Student Profiles, Class of 2023
Dayana Alvarez is originally from Cape Coral, FL and graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelor's of Science degree in Family, Youth, and Community Sciences. She chose JU’s OT program because of the smaller cohort of students and the chance to build close relationships with the students and professors. After completing her undergraduate, she worked with children and families as a social worker and also mentored the older foster youth. This is where Dayana was originally exposed to OT and witnessed the difference it made in the lives of some of her clients. Now, she wants to make the same difference in the lives of others. Upon graduation, she would like to work with the pediatric population in a hospital or school setting.
Alicia Cobb is originally from Louisville, Kentucky and graduated from the University of Louisville with an undergraduate degree in Health and Human Performance (Exercise Science). She chose JU because her father attended JU and her mother is from Jacksonville. She chose JU’s OT program because of the incredible faculty and teachers, as well as for the opportunities in the program. Alicia was originally exposed to OT through her internship with Associate’s in Pediatric Therapy during her undergraduate career. She enjoyed interning in a positive environment where therapy was made fun and exciting. After graduation, she is still deciding on which area of OT to focus on but hopes to make a positive and meaningful impact in the lives of everyone she meets.
Mercedez "Sadie" Dendy
Mercedez “Sadie” Dendy is originally from Spartanburg, South Carolina and graduated from The University of North Carolina at Charlotte with an undergraduate degree in Exercise Science. She chose JU’s OT program because of the faculty, location, and small class size. Also, JU’s affiliations with various healthcare systems throughout Jacksonville and internationally. Sadie was originally exposed to OT through her mother’s army background with outpatient therapy. Now, she wants to make an impact on the lives of others by helping them regain, develop, or maintain their independence in activities that they enjoy. After her undergraduate studies, she worked at Levine Children’s Hospital and Solving Autism LLC to assist children of all ages with various disabilities and impairments. Upon graduation, she plans to work in outpatient pediatrics specifically early intervention and autism. However, she is also interested in working with the geriatric population.
Paula Diaz is originally from the greater Pittsburgh region of Pennsylvania. She graduated from Jacksonville University with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. She chose JU’s OT program because the clinical opportunities are diverse and because the educators have extensive experience in a variety of practice areas. The available technology is state of the art and the local community offers a unique opportunity to grow and develop both personally and professionally. Paula was initially exposed to OT while transitioning from active duty military to a veteran status. She is currently a certified and licensed occupational therapist assistant and worked as a vision therapist to rehabilitate visual deficits within the pediatric population as well as survivors of traumatic brain injury. After graduation, Paula plans to advocate for and work with children and teens at risk for juvenile delinquency by equipping them with the basic essential skills for living and providing them with the appropriate resources to enable the individuals to function as exceptional members of society.
Kera Eskew is originally from Marshall, Missouri, and graduated from Missouri Valley College with an undergraduate degree in Exercise Science. She chose JU’s OT program because it is both comprehensive and thorough in exploring individual fields of study, the program's access to advanced technology to better explore the human body, and small class size. Kera was originally exposed to OT through her mother who has worked with individuals with intellectual developmental disabilities for over 30+ years and was able to see in person, her mother, and her colleagues apply different approaches for each client. As an undergraduate, she volunteered at CALAB INC in San Antonio TX specializing in those with intellectual developmental disabilities within a workshop environment where clients practiced daily routines and obtained unique skills to make their lives as independent as possible. After graduation, she plans to advocate for and work with special needs individuals of all ages to make living in society more exceptional.
Katelyn (Katie) Forbis
Katie Forbis is originally from Rogers, Arkansas and graduated from the University of Kansas with an undergraduate degree in applied behavioral science. She chose JU’s OT program because of the small, tight-knit cohorts and the behavioral aspect the professors incorporate into their teaching. Also, Dr. Brown has extensive experience in the areas she’s interested in researching. Katie was originally exposed to OT through a job shadowing class in 8th grade. She fell in love with the profession as a whole and immediately wanted to know more about it. As an undergraduate, she volunteered with a summer camp program for individuals across the lifespan with special needs. She also volunteered at a not-for-profit organization called Cottonwood. They provide residential and employment services to adults with disabilities. After graduation, she plans to work with for the Navy as an Occupational Therapist and serve wounded soldiers and veterans. I then hope to earn my masters in Applied Behavioral Analysis and become a BCBA. I want to combine aspects of both OT and ABA to provide the best care for my patients.
Anna Greene is originally from Daytona Beach, FL and graduated Florida State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology. She chose JU’s OT program due to its location, small class size, and its involvement with Brooks Rehabilitation Clinic. She loves that JU offers a welcoming atmosphere with experienced staff and advanced technology. Anna initially wanted to pursue a career in Music Therapy, but with research, she chose OT for its wide range of opportunities and holistic care. As an undergraduate, she worked at Seminole Montessori as a preschool teacher assistant and volunteered as a tutor for lower SES children and ESOL students. After graduation, she plans to work in OT pediatrics, with a long term goal of opening up a rehabilitation clinic.
