Congratulations to Our 2013 PhD Graduates

Dr. Ashley Freuler
Dr. Ashley Freuler

Dissertation title:  Facing Challenges on Two Fronts:  Exploring the Process of Resilience for Military Families Raising a Child with Autism

Advisor: Dr. Grace Baranek

Freuler’s interest in children with ASD and military families started during her graduate teaching assistantship at Kansas State University’s (KSU) Early Childhood Laboratory.  During Freuler’s graduate work, her husband was deployed twice with the Army to Iraq.  As an Army community services volunteer, Freuler became familiar with military culture and had the opportunity to work with parents of children with ASD. 

After Freuler’s time at KSU, she earned a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology at Mercer University in Atlanta.  Freuler’s clinical internships highlighted the enormous impact an ASD diagnosis has not only on the lives of children, but also on their families.  As she continued working with families of children with ASD, her curiosity about the impact of ASD on the family system kept growing.  Freuler then began looking into doctoral programs that would provide her with the knowledge and skills for conducting research with families who were raising a child with ASD. The Occupational Science program at UNC stood apart from other schools because of its interdisciplinary nature.

Throughout her tenure at UNC, Freuler worked on two interdisciplinary projects, the Sensory Experiences Project and the Early Development Project.  As part of these projects she conducted observations and interviews with caregivers and children and a qualitative retrospective video analysis of infant home videos.  Freuler wanted to stay in direct contact with families during her research experiences and qualitative methods allowed her to do so.  She says that qualitative research methods “provide an opportunity for caregivers and families to directly contribute to research and practice that will optimally benefit not only their family, but other families like theirs.” 

With her graduate studies complete, Freuler has accepted a position as Project Coordinator with UNC’s Program for Early Autism Research, Leadership & Service (PEARLS).

Dr. Heather Fritz
Dr. Heather Fritz

Dissertation title:  Integrating Diabetes Self-Management into Daily Life: Exploring Process, Habit, and Occupation 

Fritz’s research focuses on how low income women integrate diabetes self management behaviors into daily life. Fritz was awarded a $1,465 Student Research Grant in Occupational Science by the Society for the Study of Occupation: USA in August 2012. The award was officially presented during the 11th Annual SSO:USA Research Conference in Portland, Oregon.  In September 2012, Fritz’s TraCS $2K grant application was chosen for funding.

Fritz is an occupational therapist who received her BS in Spanish from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her MS in Occupational Therapy from Winston Salem State University. Prior to entering the doctoral program, Fritz practiced as an occupational therapist at UNC Healthcare working with physically and neurologically impaired adults. A National Institute of Nursing Research Predoctoral Fellow, Fritz’s research interests include occupational science theory, the use of occupation in preventing and managing chronic illness, vulnerable populations, and health behavior theory.

Dr. Emily Furgang
Dr. Emily Furgang

Dissertation title: Engagement of Students with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities in Postsecondary Education

Advisor: Dr. Ruth Humphry

Furgang’s dissertation presents findings from a qualitative, ethnographic study of students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) enrolled in a specialized postsecondary education program at a public university in North Carolina.  Specifically, it discusses how 10 students engaged in postsecondary education activities and developed student identities over the course of one academic year.  Findings address the nature of engagement in postsecondary education and the construction of the students' occupations and identities.  These findings are portrayed through stories of the students' experiences.

Furgang delivered a presentation titled “Experiences of Postsecondary Students with Intellectual Disabilities: An Ethnographic Exploration of Occupation, Identity and Context,” at the  Society for the Study of Occupation Annual Meeting in Portland, Oregon, and another presentation titled, “New Access and New Identities: Opening Doors to Meaningful Employment,” at the Southwest Conference on Disability Annual Conference, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Both conferences were in October 2012.

After completing her PhD, Furgang joined the Clinical Faculty at the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities and became an Adjunct Assistant Professor in Occupational Science at UNC.

Dr. Mackenzi Pergolotti
Dr. Mackenzi Pergolotti

Dissertation title:  Older Adults with Cancer: Participation in Activity and the Utilization of Occupational Therapy. 

Advisor: Dr. Malcolm Cutchin

Pergolotti’s research examined the differences in relative rates of OT use across the state and identified areas of variation or disparity among Medicare beneficiaries with incident cancer.  The project was completed in concert with the development and validation of a new instrument, the “Perceived Occupational Possibilities Scale.”  Pergolotti used this scale, among others, in an analysis of the activity participation of older patients with cancer in order to provide the beginnings of an evidence base from which OT interventions will be designed with knowledge of service utilization, and with a deeper understanding of the social-occupational and situational nature of cancer for older adults.

While completing her graduate studies, Pergolotti received a NC TraCS $2K Grant. She delivered a poster presentation at the AcademyHealth Annual Research Meeting, Baltimore, MD, June 2013; a paper presentation at the American Occupational Therapy Association National Conference, San Diego, CA, April 2013; a paper presentation at SSO:USA Annual Research Conference, Portland, OR, October 2012; and a poster presentation at the 18th Annual National Research Services Award Trainees Research Conference and the AcademyHealth’s Annual Research Meeting, June 2012. 

After completing her PhD, Pergolotti began a two-year post-doctoral fellowship with the Cancer Care Quality Training Program in the Department of Health Policy and Management in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.  

Dr. Kendra Heatwole Shank
Dr. Kendra Heatwole Shank

Dissertation title: Community Livability for Older Adult: The Person-Place Relationship and Process. 

Advisor: Dr. Malcolm Cutchin

For her research, Heatwole Shank used multiple methods to study dimensions of community livability for older adults who are aging in place.  GPS data mapping, interviews, and participant observations suggested core processes of community livability for older adults that included spatial and temporal patterns.  Findings also included strategies for coordinating the challenges and changes of everyday life, which have implications for therapeutic practice and community design.  Heatwole Shank plans to continue studying participation in community occupations, how patterns of participation are related to older adults' well-being, and related policy issues. 

Heatwole Shank presented part of her dissertation findings at Southern Gerontological Society conference in April 2013, and was the invited keynote speaker for Towson University's Occupational Therapy and Science Annual Scholarship Day in May 2013. Also in 2013, Heatwole Shank was interviewed by Frank Stasio for WUNC’s “State of Things.”

Heatwole Shank welcomed a second child in August 2013.  She is teaching a research seminar in the UNC OS/OT division for Fall 2013 and Spring 2014, and planning to pursue a faculty position with a strong research component beginning Fall 2014.

Dr. Sumita Rege
Dr. Sumita Rege

Dissertation title: Looking Beyond: A Study of Blogging and What It Tells Us About Occupations

Prior to beginning her doctoral studies, Rege earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in occupational therapy from Mumbai University and practiced as an occupational therapist in Mumbai, India for seven years. During her clinical experience she worked with physically and neurologically impaired adults and developmentally delayed children.   As her curiosity about occupational science flourished, she began looking into doctoral programs and was impressed with the diversity of faculty research interests at UNC.

After moving to Chapel Hill, Rege began to miss the food from her homeland and started looking up recipes online. Each time she searched, the results directed her to a blog. These experiences shaped her fascination with blogging as an occupation and eventually led her to the focus of her dissertation, an ethnography of blogging that explores how the activity develops and changes over time.  Before she began her dissertation research, Rege completed a single case study with an adult with a spinal cord injury examining how search engines shape what people do.

Rege also worked with Dr. Katarina Haley, Associate Professor from the Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences, and Jenny Womack, Associate Professor from the Division of Occupational Therapy and Occupational Science, on a qualitative secondary data analysis to understand how persons with aphasia manage their communication needs.