Abby Hammons has a lot on her mind as she prepares for her freshman year at the University of Oklahoma.
But one thing she doesn’t need to worry about is getting into the occupational therapy master’s program at the OU Health Sciences Center after she completes the prerequisite work.
She checked that off her list months ago.
Hammons, 17, is one of seven students who secured a spot in the program this spring through an early admittance option for outstanding Oklahoma high school seniors.
Officials started the early admit option in 2003 because they were losing Oklahoma students to other states, said Susan Tucker, assistant dean for student affairs at OU’s College of Allied Health.
“It is a big deal. These programs are competitive,” Tucker said.
To gain early admittance, high school students must have at least a 3.5 grade-point average, have completed at least three science credits with a B or better and do 10 hours of observation in occupational therapy. Hammons did her observation at The Children’s Center in Bethany.
Students complete their first three years of study on the Norman campus, then come to the Health Sciences Center for the remaining three years.
Hammons and her classmates will begin the occupational therapy master program in the summer of 2017, the same year the profession turns 100, Tucker said.
“It’s exciting for these students,” she said.
Hammons said knowing the program is holding a place for her removes the stress of competing for a spot against 400 other students down the road.
“It does keep them focused. It keeps them motivated,” Tucker said.
Occupational therapy — like many health fields — is one of the fastest-growing professions, Tucker said.
“Most people don’t know what an occupational therapist is,” she said. “We’re grounded in working with people in the environments where they work, live and play.”
An occupational therapist might work with children who have learning disabilities, physical disabilities and behavioral problems; people who have suffered a traumatic injury or a stroke; or older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes. The therapist helps them with everyday activities like school and social situations, work, household chores and personal care.
Tucker continues to work one day a week as the occupational therapist at Jones Public Schools. One student might have trouble holding a pencil and opening a milk carton, while another needs to learn how to be still and focus on classwork.
“In a school, we are there to support the educational process,” she said.
Hammons, the daughter of David and Amy Hammons, of Oklahoma City, said she also wants to work in a school district. Her career goal was influenced by her grandmother, a special needs assistant at Will Rogers Elementary School.
“She has a big passion for helping people, and I think that’s where my passion came from. She’s my biggest role model,” said Hammons, who graduated last week from Putnam City North High School.
During her four years on North’s softball team, she and her teammates volunteered as team buddies with Special Olympics athletes. That experience reinforced her career goal to be an occupational therapist in a school setting.
“It would be awesome if I could go back to Putnam City,” she said. But working for a school district in a small town not far from Oklahoma City appeals to her, too.
“Community is a big part of me. That’s why I want to work with people,” Hammons said.
She will have opportunities for that at OU as one of the new President’s Community Scholars. Each year, 100 freshmen who want to make a difference on campus and in the community are chosen for the program. They commit to small-group service projects and attend the Big Event in the spring.
“I’m going to be so busy next year,” Hammons said. “I’m so excited to go to OU.”