Erica Griffenkranz is a Jacksonville native and graduated from Florida Atlantic University with an undergraduate degree in Psychology. She chose JU’s OT program because of its location, large connection to local hospitals, and small class sizes. Erica was originally exposed to OT through her mother, who is a physical therapist in the school system here in Duval County. She watched her mother’s OT coworkers make significant impacts on the children’s lives and saw the joy in both the children and therapists which instantly attracted her to the profession. Before applying to graduate school, Erica worked as a substitute paraprofessional and teacher in special needs classrooms locally here in Duval County. After graduation, she plans to work in the school system with children who have special needs.
Hannah Kinlaw is originally from Jacksonville, Florida and graduated from Southeastern University with an undergraduate degree is Kinesiology Pre-Physical Therapy. She chose JU’s OT program because of the opportunities in researching and expanding her knowledge of occupational therapy, and the family-like feel of the program really made her feel at home. Hannah was originally exposed to occupational therapy through observation in her undergraduate degree and through seeing her sister, who had radial neuropathy, go through occupational therapy. She saw the difference occupational therapy made in her sister and how it helped her regain full function in her hand. Now, she wants to make the same difference in the lives of others and be a part of their journey. As an undergraduate, she volunteered at The Dream Center in Lakeland, FL where she was involved in community outreaches such as cleaning up the trash in the local neighborhood, organizing a garage sale free to the community, and participating in games and activities with the children at their field day event. She also spent some time at a hand therapy clinic where she was able to make connections with the patients. After graduation she plans to work with individuals of every age and pursue her interest in hand therapy.
Lindsey Layton graduated from Mercer University with an undergraduate degree in Global Health Studies. She chose JU’s OT program because she felt the Admissions team was diligent; JU’s campus was intimate; location (warm climate and the beaches) and the professors were intelligent and passionate. She wants to build a relationship with her patients and to visualize physical, mental, and emotional rehabilitation progress with them and their family members. She prepared a research proposal focused on infantilization in older adults; wrote a children’s book and designed a board game for an orphanage in Kenya. This project was community-based, tailored to the children’s particular interests and the orphanage’s and school’s subject material requests for the book and game, including knowledge about living with HIV. Also, she participated in community-building events in Macon-Bibb County Georgia through Mercer University Athletics. After graduation, she has hopes to continue volunteering in developing nations to make global health knowledge more assessable to disenfranchised populations.
Casey Magee is originally from Stony Point, New York. She completed her baccalaureate degree in Health Science at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She chose JU’s OT program for the opportunity to earn an entry-level doctorate degree in what she perceived to be a supportive and engaging class environment. Additionally, she was interested in the diversified expertise of staff, the updated facilities, and the incorporation of advanced technology into the already impressive curriculum. Casey chose to pursue a career in this field because she would like to assist individuals to either maintain or regain a sense of independence in their lives following a significant change in functioning while helping them to construct a strong sense of confidence and self-efficacy. She values the client-centered approach in occupational therapy which prioritizes the individual’s interests and goals to maximize their quality of life. Over the years, she was involved with a variety of community activities, many of which emphasized inclusivity of individuals who are atypically abled while advocating for accessibility. Prior to starting at JU, she worked as an in-home caregiver for the elderly. After graduation, she plans to pursue a career working with adults in rehabilitation while incorporating engagement in the outdoors.
Josie Messer is originally from Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, and graduated from the University of North Alabama with an undergraduate degree in General Biology. She chose JU’s program because of the pristine learning technology available as well as the committed staff. Josie was originally exposed to OT by watching the difference it made in the life of her family friend, who has Down Syndrome. Now, she strives to help individuals with the same or similar special needs. As an undergraduate, she volunteered with Abigail’s Plan Miracle League, a nonprofit organization for children with disabilities that want to play baseball. After graduation, she plans to work with children with special needs and continue to support and volunteer at local special needs oriented organizations.
Alexina (Seana) Mora
Alexina (Seana) Mora is originally from Apopka, Florida and graduated from Jacksonville University with an undergraduate degree in Kinesiology. She chose JU’s OT program because it is a prestigious institution whose faculty is dedicated to their students’ success. Also, JU’s OT professors are extraordinary and brilliant individuals who provide unique knowledge and have established a learning environment that allows an individual to exceed their potential as an OT. Seana was originally exposed to OT when a Student-Athlete advisor recommended she pursue this career in her freshman year of her undergraduate degree. As an undergraduate, she played softball at Jacksonville University. After graduation, she plans to work with pediatric patients with special needs.
Michael A. Parker, Jr.
Michael A Parker Jr is originally from Thomasville, Georgia and graduated from Augusta University with an undergraduate degree in Kinesiology. He chose JU’s program not only because of the small class size, which makes him feel as though he will be able to get to know all of his peers and professors on a more personal level, but also the positive energy and feedback he received from the first cohort after their first year. Michael was originally exposed to OT through observing and seeing how wide the spectrum of what OTs can do and who they work with was and instantly wanted to be a part of it. As an undergraduate, he volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House, providing meals for children in the hospital along with being a mentor in the Big Brother Program at Gracewood Elementary School. After graduation, he plans to obtain his certification in Hand Therapy along with a certification in the LSVT BIG program in order to work with Parkinson’s patients.
