Timothy Dionne, BS/MS ‘10, PhD ’19, must be happy that he took his mother’s advice. An assistant professor in the Occupational Therapy Graduate Program at the University of New Mexico (UNM), Dionne and a fellow faculty member just received a $3.25 million, five-year grant to support scholarships for students attending his program through the HRSA (the Health Resources and Services Administration, part of the United State Department of Health and Human Services).
Dionne’s career trajectory was set when his mother, an alumna of UB’s physical therapy program, encouraged him to read about the field of occupational therapy. Once he took UB’s introductory OT class, “I was hooked,” he said. After he finished his combined bachelor’s and master’s degree in occupational therapy, he gained hands-on experience as an OT at the University of Chicago Medicine and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. His next step took him back into academia at UB, where he completed the doctoral degree program in rehabilitation science.
The PhD program “was an excellent combination of experiences that developed my academic skills in both teaching and research,” Dionne said. “I was lucky enough to have great mentors in both of those areas: Dr. Jim Lenker and Dr. Mary Smith. Dr. Lenker helped me develop my research ideas but allowed me the freedom to follow those ideas. Dr. Smith thoroughly supported me, gradually giving me more lead in the courses we co-taught, and eventually I taught independently.”
Dionne also notes that the courses he took, particularly public health courses in community-based health and epidemiology, added to his knowledge base and, combined with his overall experience, prepared him well for his current position--teaching, research, and faculty service.
“My time UB has shaped who I am--my values and my work ethic,” he said. “Without the fundamentals and advanced foundational knowledge I acquired at UB, I would not be where I am. I am very thankful for that experience and education.”
At UNM, Dionne teaches neuroanatomy and applied neuroanatomy and is co-principal investigator on the new HRSA grant. The goal of the grant is to provide scholarships to students from disadvantaged backgrounds with the intent of diversifying the workforce and increase OT's presence in rural communities in New Mexico. The award will fund tuition, living, and other expenses for qualifying students in pursuit of a master’s degree in occupational therapy.
The HRSA scholarship grant is incredibly exciting, Dionne said: “It has the opportunity to impact many lives of prospective OT students and provide OT services to those with a harsh access disparity in rural communities.”
As the vast majority of college faculty have during the pandemic, Dionne has switched to online-only instruction, at least through the end of the summer 2020 semester. “This upcoming fall,” he added, “I am teaching a lab-based course, which will have to utilize creative technology to ensure the students practice those vital clinical skills.”
Even as he’s almost 2,000 miles away from Buffalo, Dionne still has great memories of his time at the university. “UB is an amazing place to live, learn, and grow,” he said. “It’s the first step to the rest of your life.”