Mission and History

Our History

Old WellThe Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy is one of six divisions in the Department of Allied Health Sciences in the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill.

The academic program in occupational therapy was established in 1978 as one of the profession's first entry-level master’s programs. Dr. Marlys Mitchell was the first Program Director, followed by Cathy Nielson from 1986-1994, Dr. Ruth Humphry from 1994-2000, Ms. Nielson again from 2000-2007, and Dr. Virginia Dickie from 2007-2012. Dr. Ruth Humphry is the current Division Director. From it's inception, the Division culture has been one of embracing and creating change through faculty research, scholarship, and leadership within Occupational Therapy and Occupational Science.

In 1995, faculty started a multi-year process of self-study to further refine their vision of occupational therapy and the role of occupational science in the mission of the Division. In addition to changes in health care services and clinical practice, faculty members recognized that occupational therapy services could build on the knowledge base generated by occupational science and move beyond the medical arena into the community and provide services to underserved populations, where problems in occupational performance limited participation.

In the early years of this decade, in recognition of evolving healthcare needs and in anticipation of trends in research and education, the faculty undertook a concerted effort to further the development of occupational science as an academic discipline. In 2004 the Division was granted permission to implement a PhD in occupational science. The first doctoral students in occupational science were admitted in 2006.

In 2011, the name of the Division was revised to celebrate and honor its long tradition in Occupational Therapy education in partnership with research and scholarship in Occupational Science.

Our Mission

Our mission is first, to produce outstanding occupational therapists and occupational scientists, and second, to develop and expand knowledge about occupation and translate that knowledge to various therapeutic arenas.

We accomplish this mission through enacting our core values:

  • the fundamental worth of occupation and its exploration,
  • critical engagement with ideas and the world, and
  • embracing diversity and community.

These values inform the evolution of creative and committed pedagogy focused on occupation and based in partnerships with students. Our mission requires a faculty who excel in research, theory, and translation to practice. This community of faculty, students, and graduates collaborates with individuals, groups, institutions, and populations to enhance well-being through occupation.

This mission is consistent with the UNC School of Medicine’s focus on excellence in education of health care professionals through an innovative and integrated curriculum. Our mission also echoes the School’s promise to achieve excellence in research and its translation to applied settings. We align closely with the UNC mission and its fundamental goals to graduate leaders, to extend our expertise to the citizens of North Carolina, and to enhance the quality of life for the state’s residents.