Faculty Spotlight: Janet Njelesani

We sat down with new OT faculty member Dr. Janet Njelesani to learn more about her research and experiences in the classroom during her first year as a faculty member in the NYU Steinhardt’s Department of Occupational Therapy.

How is your first year at NYU going, and what classes do you teach in the department?

My first year here at NYU Steinhardt has gone really well. NYU is such a large institution with so many resources and such strong diversity.

I am currently teaching Foundations of OT, which is a course for first year OT students and is often their first introduction to what the profession of occupational therapy really is. I also teach Evidence-Based Practice, which is a course for post-professional students in the OTD program, who are all currently practicing clinicians. Both courses draw on my research experiences and expertise in the study of occupation, so they are a pleasure to teach.

What is your background, and what brought you to NYU Steinhardt?

I completed my PhD at the University of Toronto in 2012 in a collaborative program of Rehab Science and Global Health. I has this interest as a practicing OT and a researcher in the intersection of how occupational therapy can work within a global health context. When I finished my PhD, I began to work internationally for UNICEF. What I did there was provide technical guidance to governments particularly in low and middle-income countries to help strengthen their national disability policies, national disability plans, and disability data collection.

While working at the policy level for a couple of years, I noticed that there was a gap in research, particularly about children with disabilities, so I wanted to return to academia to explore those areas.

Could you talk a little about where your research is focused, what sparked your interest in the topic, and what you are working on now?

My body of research broadly aims to enhance equity for children with disabilities in low and middle-income countries. I am especially interested in research on child protection violations against children with disabilities attending schools, and use critical qualitative methodologies to guide my work.

I am currently working on a project funded entitled “The Landscape of Child Disability in Rwanda”. The overall goal of the project is to improve the monitoring of the rights of children with disabilities in Rwanda, building on the work of the Government of Rwanda  and the National Council of Persons with Disabilities.

I am also starting a pilot project in Zambia to begin to understand the experiences of school violence against children with disabilities in Lusaka, Zambia, and start generating an evidence base on why children with disabilities are more vulnerable to violence at school than their non-disabled peers. The findings will be used to inform education programs and policies in Zambia and provide evidence that school violence against this population must be a priority. Currently, no programs or policies exist in Zambia that specifically address these issues.

What have you found to be the most rewarding aspect of teaching here at NYU?

The caliber of the students in this program is so high, and I have learned so much from them already from class discussions. I have also greatly enjoyed introducing my students to new avenues of OT that they didn’t know existed, and getting them excited about the broad scope and possibilities of the profession for them to explore.

Some students weren’t aware of the work OTs can do at the macro level, be it policy and working with governments like I have done to influence change for children with disabilities. OTs don’t just have to be in a one-on-one care or hospital setting to make a difference, but can also work in more consultative roles such as developing programs in countries that do not have occupational therapists for teachers that they can implement themselves to provide intervention to school children. I’m excited to open more doors for the students I work with here at NYU.