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Doctoral Capstone Experience: January 2018 OT Alumni News

For more than 31 years, the University of Indianapolis, School of Occupational Therapy, has been dedicated to providing its students with classroom and fieldwork experiences that will serve them and their clients best after graduation. Over the course of those many years, the curriculum has been adapted to respond to changes in the field of OT. The latest change was the addition the Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) degree with a Doctoral Capstone Experience (DCE). The first OTD cohort, which will graduate in May 2018, has just begun their DCE.

The Doctoral Capstone Experience and project is a 16-week, self-directed experience that allows students to develop advanced skills beyond the generalist level. The DCE is completed in the third year of the OTD program after the students have completed their Level II Fieldwork experiences. Students work with their faculty mentor; the doctoral capstone coordinator, currently Dr. Julie Bednarski; and a site mentor to design an immersive learning experience that focuses on one or more of the following: clinical practice skills, research skills, administration, leadership, program and policy development, advocacy, education, or theory development.

“The doctoral capstone allows our students to focus on an area of skill or practice that they want to develop in their professional careers,” Bednarski said.

How it’s done

The OTD Class of 2018 is the first cohort to take on the doctoral capstones, which encompass four courses taken throughout the academic program. In the first year, students take OTD 610 – Doctoral Capstone Development, which helps them to study the literature, identify their focus area and potential sites, and develop objectives. In the second year, OTD 611 – Doctoral Capstone Planning starts the collaboration with the site mentor to develop the capstone experience proposal. During their 16-week immersion, the students complete their experience and project and work to develop their doctoral capstone project dissemination reports (OTD 612 – Doctoral Capstone Project & OTD 690 Doctoral Capstone Experience).

One thing that makes the capstone experience unique from other fieldwork is that site mentors do not have to be occupational therapists.

“Our site mentors are experts in their fields,” Bednarski said, “but that field might not be OT. This allows our students to put occupational therapy to use in a variety of emerging practice areas.”

Capstone experiences in the OTD Class of 2018 include the Island Dolphin Care Center in Key Largo, Florida, where Taylor Millar will determine the role of OT in dolphin therapy for children with sensory integrative disorders.  Breaking New Ground: The National AgrAbility Project in which Danyele Clingan will put her OT skills to work in adaptive farming; and hospital-based projects, including one at Franciscan Hospital in Lafayette, IN where student Doron Kantor will focus on the wellness needs of families with babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) under the supervision of Dr. Rosario Chua, the physician who cared for Doron when she was a NICU baby herself.  

Doctoral Capstone Experience Sites

Setting up nearly 50 Capstone experiences is no small feat. For each experience, there must be a contract between UIndy and the site and a plan that identifies individualized objectives, specific roles and responsibilities for both the site mentor and the student, as well as objective mid-term and formal evaluations.

Bednarski said the university is seeking possible doctoral capstone sites for future OTD cohorts. Site mentors do not have to be occupational therapists, which broadens the potential sites beyond health care to non-profits and other organizations. For more information or to discuss a potential site partnership, please contact Dr. Julie Bednarski at