Emily Smith grew up in a small, rural town in western Kansas called Goodland.
After graduating from Goodland Junior Senior High School in 2018, Smith attended Colby Community College. There, she pursued an associate degree in business administration and accounting while also serving on the college’s cheer and dance team. She held part-time jobs at a dance studio and Taco Johns, too.
So, it’s safe to say Smith kept busy while a junior college student.
She earned her two-year degree in 2020 before arriving on Newman University’s campus, where she’s currently a student in the occupational therapy assistant (OTA) program — and keeps just as busy. As one of three schools in Kansas that offers an OTA program, choosing the university for her undergraduate studies was a no-brainer.
Early mornings and homework-filled evenings
At Newman, Smith’s full plate includes being part of the Newman Cheer and Dance team, as well as working at a local Subway.
“Every day is different,” Smith said.
Typically, though, she’s awake by 5:15 a.m. when she heads to cheer practice.
“A typical practice starts at 6 a.m., but we always get there early just in case we start early,” Smith explained. “We go through and do warm-ups, running and stretches. Then on days when both cheer and dance are there at the same time, we have cheer on one side and dance on the other, splitting the gym floor in half basically. Then we work on stunts that we have struggled with as well as new stunts that are more difficult and showier.”
Smith feels that the Newman Cheer and Dance team has become like family, which helps make the early mornings a bit easier.
“I enjoy getting to start my day with the team and feeling awake and refreshed for the day, some days more than others,” she said.
“Some days I have to go straight to class after practice at 8 a.m., while other days I have a bit of a break until 10 a.m. or an even longer break until 4 p.m.”
On the days she doesn’t have class until 4, Smith usually works from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The long days are worth it, though, as Smith hopes to one day work in a nursing home or a hospital and knows both her studies and extracurricular involvements will aid her future goals.
The most rewarding part of being an OTA student, she said, is “actually getting to see our field in action and having knowledgeable teachers to teach us about everything we need to know.”
Smith has been involved with a few projects throughout her time in the OTA program, including one where she presented at Koinonia Senior Care about what occupational therapy is and how it can help people. She also participated in a community project at La Familia Senior/Community Center about bone health.
This semester, Smith is working on a couple additional projects regarding how occupational therapy can aid postpartum depression as well as infants in the NICU.
“As an OTA student as well as being on the cheer team, I have had to find the right balance between the sport and school,” Smith said. “This balance has come from not only being a third-year college student but also from having worked while at my last school. This balance has come just a bit harder due to Newman being a university whereas my previous school was a junior college. While the workload has been more than what I was used to, it has certainly helped me with getting ready to work in the real world.”
Earn an occupational therapy assistant degree
Our Associate of Science in Health Science in Occupational Therapy Assistant prepares students to take the certification exam and obtain a license to work under the supervision of an occupational therapist.