits, a two-year college program for high functioning special needs kids, to provide a college experience that promotes inclusion, learning life skills, and becoming independent,” she says.. “It’s a wonderful residential program held at Bethany Global University.” Sally still serves on the board of directors and is interested in exploring continued opportunities for the students to maintain independence in group living after they graduate. .
Sally cites the enduring ability of occupation therapy to make a difference in helping peoples’ lives through problem solving. The impact of her childhood friend inspired this decades long commitment, and Sally credits the training she received at the University of Minnesota’s OT program with providing the broad thinking and strategic foundation to sustain it.
Sally’s decades-long devotion to helping people isn’t limited to her volunteer work. For more than 30 years she’s also donated to the University of Minnesota’s Occupational Therapy program. “I hope it would help some students that would need it,” she says. “I’m big on scholarships and I just think it’s important for that program to continue. It’s such an important thing and that’s why I continue to support it.”
Susan Becker, Class of 1969
“Occupational therapy is hard to explain to people,” says Susan Becker, University of Minnesota OT graduate from the class of 1969. “I remember a joke I heard about this: ‘Physical therapy will get you ready to run a marathon and occupational therapy will make sure you have your pants on.’”
It turns out the endurance of Becker’s own OT expertise spanned more than a marathon, when she found herself applying her skills earlier this year, 50 years after she graduated from the “U”, to help someone who’s very close to her.
That person was herself.
Following complicated back surgery, Becker says she developed an infection that required more surgery, and she sustained cracked vertebrae during her transport to and from a nursing facility. The ordeal left her temporarily unable to walk, and in a rehabilitation facility. “The occupational therapists had equipment and I showed them how to do it,” she says. “I was surprised how many of the muscle names and nerves I remembered and the terminology. I must have learned it really well because it came to me 50 years later.”
When she left rehab and returned to her Chicago area home last April, she conditioned her arms to accommodate a walker, and her mobility has improved in the time since.
Becker’s ongoing passion for OT and its role in helping improve peoples’ lives began during her research for a report on the topic in 9th grade. This solidified her determination to study the field. “I thought that sounds really cool,” she said of the profession.
When she later enrolled in the University of Minnesota, her early studies focused on Classical Greek, before she entered the OT program. Now, like then, OT students approach the program with a wide variety of academic backgrounds.
And now, like then, OT graduates also apply their expertise within numerous different settings. Susan Becker chose the intersection of psychology and occupational therapy, working within several Chicago-area hospitals to help psychiatric patients with their daily living skills. Her career also involved teaching and consulting nursing homes.
Year after year, Becker chose to donate to the University of Minnesota’s Occupational Therapy Program, to “support children, whether it’s for books or some special thing they need to do.” She has also committed to support an education that continues, to this day, to remain relevant to her own life, and has no plans to stop.
“They’re in my will. I think I’ve been very blessed to have had the education I got and to do the things I’ve wanted to do in terms of working with populations. Its important to support the people who’ve supported you.”
Bill Pedersen, Class of 1964
56 years separate today from the day Bill Pedersen graduated from the University of Minnesota’s Occupational Therapy program, a time when a full year’s tuition cost in the low hundreds of dollars.
In the five decades to follow, Bill’s OT training carried his career to the Hastings State Hospital, North Memorial Hospital(where he established its OT program), the Connecticut Mental Health Center, Yale University (where he graduated with a Master’s of Public Health), a psychiatry lecturer role at Yale, an assistant administrator at the Connecticut Mental Health Center, the administrator of a mental health program in Grand Rapids, MN, and the CEO at the St Peter Regional Treatment Center (then the largest public treatment facility in Minnesota devoted to forensic, mentally Ill and developmentally disabled patients).
The University of Minnesota’s Occupational Therapy program has always been a gateway for graduates to contribute to the well-being of others through many different paths. Some of its OT graduates devote their entire career to working directly with patients. Some transition to other health care disciplines. Some, like Bill Pederson, build upon both their OT education, and their meaningful engagement with patients, to lead an organization.
“I truly believe my clinical experience as an OT was a major asset in my future career,” he says. “The experience in the OT program at the University of Minnesota was the foundation for all that was to come.”
Retired, now, for nearly 20 years, Bill still views the study of occupational therapy as, most fundamentally, an essential discipline that teaches students to help others perform the day to day functions that are critical toward living their best lives. But access to this education has diminished since his day as a student, as costs to enroll have steadily risen.
The University of Minnesota’s OT program makes scholarships available to students to help offset their tuition and housing costs. Behind these and other financial resources is an alumnus like Bill Pederson, who donates regularly. He’s dedicated to helping students who are committed to practicing the field receive the outstanding education and overall experience that the program provides.
“I couldn’t say enough about contributing. Every little bit helps. Every little bit the department gets, they use. There are no bells or whistles,” he says. “We need to step up. These things won’t happen unless we do. There needs to be more than words.”
These many years after Bill graduated from the University of Minnesota and reached the height of his career, he feels a strong affinity for those who are just entering the program. “I still consider myself an OT,” he says. “I want to help in any little way I can.”