Kristie Koenig knows Temple OT from both sides of the student-faculty experience.
Kristie Patten Koenig is associate professor and chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy at New York University. Pairing OT and educational psychology, she uses a strengths-based paradigm to examine the efficacy of educational interventions for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. Koenig is the principal investigator of NYU's ASD Nest Program, an inclusive program for students with autism in the New York City Department of Education. She completed an advanced master’s in occupational therapy (1994) and a PhD in educational psychology (2003) at Temple and served on Temple’s OT faculty, first as a fieldwork coordinator, then assistant professor, from 1996 to 2007.
How did you become interested in OT and in the work you do now?
I volunteered at a camp for kids with disabilities, where I met an OT. That experience inspired me to get my bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy. As I worked with students in schools and in private practice, I became very interested in why our interventions worked. So I pursued a research path with the advanced master’s then the PhD.
What makes a career in OT gratifying?
It’s a very enduring profession. Most people stay with it because it is so flexible and offers so many different opportunities. Temple was a really great experience because students are exposed to such a variety of communities and organizations where OT can be applied.
Why did you choose Temple?
I interviewed at a few different schools’ graduate programs, and while they were encouraging, they also seemed to have their own ideas for my research career – they would suggest I study this or that research interest. But I already knew what I wanted to study. Then I went to Temple and met with Moya Kinnealey. She said, “What do you want to study? What interests you? What do you care about?” And I was struck by her openness to what students were passionate about. I feel very connected to Temple. It was such a good experience for me as a student, as a clinician, and as an educator.
It sounds like she really walks the OT talk.
Totally. She really looked at what was a meaningful occupation for me, what was meaningful research for me. And she’s been a mentor to me ever since. We have some excellent leaders at Temple, and being a chair myself now, I apply the leadership skills I learned there as well.
How has your Temple education influenced the way you conduct your research?
One of Temple’s strengths is that it’s very much grounded in real-world, clinical practice skills. Temple grads are known for that. And I think with my research I’m also grounded in doing something in a practical context. I love doing research in the schools, because if you can make it work there, with all the messiness, you can make it work anywhere. If you see improvement there, then I think you’re on to something. So I think Temple’s focus on context and hitting the ground running have really influenced me.
What lessons from your time as a Temple student and faculty member do you still use today?
Temple’s supportive environment is a big part of the program. I learned to enjoy the work and the people you work with. It’s important not only to care about what you do but also to have a good time doing it.
Those traditions of practice and camaraderie really stand out for you. Why do these qualities make Temple OT unique?
When I was on Temple’s faculty I also worked as a fieldwork coordinator, and one thing I always heard – and still do – was that Temple students are not afraid. They’re not intimidated. They hit the ground running. That kind of fearlessness is grounded in competence. They’ve been given the skills they need so they’re ready to practice – and they also develop an attitude toward their practice that makes them ready to keep learning.
What’s your advice for current or future Temple OT students?
Be present. There are so many distractions, and you have about two and a half years in which to immerse yourself in learning this profession that you will be in mostly like for the rest of your life. Often you’ll be asked to perform on very short notice – so remember to be present in the learning space, because you will learn so much – not only skills but about the profession and about yourself. Be open to learning how to use yourself therapeutically.