Creighton honors occupational therapy pioneers, builders
Quietly but insistently Creighton University educators for the past 37 years have shaped occupational therapists whose work means so much to those recovering from injury or dealing with the gathering infirmities of age.
Two of these were recognized as distinguished educators during Creighton’s annual convocation ceremonies held in February. Lou Jensen, OTD’09, and Helene Lohman, OTD’01, received the Creighton University Distinguished Educator in Teaching as Scholarship Award. It was a recognition celebrated by professors and students alike.
“Dr. Jensen was the first smiley face that greeted me as I nervously walked through the doors to orientation in Denver,” says Annie Nguyen, who is on track to graduate with a doctorate in occupational therapy in 2024. “I was entering a doctorate program with a group of individuals I had never met, but the moment I entered the classroom I vividly remember Dr. Jensen's warmth and welcoming aura.”
“Dr. Jensen has had a long-standing passion for teaching, and her ultimate goal is to teach students the knowledge and skills they’ll need for practice,” says Keli Mu, BSOT’01, PhD, OTR/L, associate dean, chair and professor with the Department of Occupational Therapy at the School of Pharmacy and Health Professions (SPAHP).
Honored with Jensen was Lohman, who has taught at Creighton for more than 25 years and is a tenured full professor in the School of Pharmacy and Health Professions and was among the early developers of Creighton’s occupational therapy program created in 1985.
Lohman, says Mu, thoroughly embraces her students, even baking cakes as classroom treats.
“Dr. Lohman has a good heart and really cares about people,” Mu says. “She has also accumulated a lot of stories, so she developed a very creative ability to click with students.”
“Dr. Lohman is a fabulous mentor, teacher and collaborator,” says Sara Synek, who graduated with a doctorate in occupational therapy this past May. “She takes extensive time out of her day to ensure lectures are fun, interesting and collaborative and hosts office hours outside of class times to ensure each student understands the material she is teaching.”
While such personal testimonies describe an intimate pedagogy, both Lohman and Jensen have won recognition for scholarly achievement beyond the classroom.
Lohman has co-authored or co-edited three textbooks that are widely used throughout the profession, all of which are primary resources for students preparing for board exams. Her research and scholarship have consistently anticipated trends. She was an early proponent and adopter of interdisciplinary and interprofessional education, a concept that has since become central to Creighton’s approach to medical and health sciences education. She is also a pioneer not just of Creighton’s adoption of a “hybrid” pathway to a doctorate in occupational therapy but of the acceptance of such programs in the profession generally.
“Hybrid” pathways allow students to study from a distance — in Creighton’s case from Anchorage, Alaska, and Denver, Colorado, and now from Phoenix, Arizona. Through a combination of online classroom instruction and hands-on experience with local health professionals, students have been shown to achieve at levels indistinguishable from students who receive their education entirely on campus.
Jensen, too, has helped advance Creighton’s OT hybrid program as director of faculty and staff development for SPAHP. In this role, Mu says, Jensen has spearheaded workshops, panel discussions and continuing education activities covering such topics as hybrid education and integration of academic technology into teaching and learning. Her comparative studies of on-campus and hybrid education were published in the Quarterly Review of Distance Education and the Journal of Occupational Therapy Education.
“Like many of the students in our program, I started seriously thinking about being an OT when I saw how much it helped a member of my family,” Jensen says.
“When I investigated more, I fell in love with a profession that blends the art and science of health care while giving me the privilege of working directly with patients. Now, I get the privilege of working with students.
“I took the guiding principles I used in practice and adapted them to the classroom. These include facilitating meaningful participation in learning, viewing our students holistically, engaging in evidence-based educational practices, promoting active learning and participation, being an organized and reflective educator, and having fun. I think we all need a little more humor and levity in our lives.”
Creighton’s reputation for integrating social values into its pedagogy attracted Lohman to its then-early occupational therapy program.
“I appreciated that Creighton was a Jesuit university that would embrace faculty from diverse backgrounds,” she says. “I was aware of Creighton’s stellar reputation for doing more in society, and that fit well with my clinical health care background.
“I believe students learn by encountering practical situations, along with critical reflection. Critical reflection is very much a part of Ignatian pedagogy, and active participation encourages students to be self-directed learners. I also strive to create a stress-free, fun, environment and use humor in my lectures and lab interactions as I believe that students learn better when relaxed.”
Both Lohman and Jensen were instrumental in building OT’s hybrid program, according to Amy Friedman Wilson, PharmD’95, dean of the School of Pharmacy and Health Professions.
“Dr. Jensen has been involved in the development of our hybrid programs, and certainly was key to the development of our first hybrid program at the University of Alaska at Anchorage,” Wilson says. “She developed the clinical relationships necessary for our students to train up there, and now is the coordinator for the Regis University hybrid pathway in Denver.”
Lohman, Wilson says, was an early developer of Creighton's first hybrid program in occupational therapy in her core faculty role. Wilson says that program laid the foundation for today's OT hybrid pathways.
In addition to her pioneering role, Wilson says, Lohman, like Jensen, is deeply committed to her students.
“I recall working with her several years ago when we had a student who had a medical situation,” Wilson recalls. “She was just wonderful in advocating and working with that student — working with the family and exhibiting the Creighton spirit of caring for the whole person, cura personalis.
“The body of work of these two educators through the years at Creighton speaks for itself, and really supports their receiving the Educator of the Year Award.”