Director of the School of Occupational Therapy Nicolaas van den Heever poses for a photo. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

International expert heads OT school

Dr. Nicolaas van den Heever, an international expert in occupational therapy administration and education, recently joined Brenau as the new director of the university’s School of Occupational Therapy.

Van den Heever was recruited after a yearlong national search to replace the 22-year-old school’s founding director, Barbara Boyt Schell, who retired in 2016. Van den Heever served for the past five years as founding dean and director for the occupational therapy master’s program at West Coast University in Irvine, California. His experience building that program was instrumental in his move to Brenau.

“When I came here for my interview, I had a three-day interview process,” van den Heever says. “And I felt at the end of it that there was a complete match between how I see occupational therapy education and how Brenau does it.”

OT is the health profession committed to helping all people participate in necessary and meaningful activities. The Brenau School of Occupational Therapy provides graduate education programs, including a doctorate.

“I saw that there was a lot of opportunity here for me,” van den Heever says. “I wanted to grow and to tap into my skills, which are operational and leadership-based. But I also wanted to have new challenges, and I think that’s what I found at Brenau. There is a lot of opportunity for me to use my skills and to expand this program.”

A native of South Africa, van den Heever earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Stellenbosch near Cape Town and his doctorate from the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences in Florida.

Now in his 36th year as an occupational therapist, van den Heever spent years in the health care industry before transitioning to health care education. He calls his experience both “traditional and nontraditional.” Perhaps most notably, van den Heever worked for the World Health Organization in the 1990s in China, developing new rehabilitation practices that were unheard of at the time in the country.

“I have literally fulfilled every role in the health care sector: from being a staff therapist all the way to being a hospital administrator,” he says. “In terms of experience and skill, I have so much I want to share with future occupational therapists. I had a very strong vision of what OT education should look like, and I got the opportunity to start a program from the ground up. Now, that reality of what occupational therapy should look like is what I found at Brenau, and I am able to continue it here.”

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