When Passion Meets Purpose
Christina Burke ’23 incorporated her many passions – from exercise science, art therapy and exploring nature – into her occupational therapy education to create a meaningful capstone experience and shape her approach to therapy.
- College of Health & Human Services
Christina Burke ’23 is a self-described outdoor enthusiast. The New Jersey native, who recently earned a doctoral degree from Widener’s occupational therapy (OT) program, always finds time to be outdoors to reap its many benefits.
“I love being outdoors; I love hiking, swimming, kayaking,” said Christina. “I come from a lake town and so I have a great appreciation for the outdoors and to take care of it and learn from it.”
Christina followed her love of nature and movement to earn an undergraduate degree in exercise science paired with a pre-OT pathway. She enrolled in Widener’s program, which launched in 2019, and felt an immediate connection to her faculty and peers.
“The teachers are so supportive…every single step of the way,” said Christina.
That support, combined with meaningful field work and capstone projects, gave Christina an opportunity to build a career that spoke to both her personal interests and professional goals.
While the great outdoors and exercise initially sparked her career ambitions, Christina also cultivated a love for art therapy, a practice that allows individuals to express their emotions through art.
“It doesn’t have to be very concrete. It can be expressive. I like the one-on-one therapeutic time,” Christina said.
As her studies progressed, she looked for a graduate OT program that would allow her to explore her multifaceted passions and build a career as a therapist.
“I fell in love with exercise science and art therapy and both have been a perfect match for occupational therapy,” Christina said, adding that, “it’s helpful in OT because it involves fine motor skills and expressions. OT is a lot of hand motions, fine motor skills, cognition and mental health.”
When she wasn’t in class or treating clients in the Chester Community Clinic — Widener’s student-led pro bono health care clinic — Christina was a kickboxing instructor in the university’s Pride Recreation Center.
“I worked at UFC teaching boxing and kickboxing. Then I went to Hackensack UMC Fitness and Wellness Powered by the Giants, where New York Giants players and affiliates from the hospital were some of my clients,” Christina explained.
As a student-instructor, Christina cultivated a small but mighty community on campus of undergraduate and graduate students.
“I had a strong little posse that would come every week to kickbox. They are an awesome little group of people,” who Christina refers to as her OG, or original group.
When it came time to choose a capstone topic, Christina developed a research topic that met program requirements and aligned with her passions.
“I really wanted to put my own passion of being outside into my capstone experience,” Christina said.
As part of the capstone program, students are placed on-site and required to complete a needs assessment. Christina was placed at a local elementary school in Chester where she was able to integrate her love of the outdoors into developing a plan to address the school’s and students’ needs.
Her capstone focused on sensory intervention to improve behavioral self-regulation for students through the creation of a sensory path for the young students.
According to Christina, these kinds of paths “help with therapeutic care and quality of life. It also helps with the milestones of these children at this age because it promotes safe play, sharing, and communication.”
With support from family and friends, Christina led a team of volunteers to clean up the site ahead of building the ADA-accessible path, documenting her progress on Instagram. The final project boasts five stations that engage all five senses and allow students to interact with it throughout their day.
At the end of the spring semester, the path opened to the teachers and students, who received it with overwhelming enthusiasm.