For Your Health
For Your Health

News from the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences

SMHS announces Sarah Nielsen as Chair of UND Department of Occupational Therapy

The UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences (SMHS) is pleased to announce that Sarah Nielsen, Ph.D., OTR/L, FAOTA, associate professor of occupational therapy, will be the School’s new Chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy (OT). Nielsen replaces retiring chair Janet Jedlicka, Ph.D., OTR/L, FAOTA, who has held the position since 2006.

A graduate of the SMHS occupational therapy program who earned a doctoral degree in institutional analysis and adult education from the North Dakota State University School of Education & Human Development, Nielsen joined UND’s OT team in 2007, when she began as an adjunct faculty. Having been promoted to Assistant Professor in 2011, Associate Professor in 2016, and Professor effective July 1, she comes into the Chair position with a wealth of experience in both occupational therapy and higher education.

Founders Day 2018: Sarah Nielsen (Occupational Therapy), UND Foundation/McDermott Faculty Award for Graduate or Professional Teaching Excellence

“Janet’s tenure helped foster significant growth in academic scholarships for students and transitioned our educational programs at both the master and doctoral levels,” said Nielsen of her predecessor, who helped UND move, over the course of a decade, to a Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) degree and then to an Occupational Therapy Doctorate (OTD). “Most of all, she has been an outstanding mentor and advocate for our faculty, staff, and students. She will be greatly missed.”

A prolific researcher and award-winning instructor, Nielsen, who hails from Crosby, N.D., claims many publications and conference presentations, most of which focus on occupational therapy education and OT for children with special needs. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, serving as a member of the Habilitative Services Task Group from 2014-2019 and as a Roster of Accreditation Evaluator for the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education since 2009. She has been a member of the North Dakota Occupational Therapy Association since 2002.

“Sarah is an outstanding leader,” added Jedlicka, who is passing to Nielsen UND’s partnership with Casper College in Casper, Wyo., at which UND maintains a cohort of OTD students. “She has a keen knowledge of issues affecting higher education and is knowledgeable of accreditation processes. She played a key role in leading the redesign of our entry-level OTD program, capitalizing on our strengths in building our new curriculum in a way that was innovative, timely, and efficient for students and faculty. She is a creative passionate leader who will help move our program forward.”

Nielsen’s recent awards include being named to the Association of American Medical Colleges Mid-Career Woman Faculty program in 2022 and a Fellow of the American Occupational Therapy Association in 2021. Nielsen was given the William Crozier & Edith Magwood Fawcett Faculty Enhancement Award and the UND Foundation/McDermott Faculty Award for Graduate or Professional Teaching Excellence (see photo above), both from UND, between 2018 and 2020. She has also won many Faculty Teaching Awards on the nomination of OT students.

“Dr. Nielsen is a wonderful choice to continue the outstanding traditions of teaching excellence, creativity, and service that are hallmarks of UND’s Department of Occupational Therapy,” said David Relling, P.T., Ph.D., the SMHS associate dean for health sciences whose portfolio includes the OT team at UND. “Sarah is passionate about occupational therapy and dedicated to the students and faculty, and her broad leadership experiences within the university and profession will serve her well as she takes on the role of department chair.”

“It is an honor to be selected to serve as chair,” concluded Nielsen, who takes the OT helm on July 1, 2023. “I am excited to build upon the foundation laid by Janet, collaborating with our faculty and staff to ensure excellence in our missions to serve North Dakota and Wyoming through teaching, scholarship, and service in the field of occupational therapy.”