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Rebecca Aldrich, PhD, OTR/L, and Antoine Bailliard, PhD, OTR/L, were the first two graduates of the Occupational Science PhD program in 2011. In the years since, both have embarked upon impactful careers involving research, teaching and both clinical and community practice.

Aldrich and Bailliard returned to UNC-Chapel Hill to deliver a keynote presentation for the Spring 2024 Mitchell Symposium, hosted by the Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, and it was as if no time had passed as the duo discussed applications of occupational science in practice and policy. By sharing some of their recent research, case studies and insights into various settings and situations where occupational science can make an impact, Aldrich and Bailliard opened an insightful and inspiring conversation among those in attendance.

In line with their return to the program, Aldrich and Bailliard shared details about the meaning behind their visit, ongoing projects and their hopes for the fields of occupational therapy and occupational science in the future.

Dr. Rebecca “Beccy” Aldrich: Connections and Collaboration are Key

Aldrich is an occupational scientist and Professor of Clinical Occupational Therapy within the University of Southern California (USC) Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. She received both her B.S. in Occupational Therapy and M.A. in Occupational Therapy from USC before achieving her PhD in Occupational Science from UNC-Chapel Hill.

Whereas her PhD study focused on discouraged workers’ experiences, her research has since evolved to widen that focus to include situations outside of full-time, formal paid work, such as long-term unemployment, precarious work, retirement and returning to work following severe illness. Through an ongoing research collaboration with Dr. Debbie Laliberte Rudman at Western University in Ontario, Canada, Aldrich’s research has adopted a more critical stance that examines how possibilities and boundaries in everyday life are shaped by formal and informal societal structures.

“I have also expanded my lines of research to include scholarship of teaching and learning in occupational science and occupational therapy, which I initiated during my time as a faculty member at Saint Louis University,” she says, where she achieved tenure as an associate professor before moving to her current position at USC. “Through both lines of research as well as professional service activities, I’ve also developed strong international relationships with other occupational scientists and occupational therapists and made efforts to help develop the fields overall.”

As she looks ahead to the future of the fields of occupational science and occupational therapy, Aldrich is excited by the technology-driven opportunities to learn with colleagues from various global contexts, allowing for exposure to ways of thinking and doing that she may not otherwise encounter. “There are many possibilities within OS and OT that can come from increased opportunities to develop and apply global understandings about occupation,” she notes.

When asked to reflect on returning to campus to speak at the Mitchell Symposium, Aldrich looks back at her decision to pursue her PhD in Occupational Science at UNC as one of significance, and one of the best she has made both personally and professionally. “When I made the decision to attend UNC, I was moving away from the only part of the country I had ever really known – California – and a university – USC – where I had happily completed two degrees. My move to North Carolina was a big step outside of my comfort zone,” she says. “I see that step as a pivotal part of my growth process, both because it exposed me to new contexts and new ways of thinking and because it positioned me to be an active collaborator with established scholars in the early days of my career.”

Returning to Bondurant Hall to share how her research and scholarship has developed in the time since leaving UNC was meaningful to Aldrich and offered her a welcome opportunity to think back on the course of her career.

Aldrich was awarded and delivered the Canadian Society of Occupational Scientists Townsend & Polatajko Lectureship in 2023. View of list of selected publications here.

Dr. Antoine Bailliard: Mental Illness Interventions Through Community Based Practice

Bailliard is an Associate Professor of Occupational Therapy within Duke University’s School of Medicine. He earned both his M.S. in Occupational Therapy and his PhD in Occupational Science at UNC-Chapel Hill. After graduation Bailliard worked for a year as a clinician at Central Regional Hospital, an inpatient psychiatric hospital in Butner, NC, and then applied for a faculty position in the Division of OSOT at UNC, where he worked for nine years and achieved tenure as an associate professor before moving to his current position at Duke.

With a focus on mental health, Baillard’s work has primarily revolved around developing, improving and testing innovative community mental health service delivery models – he has received two federal grants totaling $5 million over 10 years to develop and test new interventions for adults with serious mental illness who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. The aim of his current work in this space is to de-medicalize mental healthcare and focus on meaningful participation and social inclusion. “These grants have enabled us to be really innovative and think outside of the box, which is incredibly exciting,” says Bailliard.

Additionally, Bailliard’s theoretical work focuses on developing new conceptual models for understanding sensory processing and developing the occupational justice perspective using the capabilities framework. He has been working with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services to develop and implement their Complex Care Management program, which focuses on helping adults with serious mental illness transition out of adult care homes and into independent living. Since developing the program, Bailliard now serves as a consultant and trainer for the occupational therapists hired under the program in the state, and also works as a trainer and consultant for the Institute for Best Practices as UNC Chapel Hill’s Department of Psychiatry to help mental health providers across the state enhance their ability to support meaningful participation of adults with serious mental illness in the community. His efforts reach beyond North Carolina as well, thanks to his ongoing consultation with UCLA and the LA County Department of Mental Health to develop and test a triage screen to help homeless outreach workers identify people with mental illness who would benefit from a referral to a specialized mental health outreach team.

Bailliard is energized by some of the new overlap between OS and OT – he recognizes the field of occupational science has made a significant impact on occupational therapy to where OT practitioners are moving beyond the medical model to recognize a need to focus on meaningful participation and occupation instead of discrete performance skills. “In our region, what excites me is how community mental health OT has really taken a hold in North Carolina,” says Bailliard. “The Complex Care Management program is the first statewide initiative to my knowledge that officially sponsors community mental health OT in the United States. It’s very exciting to be a part of this initiative!”

As a double Tar Heel and former faculty, Bailliard found it a “surreal” experience to participate in this year’s Mitchell Symposium as a keynote presenter. “I always had a tremendous amount of respect for the scholars chosen for the symposium, and it’s an incredible honor to be among those who have been selected,” he says. “It’s also a lot of fun! I really enjoyed my time at UNC engaging in many discussions that were intellectually stimulating and challenging, so it’s a lot of fun to come back and participate in those discussions once again.”

Bailliard has published various articles and book chapters in the past few years – view a list of publications here.

If you missed this year’s Mitchell Symposium, you can view the recorded presentation here.