Rocky Mountain College Provost Dr. Stephen Germic announced to faculty and staff on Thursday, Jan. 11, that the Northwest Commission of Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) has approved and accredited the college’s plan to start a Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) degree program, effective January 2019.
“The OTD program will not only meet a rising need for occupational therapy professionals in our region,” said Germic, “it will also be the first doctoral program offered in the long and distinguished history of Rocky Mountain College.”
RMC President Dr. Robert Wilmouth added that the establishment of the OTD program is “a great step forward in Rocky’s efforts to improve the human condition in Billings and the surrounding area.”
Twylla Kirchen, has been appointed founding director of the OTD program. Kirchen received her doctorate in occupational therapy from Texas Woman’s University and also holds a master of science degree in the field from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She joined RMC after serving as director of the occupational therapy program at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
“As a 5th generation Montanan, I have been wanting to come home for three decades.” said Kirchen. “Professionally, I sought the opportunity to give back to the state I love and wanted the challenge of building an OT program from the ground up. The leadership, faculty and staff at Rocky have been so supportive and collaborative. I call them the ‘Dream Team.’ I feel honored that Dr. Germic was willing to invest in the program.”
The program will be located on the top floor of RMC’s new Charles Morledge Science Building. The upper level of the science building will be finalized by the end of the 2018 spring semester. The OTD curriculum will require 115 credit hours to be completed over three academic years. This spring, RMC will start enrolling students for the term beginning in 2019.
Kirchen added that the program will be 100 percent face to face instruction, which allows for hands on learning. The existing programs at RMC will enhance the OTD student’s educational experience and provide multidisciplinary experience for students.
“I am looking forward to meeting community and state-based needs through the student doctoral capstone and experiential component.” said Kirchen. “I envision creating OT jobs throughout the state by having students demonstrate the power of occupation in a variety of settings.”
According to RMC’s website, the occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants help people across the lifespan participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. Common occupational therapy interventions include helping children with disabilities to participate fully in school and social situations, helping people recovering from injury to regain skills, and providing support for older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes
Kirchen said the RMC OTD Program will be one of the strongest programs in the country. The commitment of the RMC leadership, faculty, and staff has been unbelievable, she said
“I have had potential OT faculty members and students contacting me for months.” said Kirchen. “I would like to build an interdisciplinary, community-focused, experiential learning strong program that promotes the power of meaningful occupation and enhances the human condition for Billings, the state of Montana and eventually the country and world.”
Kirchen envisions a multi-generational clinic at some point that would help educate students and meet community-based needs. Kirchen will lead six faculty members and a few support staffers. Up to 90 students could be in the doctorate program at a given time.
“I think the OTD program complements the already highly successful PA program,” said Kirchen. “It offers a myriad of options for cross-disciplinary education, research and community-based involvement.”
The mission of Rocky Mountain College is to educate future leaders through liberal arts and professional programs that cultivate critical thinking, creative expression, ethical decision-making, informed citizenship, and professional excellence.
The recent accreditation allows RMC to offer a new professional program for students and diversifies the organization’s curriculum while preparing future leaders in those fields.
To learn more, please visit the OTD program page on www.rocky.edu.