From Teaching to Healing

Published: December 12, 2023

College of Western Idaho (CWI) student, Kaila Boeck, has a passion for working with others. That enthusiasm originally led her to get her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education. However, the challenges of teaching during the pandemic and a realization that she enjoyed working with individuals more than large groups prompted her to explore a new avenue – Occupational Therapy (OT).

“I love that OT focuses on the client's needs and addressing their goals, instead of forcing individuals to learn information they are not motivated to learn,” said Boeck.

Boeck knew she wanted to pivot her career to the OT field and after some research, she discovered CWI's Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) program, which was a more affordable and faster alternative than graduate school.

Since joining the program’s second cohort in Fall 2022, Boeck’s journey has been enriched by hands-on experiences and fieldwork the OTA occupation provides. From assisting preschoolers in early childhood intervention schools to creating meaningful therapy sessions for Alzheimer's patients, Boeck embraced the practical side of learning.

The program has also helped her form great connections with faculty; Academic Fieldwork Coordinator and Instructor, Angela Zaugg; Program Director and Instructor, Mel Henderson; Adjunct, Megan Nichols; and Adjunct, Christian Jenkins, who helped her grow her passion for occupational therapy. Their expertise, care, and selflessness not only helped Boeck’s learning but also influenced her professional outlook.

“Each one of them is not only a knowledgeable practitioner, but a caring and selfless professor. Their expertise not only helps to inform our learning but also guides our professional decision-making. Each one of them goes above and beyond to see the success of all of their students. I am truly thankful for each of them, not only for their educational impact but how they have affected my perspective and drive in life.”

Her impact extended beyond coursework. As CWI's Occupational Therapy Assistant Co-Representative for the Idaho Occupational Therapy Association, Boeck became a vocal advocate for her profession. She was able to learn about and help advocate for the profession in the state by writing recommendation letters to legislators and educating them at the Capitol. She also got the chance to network with practitioners around Idaho, while helping plan networking events and conferences.

Juggling multiple jobs while pursuing her education at CWI presented challenges, but through Boeck’s resilience she has been able to achieve her goals and then some.

Boeck is a recipient of the College’s Emerging Scholar Scholarship, a program that recognizes outstanding students for their commitment to learning, demonstration of excellence in their discipline or program, creative approaches to assignments, and other qualities. The scholarship helped alleviate some of the financial burden on Boeck and her husband, who is saving up for law school. This support allowed them to allocate more resources toward their shared dreams.

As Spring 2024 graduation approaches, Boeck looks toward the future. A move with her husband, who is set to embark on law school, is on the horizon. Prepared to start her next venture armed with her OTA degree, she plans to work in the field and someday start a bridge program to become a registered Occupational Therapist down the road.

“Because of CWI, I have become an evidence-based, passionate future occupational therapy assistant. CWI has given me the ability to gain a very vital degree quickly and affordably. Because of CWI, I can continue living locally, pay out of pocket for school, and begin my career in just two short years!”

To learn more about the College’s OTA program, please visit the program page or contact Mel Henderson at

Nominations for 2024 Emerging Scholars are open through Monday, April 1. Faculty are encouraged to nominate students, like Boeck, based on perseverance, innovative thinking, and professionalism both in and outside the classroom.

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