Skip to main content
The official hub for news and stories from Colorado Mesa University

First OT cohort positively impacting the community as they learn new profession

Colorado Mesa University’s new Master of Occupational Therapy (MSOT) program matriculated its first cohort of future therapists in spring of 2022, and they have been actively learning in the lecture halls and hands-on learning labs in the St. Mary’s Medical Education Center. The program boasts small class sizes and the lowest tuition price in Colorado.  

“One of the things that makes our program unique is we do not look at students as if they are students. We look at them as novice practitioners from the very start of the program, and they're learning how to think and act and speak like a professional occupational therapist,” said Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy Carla Wilhite.  

Occupational therapists work with their patients to promote and maintain health and maximize independence through the therapeutic use of meaningful everyday activities. It is a healthcare profession that focuses on helping people regain, develop or master everyday skills in order to live fulfilling lives.  

“We want students in the program to learn how to be independent practitioners. There are not a lot of guidelines for how to practice in some of our rural and frontier counties, so we need to develop a graduate who feels capable and prepared to advocate, practice and be creative in designing solutions for people to live as fully and productively as they want to,” Wilhite said.  

Students learn through a combination of didactic coursework, lecture and hands on practice. Occupational therapy practitioners work in various settings including schools, hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, home health, outpatient rehabilitation clinics, psychiatric facilities and community health programs. 

“We believe in bringing community and going into community as part of the learning experience,” Wilhite said. "So, we have great in-house learning facilities like our sensory gym and our ADL classroom that is outfitted with a kitchen, bathroom and living area but more importantly, we go where the people are!” 
In her own private practice, Wilhite specializes in environmental modifications, assistive and adaptive equipment for agricultural work tasks and seating issues for people with spinal cord injuries from operating agricultural machinery. The second year of the program’s coursework focuses on the entrepreneurial aspect of defining a niche and building relationships to create a successful business with the largest positive impact in the community.  

MSOT student Nathan Fahrnbach earned his undergraduate degree at CMU and served internship hours at a local physical therapy specialty center and was inspired by the occupational therapists he shadowed and worked with. “I saw what a lasting impact they were having on people’s lives and thought about how cool and rewarding that must be. I decided then to push myself to get into this program,” Fahrnbach said. “It has been fun, and I have felt really supported by the faculty and everybody in the class. It's really nice having a small class with only 15 people in it. We all bounce ideas back and forth. We get to go out every week to our fieldwork sites and that work is definitely demanding, but it is also really fun because we are putting what we have learned into practice.” 

Fahrnbach’s favorite part of the program so far has been modifying electric toy cars for kids with disabilities. “It was super cool because their whole families were with them too. We gave the kids the ability to explore on their own and gave the parents the remote controls so that they can redirect them so they are not running into the walls. It was a fun experience for us and for the families!” 

Applications for the January 2024 MSOT class will open on Monday, January 2, 2023. For more information about the program and career options visit 

“It’s a great time to be part of this new program and help us shape the future of it,” Wilhite said.  


Written by Hannah Odneal