Sherrilene Classen named UF chair of occupational therapy
Sherrilene Classen, Ph.D., M.P.H., an internationally recognized scientist in driving rehabilitation, has been named chair of the department of occupational therapy at the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions.
Classen is currently a professor and director of the School of Occupational Therapy at Western University in London, Ontario, Canada. She begins her UF post on Jan. 2, 2017, succeeding William Mann, Ph.D., a distinguished professor and chair, who is retiring.
“Not only is Dr. Classen an excellent scientist who is renowned for her work on driving safety, she is a visionary leader who has great plans for the department of occupational therapy,” said David S. Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., senior vice president for health affairs at UF and president of UF Health. “We look forward to the growth and developments in occupational therapy education and research that will happen under her leadership, as well as new opportunities for integration with UF Health’s patient services.”
In her research, Classen has focused on individuals’ fitness to drive, developing measurement tools, interventions and driving simulation programs for at-risk populations, including older adults, teens, adolescents with autism spectrum disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, returning combat veterans and people with neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis. She is the lead developer of the Fitness-to-Drive Screening Measure, a free, online tool to help caregivers and family members identify drivers age 65 and older who may be at risk for driving problems.
Her work has been supported by about $6 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Transportation and international agencies. She is an extraordinary professor at Stellenbosch University in Cape Town, South Africa, and the editor-in-chief of the Occupational Therapy Journal of Research. She is a Fellow of the American Occupational Therapy Association and the Gerontological Society of America. In 2012 she was inducted into the American Occupational Therapy Foundation’s Academy of Research, the organization’s highest scholarly honor.
“I am delighted that Dr. Sherrilene Classen has accepted our offer to chair the department of occupational therapy,” said Michael G. Perri, Ph.D., dean of the College of Public Health and Health Professions. “Dr. Classen is an outstanding researcher, educator and academic leader who will bring an abundance of experience, expertise and enthusiasm. We are extremely fortunate to have a person of her talent to guide our OT department to new levels of achievement.”
At Western University, Classen developed an online master of clinical science program in driving rehabilitation therapy. The first of its kind in the world, program graduates are qualified for employment as driving rehabilitation specialists, working with drivers through the lifespan who are medically at-risk. Under her leadership, research funding to the School of Occupational Therapy rose exponentially and the school welcomed its first funded postdoctoral research fellows.
Classen’s new appointment brings her back to the University of Florida, where she served as a member of the department of occupational therapy faculty from 2004 to 2013 and as the director of UF’s Institute for Mobility, Activity and Participation. She first joined the department as a postdoctoral researcher in 2002 after completing her doctoral degree in occupational therapy at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She also earned a master’s degree in public health from the College of Public Health and Health Professions.
“UF’s occupational therapy department, in my opinion, is standing on the shoulders of giants,” Classen said. “The previous chairs, Alice Jantzen, Lela Llorens, Kay Walker and Bill Mann, are highly revered in occupational therapy circles. They are clinicians, theorists, scholars and/or researchers who have contributed richly to occupational therapy in the United States, and beyond. It’s an honor to join this cadre of leaders to continue building the legacy of the occupational therapy department at UF.”
The UF department of occupational therapy offers a master’s degree in occupational therapy that U.S. News & World Report ranks 17 among nearly 400 occupational therapy degree programs. The department also participates in the college’s interdisciplinary doctoral program in rehabilitation science. The UF OT department is nationally known for research in aging, assistive technology, driving safety and autism. Department faculty, students and alumni offer community service through the OT Equal Access Clinic, the only one of its kind in Florida to provide free occupational therapy services to people who are uninsured or underinsured.
One of Classen’s long-term goals for the department is to raise its standing among peer departments so that it is among the top six research-intensive occupational therapy departments in the U.S., with diverse educational programs and a tighter integration with UF Health’s clinical services. She also hopes to create an environment that is a “great place to work, study, innovate and create.
“We would like to be known as a department that serves the occupational needs of people, organizations and populations so that we can help promote our profession as one that is relevant, effective and evidence-based. In so doing, we will improve functional outcomes in people, enhance quality of life in communities, and serve the occupational needs of society,” Classen said. “Borrowing from the words of author Jean Houston, I really do believe that this is the place, now is the time and we are the people.”