Disclaimer: This story was published when CPERL was housed in the Department of Occupational Therapy at Colorado State University (CSU). CPERL is now housed in the Department of Occupational Therapy at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), effective 9/1/2015.

At CSU OT, one critical marker of our success as educators is seeing our students earn the kinds of professional opportunities that they really want. Through their training in the Children’s Participation and Environment Research Lab (CPERL), Tanya Benjamin and Xinrui Jiang have made significant strides towards realizing their dreams of pursuing clinical research careers focused on improving the life chances of children with disabilities. Tanya and Jiang are international students who have pursued mentored research training in CPERL as part of their respective programs of study at CSU. They were both formally acknowledged for their efforts at CSU and have each been accepted into doctoral programs of their choice. Tanya was awarded the Ontario Trillium Scholarship, awarded by the Government of Ontario, to fully fund her doctoral studies at the University of Western Ontario. She will diversify her research training under the mentorship of renowned Occupational Scientist Dr. Debbie Laliberte-Rudman. Jiang has been accepted into a Ph.D. program in clinical psychology at Louisiana State University this fall and her research training will focus on children with autism.

Mary Khetani directs CPERL and shares, “Tanya and Jiang are living the American dream. They have humble beginnings, having immigrated to the US with big dreams and limited supports, but they have been most eager and willing do ‘whatever it takes’ to ramp up in their ability to make contributions to the interdisciplinary science of childhood disability. Research is not for the faint of heart. To see them persist and grow as integral members of our team has been very rewarding. It’s clearly paying off! I couldn’t be more excited for them as they take their next steps.”

Tanya started working in CPERL while completing her post-professional master’s degree in the Occupational Therapy Department. In reflecting back on her journey, Tanya shares, “I wanted to obtain more research skills. CPERL has given me experiences in research design and the whole process. I got to design and conduct a mixed methods study to see if we could pick up on disparities in young children’s participation in an early childhood educational environment using a newly developed tool called the YC-PEM. Prior literature has shown differences in a school setting based on a child’s disability status, but there is no literature available to know if these disparities show up in the early childhood years.” Tanya presented a research poster on this work at the Graduate School Showcase here at CSU and was awarded the Graduate Excellence Award. She also presented on this work at the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) Conference in Nashville, Tenn. this past spring and is now working to get her study published. “Working with Mary and the entire CPERL team has helped me develop a professional story and define my trajectory based on my passions,” said Tanya.

Jiang came to work in CPERL in the summer before her senior year of undergraduate studies. “Prior to working at CPERL, my only research was helping code and transcribe interviews,” said Jiang. “At CPERL I started getting involved in more things like data collection and the validation of a measure of the participation of younger children. I worked at CPERL throughout my honors undergraduate research scholars program.” During her last semester Jiang presented her senior project examining the reliability of the YC-PEM and received a college award at the Celebrate Undergraduate Research and Creativity (CURC) Showcase. After graduation, Jiang stepped into a study coordinator position and lead a 1-year follow-up study involving the YC-PEM. “We have many opportunities that some students don’t get to experience including presenting at national conferences, helping to write manuscripts and grants, and contributing to the lab’s strategic plan. You celebrate each step that you take and want to excel. Everyone is committed to helping you do your best work. CPERL has provided a supportive and challenging environment not only in research and also in life. Mary has pushed me to figure what I want to do and helped me with my rationale for these pursuits.”

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