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John Fleming named Occupational Therapist of the Year

John Fleming, Ed.D., OTR/L
John Fleming, Ed.D., OTR/L
St. Catherine University.

Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy John Fleming, Ed.D., OTR/L, has been named the Occupational Therapist of the Year by the Minnesota Occupational Therapy Association (MOTA).

Fleming, who has taught at St. Catherine University since 1985, was honored by MOTA for the impact he has had on countless students, clients, faculty and clinicians. In the 27 years he has been at St. Kate’s, he has taught between 1,200 and 1,300 students, inspiring them to make their mark on the field of occupational therapy.

Fleming’s passion for teaching extends beyond the classroom—to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, the history of the University and the impact St. Kate’s has on the greater community.

Inspired by the Sisters of St. Joseph

Fleming had the privilege of working under the revered Sister Genevieve Cummings, CSJ, who served as the first department chair for occupational therapy at St. Kate's. Her successors were also educated in the tradition of Catholic social teachings, bringing their commitment to social justice to the occupational therapy department.

“The sisters have done so much through their social services,” says Fleming. “It’s pretty amazing to be part of a group that is still able to do that kind of social service.”

Along with other faculty, Fleming has continued to work with the sisters, partnering with them for community service projects and learning opportunities for his students. He says the early work of the sisters, and especially of Sr. Genevieve, still inform what the occupational therapy department does today.

“That really creates a character and flavor to the program that you can’t replicate,” says Fleming. “It creates a very special experience for the students.”

Writing history

Fleming also has an enduring love of history.

In his office in Fontbonne Hall, he points to a shelf of textbooks that are all the same title, in different editions. Some of the more stunning photographs he has taken accent the wall, and stories from projects — both past and present — fill up his office cabinets.

Fleming was among the contributors for a text detailing the history of St. Catherine that was published in 2011 by Lexington Books, “Liberating Sanctuary: 100 Years of Women’s Education at the College at St. Catherine.”

To more fully understand the impact of the sisters, Fleming also chose their work as the subject of his doctoral dissertation when he completed a Doctor of Education in Leadership at the University of St. Thomas last year.

His dissertation, Reframing Mission: A Study of Institutional Change and Reinventing Healthcare Services in an Order of Catholic Nuns, used oral history to detail the CSJ’s change from brick and mortar hospitals to a neighborhood system of primary clinics.

Par for the course

Fleming, who also continues his work as an occupational therapy practitioner, will take his interest in history a step further in 2013. He is designing and teaching a new course at the graduate level — a course on the history of occupational therapy and occupational science.

“The course itself is trying to explore philosophical ideas and concepts that have helped developed the field of occupational therapy,” says Fleming.

Among other things, the course will ask students to analyze past, present, and future trends in the national and international practice of occupational therapy. It will explore the philosophical assumptions, societal influences, and environmental factors surrounding the development and practice of occupational therapy.

The course, entitled Evolution of Ideas in Occupational Therapy, will be offered for the first time in the summer of 2013, in the Master of Arts in Occupational Therapy program.  

Fleming is also interested in doing more with oral history, in order to explore the impact of occupational factors on our daily lives.

He is especially interested in learning about the effects of Superstorm Sandy on residents of New York and New Jersey in the areas that were hardest hit by the storm. Fleming poses the question: How do occupational routines and selected paths change in the face of such an event?

“That is the kind of thing that occupational therapy should be interested in,” Fleming says.

Regardless of the research potential that exists, Fleming continues to be a valued colleague at St. Catherine University and in the OT profession. Already, he meets many of his former students out in the field, even as he is teaching new classes of students.

“Because we have such a regional presence, it’s not unusual to take students out into the field to work with other St. Kate’s grads,” says Fleming. “It is pretty amazing when I think about how many students I have taught over the years. That’s humbling to realize that you’ve affected so many people.”

Fleming calls his a “lifetime approach” to the occupational therapy discipline, the University and the greater community.

“I’ve always been of the opinion that you should be as giving as you can to as many people as you can,” he says.

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Dec. 20, 2012 by Melissa Kaelin

See also: Faculty, Healthcare, Leadership