Getting a Life

Yarden HixsonBrenau’s North Atlanta/Norcross campus manager knows the needs of nontraditional students because she is one of them – working on a master’s degree in occupational therapy.

Yarden Hixon was born to be an occupational therapist. Currently Hixon is enrolled in the graduate occupational therapy program at Brenau’s North Atlanta/Norcross campus. However, she also has a “day job,” working full-time as the school’s campus director at Norcross.

Although Hixon concedes that she has it easy compared with other nontraditional students who sometimes have to balance the jobs they have now with the educational preparation for the job they want in the future, her working full time, meeting family responsibilities in her marriage and going to school is no walk in the park.

“It’s hard,” she says. “I have no life.  I stay exhausted, for sure. I love my work. I couldn’t not work. But this program is designed for people with full-time jobs, so it’s perfect.”

Brenau’s School of Occupational Therapy, which operates exclusively on the Gainesville and Norcross campuses, serves about 400 students – all enrolled in graduate studies aimed at a Master of Occupational Therapy degree. Brenau is seeking approval from accrediting agencies to launch an OT clinical doctorate program perhaps in early 2014. That, like the master’s program will be a “clinical” degree, geared less toward research and the academics of the profession and more toward preparing people to work directly with patients to help them get their lives back after debilitating injury or illness.

Brenau reformatted the OT program a few years ago, reducing the time-to-completion from three-and-a-half years to three years. The nine-semester master’s program in Atlanta begins each spring. Classes take place all day on Fridays and Saturdays every other weekend. Students also have a significant amount of online coursework between classes. In addition, there are fieldwork obligations outside of regular class hours.

“It’s a really good program, challenging program – very hands-on,” says Hixson, who earned an undergraduate degree from Georgia State University and aims to complete the Brenau degree in 2015. “Of course I wish I had more time to study, but it’s obviously do-able.” After graduation Hixon wants to work with veterans and soldiers and help them reintegrate back into civilian life. 

She pointed out that, for her, an important benefit of Brenau’s OT program is that it gets students involved with real patients early in the program – a practice that sets Brenau’s nationally ranked POT program apart from most others in Georgia and the rest of the United States. “We do clinical work much earlier than a lot of other schools,” says Hixon. “Some schools do it at the end of the program.” These clinical aspects of working directly with older patients, brain-injured patients, veterans and those with neurological diseases “gives you a real comprehensive feel” for all aspects of the profession. “That helped me decide what I ultimately wanted to do as well. I knew I did not want to teach but wanted to be in the field, but only after we worked with some veterans did I realize how passionate I could be about it. Doing clinical makes me feel very involved.”

Although the North Atlanta/Norcross campus has the look and feel of the low-rise suburban office park that it once was, Hixon says she and other nontraditional students find that helps them stay focused on what, for them, college is all about.

“It’s an environment of working and learning,” she says. “There’s no fuss. It’s in and out. You park your car and go to class. No pep squads. No big distractions. Very practical. It is a small environment. It’s a home away from home. We all know each other and we are all about working toward the same immediate goals. For us, Brenau is for people who want and need college degrees, and we know that everyone at the school is here to help us get them. They succeed when we succeed.”


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