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Brenau opens new occupational therapy center
Therapy wing at Brenau East is about 10 times the size of th
Brenau University occupational therapy graduate students Meghann Tope, left, and Melissa Clark test out the new equipment Friday inside a occupational performance lab used in pediatric therapy. Brenau recently opened its new occupational therapy facility, housed at Featherbone Communiversity. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Brenau University celebrated the opening of its new occupational therapy facility on the "Brenau East" campus Friday.

More than 100 visitors strolled through the school's new wing, which included "smart" classrooms, seminar rooms and three practice and observation labs for adults and children.

"Each space has two or three uses, not just single uses," said Gale Starich, Dean of the College of Health & Science.

The dedication ceremony also included a presentation by Ricardo Carrasco, one of the top occupational therapy educators in the country as well as a grand master in Ikebana, the art and discipline of Japanese flower arranging.

At 19,000 square feet, the occupational therapy wing at Brenau East is about 10 times the size of the program's old home on Main Street in Gainesville.

The Brenau East campus, located about a mile from the main campus, opened in 2007 and is the base for the university's nursing department. Giving the program more space to grow was a big priority, Starich said.

About 150 students are enrolled in Brenau's dual degree programs in Gainesville and at the Norcross campus.

Occupational therapy has become one of the fastest-growing disciplines at the university.

Occupational therapists help people overcome physical and mental barriers by using various types of interventions.
"It's one of the top 10 careers slated to grow over the next 10 years," she said.

Brenau's occupational therapy program focuses on helping people achieve independence in all areas of their lives. Occupational therapists draw from fields such as medicine, psychology and sociology.

First-year student Amanda Stephens said she became interested the program because her younger sister has special needs.

"It's great to help people thrive and help people do what they want to do," she said.

She also had a glowing review for the new facility.

"It's very spacious and gives us more of an opportunity to work hands on," she said.

Stephens was giving demonstrations of a classroom Friday, which included sensory integration equipment. A swing in the room can be used to help kids who feel overwhelmed by movement become more comfortable with it, she said.

In the adult labs, there are complete bathrooms and kitchens with cabinetry and appliances to aid with intervention training. There is also a Wi-Fi-equipped student lounge with laptop study chairs.

Barbara Schell, chair of the occupational therapy department, hopes that as the program progresses, students can help underserved community members such as those who may have exhausted their medical benefits.

"It will take time but this facility will allow us to build opportunities in a way we never have before," she said.

The former occupational therapy base was recently renovated to handle expansions in Brenau's math and science departments.