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

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has provided graduate education to people of the state and nation since the nineteenth century and is now recognized, both nationally and internationally, as a leading center of scholarship, research, creative activity, and humanistic service. The fundamental mission of the University’s Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy is to contribute actively and substantively to this heritage. To do so, the Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy seeks to educate occupational scientists and occupational therapists who possess the vision, knowledge, critical thinking abilities, and commitment to independent learning and scholarship necessary to make contributions in their respective fields. The Division is committed to the development of occupational scientists who share a dedication to building our understanding of the complexity of everyday activities and how occupations relate to health and well being. Graduates of the doctoral program are prepared to make contributions to the discipline as researchers, scholars, and educators. Furthermore the Division is devoted to the preparation of occupational therapists who possess the expertise required by traditional practice settings and the courage required to forge new models of practice appropriate for the changing environmental and human needs of the future. Just as the University has historically produced numerous state as well as national leaders, the University’s Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy strives to produce scientists, practitioners, scholars, and researchers who assume leadership in the discipline of occupational science and the profession of occupational therapy.

This mission imposes special responsibilities upon the Division’s faculty, staff, and students in both programs. The faculty members are responsible for generating new knowledge concerning humans as occupational beings, for being models of professional leadership, and for creating an academic culture that will optimally nurture students’ intellectual and ethical development. The staff is responsible for supporting this mission statement through efficient operation of the Division’s activities. The students, having selected a curriculum designed to cultivate their chosen profession’s keenest minds and visionaries, are responsible for enacting their decision to pursue graduate education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a consistent commitment to scholarly excellence.