Radford Graduates Its First Master of Occupational Therapy Class

Barbara Gail Polakiewicz and her son Jacob

Barbara Gail Polakiewicz and her son Jacob.

The first 10 graduates of Radford University’s Master of Occupational Therapy (M.O.T.) program will receive their degrees at Winter Commencement on Friday, Dec. 16.

The ceremony will cap a milestone year for Radford’s Waldron College of Health and Human Services, which will also honor the first three graduates of its Doctor of Nursing Practice program: Kimberly D. Hall of Christiansburg, Faye Lyons of Dublin and DeEtta Compton of Radford.

Radford President Penelope W. Kyle and Douglas Mitchell, chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy, will confer degrees on Kristina Blake of Stuart; Kristin Bowens of Hatfield, Ky; Michael Browning of Bluefield, W.Va.; Issac Johnson of Virginia Beach; Tara Morris of Pounding Mill; Adele Neal of Roanoke; Kathryn Robertson of Salem; Mandy Stubbs of Virginia Beach; Kathryn Williams of Union Hall; and Barbara Polakiewicz of Rockbridge.

“Our inaugural group played an important role in the program’s successful accreditation last spring,” Mitchell said. “Most members of the class have already received multiple job offers, and some will be staying here in Southwest Virginia to start their careers.”

For Polakiewicz, who has accepted a position at a skilled-care facility in Waynesboro, graduation will mark a personal milestone too. She is a single parent with a 4-year-old son.

An RU alumna (Bachelor of Social Work, 2005), she moved several times for personal reasons after graduation and never found full-time work in her field. Also, she admitted, her grades as an undergraduate had not been stellar.


Occupational therapy helps people with special needs care for themselves, their families and their homes.

“For three years I took prerequisites at community colleges with hopes to apply to an O.T. program,” she said. “I was rejected the first time in North Carolina, before I learned my son was on the way and decided to take the time to raise a family.”

When she read about Radford’s M.O.T. program in an alumni publication, Polakiewicz was going through a divorce and working more than 60 hours a week waiting tables to pay her bills. She thought the program could be her last opportunity for career success.

“I was lucky enough to have an interview with Dr. Mitchell, where I was able to explain my undergrad GPA and also how serious and dedicated I was, not only to furthering my education but to the field of occupational therapy,” she said. “In my time doing my social work internship, I interacted with a couple of O.T.s, and it was the first time I really felt a passion for a job.”

She also credits Waldron Instructor Sheila Krajnik—her advisor, graduate assistantship supervisor, mentor and confidante—with giving her the confidence to pursue the degree. “She encouraged me but also pushed me to perform my best academically,” Polakiewicz said.

For Polakiewicz and her M.O.T. classmates, the program was intense: seven semesters of full-time graduate study.

Raymond Linville, dean of the Waldron College, said the accomplishment of the charter class is a testament to each member’s dedication, and the graduates’ prospects are bright. “The program was designed to address rural needs and an aging American population,” he said. “It is an innovative program that responds to the growing demand for highly educated occupational therapists.

Occupational therapy is a health profession that focuses on enabling people with special needs to do the tasks of daily life: to care for themselves, their families and homes; to work or study; and to enjoy rest and recreation. Occupational therapists work with people of all ages through hospitals, schools and community agencies.

Radford’s M.O.T. program won accreditation earlier this year, significant because only graduates of an accredited program may be credentialed and employed as occupational therapists. The national certification exam for the Radford’s first M.O.T. graduates will be in early 2012.

Dec 15, 2011
Bonnie Q. Erickson
(540) 831-5804