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The College of St. Scholastica

The Master of Science in Occupational Therapy (MSOT) program at The College of St. Scholastica has been awarded a $3.9 million grant over the next five years through the US Department of Education. The project is 100% federally funded with a total award of $3,979,407. Dr. Shelly Smart as project director and Dr. Kaisa Syväoja as co-project director will lead the grant to help students practice as mental health providers in high-need Local Education Agencies, preparing them to meet the region’s mental health needs, characterized by rural isolation, poverty, poor behavioral health outcomes and mental health provider shortages.

“We are thrilled to have received this Department of Education award,” said St. Scholastica President Barbara McDonald. “It is the largest single grant The College of St. Scholastica has ever received. We are so proud of the Occupational Therapy faculty and staff, as well as our grants office, who made this funding possible for our students. We look forward to realizing the positive impact the grant outcomes will have on the intersection of occupational therapy and student mental health needs on our Twin Ports community.”

St. Scholastica will partner with and expand services to five high-need school districts throughout northeastern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin, including Superior School District, Duluth Public School District, Paul Bunyan Cooperative, Northern Lights Cooperative and Duluth Public Schools Academy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on young people’s mental health and impacted their functional skills, participation in school occupations and sense of social connection within the school environment (Department of Education, 2022). Over the five-year grant period, 105 MSOT/Fellowship students will serve a projected 5,250 students. Further, the project will recognize OTs as mental health service providers and influence change in existing systems, serving the region’s mental health needs and furthering the mission and vision of The College of St. Scholastica.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has a lasting impact on our communities both socially and emotionally,” said Dr. Shelly Smart, project director. “The efforts of OT students, faculty and community partners, through this grant, will focus on the mental health needs of children in our schools, supporting the work of teachers, social workers, and counselors to keep children engaged in their learning environment socially, emotionally and academically.”

This grant will enhance both didactic and experiential learning opportunities for St. Scholastica OT graduate students, and will support the development and implementation of a fellowship program focused on pediatric mental health through the American Occupational Therapy Association.

“Occupational Therapy has its foundations in mental health,” said Dr. Kaisa Syväoja, co-project director. “This opportunity closely aligns the St. Scholastica OT program to the profession’s roots, and provides current and future students with direct opportunities to work with children with mental health needs, merging classroom teaching with community action. Through the expansion of placement options and the development of an advanced practice fellowship program, more children across Northern Minnesota and Wisconsin will be able to get the mental health services that they need now and into the future.”

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