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Professor Twyla Fink Discusses the 2021 OT Graduate Research Conference

Interview by the Center for Research and Creative Activities

The 18th annual Occupational Therapy Graduate Research Conference was held this past April, and with the introduction of the new Salem State Digital Repository, you can now view all the conference presentations online.

In honor of the transition to its new home, the CRCA was able to interview Professor Twyla Fink who was the coordinating faculty chair for the conference.

The OT Graduate Research Conference was a week-long event that took place from Saturday, April 17 to Saturday, April 24.

“We weren’t sure if we’d be able to even hold a conference,” Fink explained. In 2020 the Department had to cancel the event due to Covid. “But thankfully, Justin Snow (Digital Initiatives Librarian) was able to help us make that shift to an online platform.” 

While a typical conference would take place on a single day, this year’s conference was made available for an entire week in order to accommodate audience participation. During that week, attendees were able to view the virtual presentations, and submit questions about the students’ research, which were then answered over the course of the seven days. Professor Fink acted as the conference chair for the proceedings.

“I started working with the class of ‘21 in the fall of 2020 to get them working on and starting to think about the conference. And then January 2021 is when we hit the ground running.” Fink said. There were 29 students —now graduates!—in the 2021 cohort, and professor Fink was able to meet with all of them in order to prepare for the event in April. 

“Typically, students fundraise all their own money to pay for the conference venue and for the keynote speaker (including speaking fee, airfare and accommodations). However, due to Covid, an in-person event just wasn’t possible this year, and with the pressures of transitioning to an online event, the Department didn’t feel comfortable asking students to fundraise large sums of money during such a difficult year. Fortunately, they were able to find a keynote speaker who was willing to share her expertise without taking a fee—Virginia Spielmann, an Occupational Therapist based out of Colorado who gave a talk on “Reflective Practice in Occupational Therapy.” Fink explained. 

Another important part of a typical OT Graduate Research Conference is the charitable aspect of the event. Each year, students in the OT Department determine which local charity organizations they would like to fundraise money for. However, with the online platform this aspect of the conference looked slightly different this year. Rather than fundraising and collecting money ahead of the conference, participants of the event were able to click on a link that Justin Snow included on the opening webpage, and donate to the charities directly. This year’s charities included:

1.    LEO
2.    Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA)
3.    The Peter Frates Family Foundation

Another unique aspect of the Salem State OT Graduate Conference is that it allows for OT practitioners to receive continuing education credits from attending the conference. “Which is important for ongoing certification to be a practicing OT,” Professor Fink says. However, even with the switch to an online platform, practitioners were still able to submit their learning objectives from the presentations they attended and receive CE credits. “This is such an important part for our professional community that comes to the conference every year,” Fink says. 

Though many things had to change to accommodate a virtual event, the conference was still, in the end, a huge success. “Generally, the conference will bring in occupational therapy practitioners from all over the area as well as students and alumni,” Professor Fink explained. “However, with the digital platform this year, it allowed for a much broader audience.” In fact, based on statistics from the week, the conference had people tuning in from over ten different countries, and the keynote address alone was viewed more than 250 times. Professor Fink feels that while there are pros and cons to hosting a virtual conference as opposed to an in-person event, overall, she was grateful for the experience.

“We were able to have a lot more attendees because of the convenience of an online platform. Though we are planning to be back in-person for next year, and are hoping that is a possibility.”

Congratulations to all the 2021 OT graduates!  

Evea Raye
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