This past April, the Occupational Therapy program at Salem State University hosted their 18th Annual OT Graduate Research Conference. Due to Covid, the event took place virtually, however, in partnership with the SSU digital repository, the department was not only able to host a week-long conference (rather than just a single-day event) but the presentations and videos are still available to view through the repository!
The Center for Research and Creative Activities (CRCA) was able to sit down with the Occupational Therapy Chairperson, Jeramie Silveira, to discuss the event. “This conference started small when we had our first cohort of students in the program. It must’ve been about 11 students,” Silveira explained. The initial conference was held at Vet’s Hall on campus and housed about 50 participants. However, as the years passed, the conference continued to grow and got so large that they had to move the event off-campus to a hotel. Over time, the conference surpassed even that location, so they moved it again to the DoubleTree Hotel in Danvers where they had close to 250 attendees including vendors, local clinicians, educators, and students.
The conference provides a unique learning experience for SSU students as it is an entirely student-run event. Silveira says it is a wonderful opportunity for students to present their research to the community, but it also helps students learn, “not to be afraid of research when they get out into the clinical community.” Most professionals in the field of occupational therapy will have the opportunity to present their research at statewide or national conferences, and the experience Salem State graduate students receive not only presenting but hosting a conference, provides them with invaluable experience to prepare them for the next step in their careers. Silveira says promoting the importance of conducting evidence-based research is essential, and this conference is a great way for students to go through that process. It really sets Salem State’s OT program apart from other universities. North Shore Community College and Bristol Community College have made attendance to the conference a requirement for their OTA student courses, because they want their students to see the types of research that can be done by other students in the field.
When students begin in the four-year graduate OT program at Salem State, they are told that in the final year they will be hosting and creating this conference. In fact, during one of their first courses in the program they develop their subcommittees to establish which students will be responsible for fundraising, marketing, preparing the venue, etc. Then, Silveira says, as they start developing their own research to present at the conference, students come up with a theme, which helps them decide who their keynote speaker will be. Someone who aligns with the ideals and goals of the conference.
The theme of this year’s conference was ‘community’ and students were able to use excess funds raised for the conference to donate to several local community organizations. While the conference was not able to be held in person, the event was still a huge success, and Silveira says that even more people were able to watch the presentations than normal, they had a whole week to participate and could join the conference from the comfort of their home. Attendees were able to view presentations any time during the week and submit their questions, and students were responsible for checking in each day and responding to any questions that came in. In this way, the students were able to receive even more feedback from their work than they had in the past.
Now Silveira says they are looking towards March for this year’s conference, the 19th Annual Salem State Occupational Therapy Graduate Research Conference. Silveira says that they are hopeful to return to an in person event, however, because of the wonderful experience they had using the digital repository last year, she’s grateful to know that it is also a possibility should they have to host the conference virtually.
Congratulations to all the Salem State OT alums on this incredible accomplishment!