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Student diversity advocate wins national award using using global learning tenants
PTE Mu Chapter representatives accepting the 2022 President’s Award at the PTE Annual Business Meeting in San Antonio, TX with the national president. From left to right: Taylor Saenz (President), Dr. Pooja A Patel (National President) and Grace Perez (Vice President)

Student diversity advocate wins national award using using global learning tenants

July 18, 2022 at 2:25pm

Anyone who wonders whether there is a connection between global learning and diversity, equity and inclusion need not look any further than FIU student Taylor Saenz. Based on her outstanding contributions to diversity and inclusion to her field, Saenz, a master’s student in Occupational Therapy (OT), won the 2022 Pi Theta Epsilon President’s Award from the national occupational therapy honor society for being a culturally responsive occupational therapist.

Saenz worked as a graduate assistant in the Office of Global Learning Initiatives (OGLI) from 2019-2021 and attributes her work with the OGLI as fundamental to her work as president of FIU’s chapter of the national occupational therapy honor Society, Pi Theta Epsilon (PTE).

While working with the OGLI, Saenz assisted with the promotion of events and opportunities, planning and management of student events, and supported students pursuing the Global Learning Medallion. As part of their medallion requirement, students completed capstone projects that address local issues with global ramifications, such as the school-to-prison pipeline and creating sustainable universities. Some of these projects have even been presented before the United Nations.

“During her time working in the Office of Global Learning Initiatives, Taylor internalized the definition of global learning — the process of working with diverse others to analyze and address issues that transcend borders – and went on to apply this most important concept in the context of her work with OT colleagues and community members,” said Hilary Landorf, executive director of Office of Global Learning Initiatives

Saenz saw the challenging work students addressed and the change they made in their communities, and she was moved to enact change in the OT community.  

“From the work I had seen these students do, I took inspiration from that and as president, made the decision on how we can become more culturally responsive and sensitive and treat our patients,” Saenz said.

Such a diverse mindset is especially valuable in a field with very little diversity. Nationally, less than three percent of occupational therapist students are Black and less than four percent are Hispanic. At FIU, Black students make up eight percent and Hispanic students make up fifty-nine percent of OT students. Being at FIU provides a unique position to be surrounded by a diverse population to better prepare students to work in a diverse community, an opportunity Saenz embraces.

"Global learning gave me the confidence and being able to come back and help students do the same thing gave me more confidence to continue that work, and I carried it with me through my master’s program and the work I want to continue doing,” said Saenz. 

During the 2021-22 academic year, Saenz, along with her executive board and the Student Occupational Therapy Association (SOTA), hosted a series of events to promote diversity and inclusion. In September 2021, PTE hosted the Equity in Pediatric Care workshop. Moderated by Saenz, this workshop focused on incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion into the OT profession and providing family-centered care for the Hispanic/Latin populations in South Florida, bringing together her work with global learning and her passion for diversity, equity, and inclusion.

In February of 2022, PTE hosted a panel session with local FIU alum Black occupational therapists to give a space to learn about their experiences as OTs and discuss how to promote an inclusive profession and provide client-centered care for diverse clients. In April, PTE hosted a panel session with students from the OT program to highlight diverse cultural backgrounds.

Saenz and her executive team flew out to San Antonio, Texas to receive the 2022 PTE President’s Award for their work.  She was also a finalist for the 2022 Outstanding Student Life Award: Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging.

2021-2022 PTE Mu Chapter Executive Board and faculty advisor with 2022 PTE President’s Award. From left to right: Kavon Smiley (secretary), Clorinde Bijou (treasurer), Grace Perez (Vice President), Taylor Saenz (president), Lauren Tevepaugh (RSO representative), and Rebecca Mojica (faculty advisor)


Her work has also led her to co-found and co-chair the FIU Chapter of the Coalition of Occupational Therapy Advocates for Diversity (COTAD), a national organization focused on incorporating anti-racism, anti-oppression, and justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) practice into the OT profession. The FIU COTAD chapter is expected to start in the 2022-2023 academic year.

“After working as a graduate assistant in the OGLI, I was inspired to make an active change within the OT profession. The work I got to see there gave me the confidence and the resources I did not have previously to continue working as a grad student during my own global learning work,” Saenz said.