Wallace State Community College Occupational Therapy instructors Gail Hyatt, left, Kelly Krigbaum and Dr. Allen Keener look at a gift presented to them by the Class of 2017 by class president Chris Self and vice president Rachel Ryan, a brown scrub shirt signed by all of the members of the class. The students presented the gift during the class’s pinning ceremony.

Wallace State Community College Occupational Therapy instructors Gail Hyatt, left, Kelly Krigbaum and Dr. Allen Keener look at a gift presented to them by the Class of 2017 by class president Chris Self and vice president Rachel Ryan, a brown scrub shirt signed by all of the members of the class. The students presented the gift during the class’s pinning ceremony.

HANCEVILLE, Ala. — The 37 graduates of the Wallace State Community College Occupational Therapy Assistant program’s Class of 2017 are entering a field that turned 100 years old this year, said program director Dr. Allen Keener.

“The very first OT practitioners worked with injured World War I soldiers who were returning from combat,” Keener said. “They used contrived activities, such as woodworking and crafts to help ease the deficits that were left behind by battle in their mental health and their physical health, to help them reintegrate into society.

“Although our health care system has changed a lot since then, and our professional practice has changed since then, our profession’s focus on meaningful and necessary life activities has remained,” he added.

Kelly Krigbaum, the program’s coordinator of academic fieldwork, told the graduates she knows they will succeed in their new career. “You all have huge, caring hearts, and I believe each of you came into this profession for the right reasons and are ready to change people’s lives.”

Class president Chris Self encouraged his classmates to do just that as they enter the workforce well prepared for their career.

“The professors have given us everything we need to go out and make a difference in people’s lives,” Self said. “They’ve prepared us for whatever we’ll encounter and now it’s our turn to go and pass on what we’ve learned to make people’s lives better. I think that we’ve chosen a great profession.”

Torrea Talton, who was the program’s nominee for the Excellence in Health Award and winner of the 2017 OTA Program Award, agreed with the previous assessments. “We have such a special class that is full of creativity and big hearts.”

Talton shared her experience with a patient she cared for during her clinical rotation. Suffering from Alzheimer’s, her patient couldn’t recognize family or even herself in photos, but maintained a cheerful attitude. “She was the most complimentary lady,” Talton said. “She had the most uplifting things to say every morning. I got in the habit of greeting her the same way she would greet me every day.

“Well, about week six, I walked in and she was already up in her chair, and I said, ‘Good morning, beautiful,’ and she just smiled at me so big and said, ‘I know you.’” Talton said she’s not sure if the woman really remembered her, but hopes so. “I just want y’all to remember to be kind and smile and compliment your patients, because it does leave an impression.”

The Occupational Therapy Assistant program is a five-semester program, with two semesters of pre-requisite courses followed by three semesters of program specific courses. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment of OTAs will grow 43 percent from 2014 to 2024, making it one the fastest-growing occupations.

For more information about the OTA program, contact Keener at 256.352.8333 or allen.keener@wallacestate.edu. The OTA program accepts new students each fall, with the application deadline of June 1.