Isabelle Prostko is originally from Tifton, GA and graduated from the University of Mississippi with an undergraduate degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders. She chose JU’s OT program because of the location and the opportunity to earn a doctoral degree. Isabelle was originally exposed to OT when inspired by the rehabilitation of two close family friends that suffered tragic accidents. As an undergraduate, she volunteered with hippotherapy and was involved in the National Student Speech-Language Hearing Association (NSSLHA) organization. After graduation, she plans to become a travel OT and eventually specialize in hand therapy.
Mikaela (Mikee) Rosas
Mikaela (Mikee) Rosas is originally from Jacksonville, Florida and graduated from the University of North Florida with an undergraduate degree in Exercise Science (pre-professional). She chose JU’s OT program because it is both comprehensive and thorough in exploring individual fields of study. Also, JU’s OT professors have extensive experience in the areas she’s interested in researching. Mikee was originally exposed to OT through her parents and family members who are Physical Therapists. Now, she wants to follow in their footsteps; but through the OT route. As an undergraduate, she volunteered with children of various disabilities and special needs through the school system and art therapy. After graduation, she plans to work in pediatrics.
Natalie Royaards is originally from Greenville, South Carolina and graduated from Winthrop University with an undergraduate degree in Exercise Science (pre-professional). She chose JU’s OT program because of its tight knit community of experienced educators and eager learners with a passion for the field. Additionally, the extremely well-designed curriculum sets students up for success, and allows for them to pick their path and make their career their own. Natalie was originally exposed to OT when her brother’s family adopted 3 children with Cerebral Palsy and Down Syndrome. She instantly felt a connection to them, and decided she wanted to work with children with special needs from that point on. After researching the possible career options, she found OT and the rest is history! She feels that OT is the profession of her personality, and that it encompasses all her beliefs and values into one career. She desires to advocate and aid in the social stigma that surrounds children with special needs. As an undergraduate, she volunteered with Grace Church for a summer in their Mosaic program which is the childcare of children with special needs. Here she was partnered with a child with Cerebral Palsy who she bonded with immediately. After graduation, she plans to work with children with special needs and would like to research both the social stigma of special needs children, and the effect that parent involvement in therapy has on the child’s development.
Emma Scherer is originally from Huntsville, Alabama and graduated from Auburn University with an undergraduate degree in Exercise Science. She chose JU’s OT program because of the advancements in technology that are being made. Also, JU’s OT professors seems to be invested in student learning and want to build both a classroom and professional relationship with their students. Emma Scherer was originally exposed to OT after watching the difference it made in her aunt’s life, who has a genetic disorder. As an undergraduate, she volunteered with Alternative Student Breaks to do service projects in the community and other countries. After graduation she plans to work with children and possibly look more into OT in the mental health field.
Stephan Spicer is originally from Trinidad and Tobago, and graduated from Jacksonville University with an undergraduate degree in Kinesiology. He chose JU’s OT program because he liked the small classroom settings that JU offers, as well the advancement in technology that the program uses to help create better OT’s. Stephan was originally exposed to OT through a recommendation from a Kinesiology faulty member. He spoke highly about Dr. Justiss and the programs faculty. As an undergraduate, he volunteered at L’Arche Jacksonville to aid in disaster relief of the citizens of Jacksonville with intellectual and physical disabilities. After graduation, he plans to pursue OT in an orthopedic setting, working with a variety of age groups recovery after surgery.
Samantha Tool is originally from Jacksonville, FL and graduated from Florida State University with an undergraduate degree in Family and Child Sciences and a certificate in Developmental Disabilities. She chose JU's OT Program due to diverse cohorts, knowledgeable professors with a wide variety of personal interests, and the programs commitment to producing competent and knowledgeable OT's with a pathway to specialization. Samantha was exposed to OT by happen-chance online after discovering a passion for working with children with developmental disabilities and yearning for a career with one-on-one relationships. Samantha believes that individual therapy must be built on the foundation of commitment, trust, compassion, and connection to allow each individual patient to flourish. As an undergraduate, she focused on volunteering at local therapy centers to learn as much as she could about OT and creating meaningful connections with those who receive services. After graduation, she plans to work with children with developmental disabilities who come from low SES backgrounds to expand access to therapy to all.
Shelly Zohar is originally from Dallas, Texas and graduated from Sam Houston State University with a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology, Concentration in Clinical Exercise Science. She chose JU’s OTD program because of the smaller class sizes and the beautiful location. More importantly, JU’s OTD program has many field work options; as well as the ability to study abroad. Shelly believes a career in occupational therapy provides her with the ability to combine her creativity and her desire to help people. She loves the wide variety of practice possibilities in this career and being able to work with people of all ages and in numerous practice settings. While earning her bachelor’s degree, she volunteered with Special Olympics, the Rocky Racoon 500, and local therapy clinics. After graduation, Shelly plans to be a traveling OT for a few years. Eventually, She plans to open her own clinic in an area where it is needed most.