Occupational Therapist Assistant grad Lindsey Starner gives back to her community

At commencement in 2019, Lindsey (Burgard) Starner received the Outstanding Service Award for her many volunteer efforts, including membership in the Occupational Therapist Assistant and Circle K clubs.

“My willingness to give back to my community and be that light in somebody’s life is what motivates me,” says the occupational therapy assistant (OTA) graduate. “Nobody owes me anything, but I owe my community everything.” Starner lives in New Oxford and graduated from Spring Grove High School.

“She is always up for any challenge when it comes to serving Central Penn College and her home communities,” said Amber Ferree, academic fieldwork coordinator for the OTA program.

That positive, can-do attitude infuses everything Starner does… which became abundantly clear during our conversation via email.

Occupational Therapist Assistant

What made you interested in attending Central Penn?

I loved the sincerity and genuineness from all the staff members I interacted with. I immediately felt accepted… I felt like I wasn’t going to be just another number. It also was convenient because I could commute. I loved the fast-paced program, and I could immediately tell their OTA department was incredible. Looking back, I really don’t see how any other college could have offered me the experience that Central Penn did.

You’re an Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) major. What led you to that major? Can you talk about your experience in that program?

A lot of things in my life contributed to me choosing OTA as my major. For example, one of my grandfathers was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Looking back now, I wish I would have known half of what I know now, so I could have been an advocate for him and that’s what motivated me to become an occupational therapy assistant.

My other grandpa went through a series of neck and back surgeries, along with multiple other medical complications. He underwent occupational therapy, so I was fortunate enough to see first-hand occupational therapy work, which resulted in significant and positive changes in his life. I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to be that person who made people feel so much better about themselves at a time when they were probably feeling the worst. I wanted to be that person who brings people up from their lowest points to their highest points.

The internship requirement for OTAs is 640 hours. Over two terms, students work full-time at two different healthcare facilities (fieldwork placements) for eight weeks. Can you talk about your internship experiences?

My first placement was at the pediatric rehab outpatient clinic at York Hospital. I absolutely loved it. What I loved most was figuring out every kid’s individual personality and seeing how thrilled their parents would be when I came back and shared the good news of how their child was progressing after a treatment session.

There was one circumstance that really made me happy and was just another confirmation moment as to why I’m doing what I’m doing. I had a patient–– who was diagnosed with autism and had poor coordination skills––cut out a paper triangle all by himself. When I told the mom and gave her the triangle, she burst into tears of joy and exclaimed that she was going to hang it on the refrigerator. We take for granted so often the common things that we do every day.

Going into this major has opened my eyes and has made me appreciate the little things in life so much more. You’re never promised tomorrow, so it’s important to be kind to everyone and live each day like it’s your last––loving and treating everyone with a kind heart. Just be selfless. You never know what someone is going through, so just be that helping hand.

My second internship was with UPMC Pinnacle at Harrisburg Hospital. I really loved this setting as well. I saw patients who underwent a variety of surgeries or replacements, such as knee, hip, back and abdominal. Occupational therapy plays a big role in this setting because we help determine if patients are strong enough before they go home. We teach them different dressing techniques as well. For example, if we have a stroke patient, we teach them one-handed dressing techniques and we also get to use equipment that will help with dressing and everyday activities.

Regarding my experience in Central Penn’s OTA program, I could not be happier. I have developed so many friendships and relationships and have grown personally in ways I never thought imaginable.

You were recognized at commencement for your volunteer efforts. Can you talk about what motivates you?

I love to help out any time in any way that I can. I know it sounds cliché, but for me the gift of giving means so much more than the gift of receiving. Thanks to Academic Fieldwork Coordinator Amber Ferree, I doubled the required amount of community service hours I needed in order to graduate. I still wish I could have done more, but I know that with this career I will always be giving back. But what motivates me is the feeling of pleasing others. I couldn’t think of anything more rewarding than making someone smile. I always try to remember that I don’t know what someone is going through and instead of judging them, I try to show love in any way I can.

What are some of your favorite experiences at Central Penn? Everything from going to sporting events, free donuts in the ATEC lobby, making morning Dunkin’ runs with my friends, $1 movies, late nights of practicing for competencies, and “pie-ing” Dr. Kimberly Tanish and instructor Amber Ferree because the OTA department raised the most for the canned food drive… my experience at Central Penn has been memorable to say the least.

With your OTA degree, what is your immediate career goal? Do you have a long-term goal?

My immediate goal used to be to pass the NBCOT exam. I am so grateful that I did on my first try and could begin practicing, even though it took me a little time from when I passed my exam to find a position suited for me.

I knew I wanted to work with kids, but I did keep an open mind, while still being particular when I looked. I was offered multiple jobs, but I knew they were not the right fit for me, so I decided it would be worth the wait and it most definitely was.

I ended up accepting a part-time COTA position at Connections Early Interventions and Supports until I was offered a full-time temporary position through the Lincoln Intermediate Unit (LIU) #12 based in New Oxford from the end of October through the end of February.

I could not be happier with my job and all the wonderful, creative things I get to do. I never thought I would be so happy to see someone write their name by themselves (or even draw a line)! Now my long-term goal is to work one of two places: a Pediatric Outpatient Rehab center or in a school setting. I just am so amused by how a child’s mind works and love that I can contribute to shaping their growing minds! I couldn’t picture myself ever doing anything else.

What would you say to someone who is considering coming to Central Penn?

To someone who’s considering Central Penn I’d say they’re considering the best college experience that could be presented to them. By choosing Central Penn, you will get one-on-one attention and all of your needs, no matter how big or small, will be met.

College is a scary new chapter of your life; however, as soon as I visited CPC, I felt totally at ease. The staff do everything in their power to make sure that you are comfortable and squared away… even before you start taking classes.

They strive to get to know you and they care about every student’s well-being. They offer so many different great opportunities for students no matter what major. They are there with you, and for you, every step of the way. You will never feel left alone. I say “they” because it’s not just one person who made a good impression––it’s every single staff member who I came into contact with throughout my time at Central Penn.

What are your thoughts on Central Penn’s accelerated, quarterly schedule?

To be totally honest, I was scared about the accelerated program at Central Penn, and I was worried it would be too fast-paced for me to keep up and keep my head above water; however, looking back, it was the best thing that I could have done for myself. It helped me get my schooling done quicker… which means getting into the workforce earlier.

I cannot speak more highly of Central Penn, and I will be forever thankful for all that was offered to me through the OTA program. If you have any questions, are contemplating going into the OT field or just to Central Penn in general, I’d be honored to talk to you about it!

This article originally was published in 2019. It includes updated information.

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