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Congratulations to the 2024 Frieda J. Behlen Scholarship Winners

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Carissa Cesena (MS '25) and Paulina Henzel Kedzior (MS '25)

The NYU Steinhardt Department of Occupational Therapy is pleased to recognize Carissa Cesena (MS '25) and Paulina Henzel Kedzior (MS '25) as the 2024 recipients of the Frieda J. Behlen Occupational Therapy Scholarship. The award, named to honor the memory of our department’s generous founder and former chair, Frieda J. Behlen, recognizes high-achieving MS and MS/OTD students with a demonstrated commitment to contributing to the NYU OT community.

Read on to meet Carissa and Paulina and learn more about their studies, professional aspirations, and what this accomplishment means to them.


Which parts of your NYU OT studies are most exciting to you?

Carissa: Within our program, I have been very interested in the pediatrics classes, which can be attributed to my personal experiences as the oldest in a large family who grew up babysitting. Last summer, I worked with Tech Kids Unlimited in a game design and employment skills workshop for teenagers on the spectrum. I used the skills acquired at TKU in my first Level 1 telehealth fieldwork at an outpatient pediatric clinic. These experiences gave me a lot of confidence as an OT, which provided motivation for moving forward.

I also found our mental health class particularly engaging as it exposed us to often overlooked practice areas, including the LGBTQ+ population. Currently, I am involved in a workgroup focused on enhancing health equity for trans+ NYU students at the Student Health Center (SHC). Based on our qualitative research, we are now in the process of implementing a project to revamp the NYU SHC website for a more inclusive experience. Even if my professional focus does not exclusively center on the LGBTQ+ population, I am committed to delivering gender-affirming care to all my patients. Another area of interest for me is working with the incarcerated population to ease their reintegration into the community through the development and implementation of programming both during and after incarceration.

Paulina: Since the very beginning of my NYU OT studies, I have been continually excited by the experience, knowledge, and wisdom that our faculty has to offer. It is particularly exciting to interact with a faculty of such diverse backgrounds, with such varied and extensive experience as active clinicians and researchers. Whether by meaningful classroom discussion or the passionate conversations sparked in between, I feel that we are afforded special insight both into the many tides that have shaped our profession and the many forms that its future may take. Most recently, I have been excited to begin applying this knowledge in the shaping of my own clinical skill set through my Level I fieldwork experiences.


What are your professional goals as an aspiring OT?

Carissa: As a practicing therapist, I aspire to integrate all of my diverse interests and remain on a continuous journey of learning and advocacy for both myself and my patients. Following a few years of clinical work, my goal is to pursue a doctorate at NYU to align with my belief that professional growth should parallel the advancement of the field. Moreover, I envision utilizing the knowledge acquired at NYC to make a meaningful impact by eventually returning to my home in California and giving back to my community in a profound way.

Paulina: The wide array of specialties we have learned about has truly affirmed for me just how broad the world of OT is! As a result, my professional goals have multiplied. I want to use my experience working with neurodiverse individuals and all that I’ve learned in my studies to work with schools in creating naturally more accommodating spaces for all students. Beyond schools, I want to assist in increasing the accessibility of participation opportunities provided by public spaces such as museums and parks.

I hope to be an active contributor to the evidence that serves as our profession’s foundation by investigating how OT can provide more efficient, family-centered support of children in their transitions from NICU to EI to school based services. I also want to work with adaptive technology users to see how OT can contribute to centering the user’s experience when creating universal design. Lastly, I have been greatly inspired by the advocacy demonstrated in this program. I plan to join lobbying efforts on behalf of the OT profession and the populations we serve, and I hope to increase access to OT in rural communities like my own.


What does winning this scholarship mean to you?

Carissa: Winning this scholarship is a significant achievement for me. I reflect on the past two years with a profound sense of pride and accomplishment. Recognizing the inherent challenges of graduate school, I initially set modest expectations for my grades. This recognition inspires me to continue pursuing my goals and to make a positive difference in the lives of those I serve.

Paulina: Winning this scholarship serves as the ultimate honor and acknowledgement of my academic achievements, as well as my care for the NYU OT community. Above all else, this scholarship represents the sacrifices made by my family that allowed me to dedicate the amount of time that proved necessary to successfully strive for these achievements. This award belongs as much to them as it does to me. I greatly look forward to utilizing the skills and knowledge I have garnered through my time in this program to contribute to the betterment of our profession and continue serving my communities.

Support the Scholarship

Department of Occupational Therapy founder and longtime chair Frieda J. Behlen was known to personally provide financial support to help students complete their studies. We hope to further honor her legacy by continuing to increase the size and number of Frieda J. Behlen Occupational Therapy Scholarships awarded with the generous contributions of our alumni community.

Support the Scholarship Fund

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Occupational Therapy

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New York, NY 10003
Phone: 212-998-5825

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