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Heidi Gullo Found Her Calling in Bryant & Stratton College’s OTA Program

OTA class learning about different treament techniques

Nine years ago, Heidi Gullo’s daughter was born at 23 weeks, weighing less than a pound after delivery. While spending time in the NICU, she underwent several surgeries, and complications related to the premature birth which left her with physical and verbal limitations. That’s when Gullo and her family first turned to Occupational Therapy (OT) for a potential solution.

“When we started OT, it went from her not being able to do much of anything to her growing into a thriving, intelligent little girl,” said Heidi Gullo. “I was inspired by the compassion of her therapists. They were not just there for her, but for our whole family.”

Gullo felt compelled to help other families in the same way. She took a leap of faith and decided, well into her 30s now, to pursue a degree in the field with a college that would allow her to work full-time and spend time with her daughter.

That’s when she learned about Bryant & Stratton College’s OTA degree program in Greece, N.Y., and set up a meeting with Program Director Dave Merlo to learn more.

“Dave was a huge factor in me choosing Bryant & Stratton,” said Gullo. “He really cares, and he takes the time to talk through and identify what you want to do and what the program has to offer.”

Merlo, program director of the College’s accredited Associate of Applied Science (AAS) OTA program, saw potential in Gullo from that first meeting.

“From day one, Heidi has been unique. She really felt like she had a calling because of her personal experiences,” said Merlo. “In the OTA profession, you have to be able to form deep connections with your clients. She understood that wholeheartedly and was an example of a student with the potential for great success in the program.”

Having built the program from the ground up, Merlo’s dedication to maintaining small class sizes, extensive hands-on training, and immersive real-world experience with the help of partners like AutismUp and the Nazareth College Masters OTA program, was what convinced Gullo, and many of her classmates, to choose the College.

“It’s really important to us that our faculty take the students out into the community,” says Merlo. “Working with real clients and local organizations allows them to skill build and develop the meaningful relationships with real patients that are vital to nurture to be a good OTA.”

Part of that hands-on training this year will include sensory garden planning and planting with elderly patients at the Rochester Psychiatric Center and autistic adults through AutismUp. Merlo explains that this community education model is imperative for this kind of healthcare training in order to be successful OTAs at institutions including skilled nursing facilities, hospitals, rehab centers and schools.

Now in her fifth and final semester, Gullo is looking forward to helping other families of children struggling with impairments.

“My dream job would be an in-home pediatric OTA,” remarked Gullo. “I want to help children like mine thrive and make the most of their circumstances to live active, fulfilling, healthy lives.”

To learn more about Bryant & Stratton College’s OTA programs, please visit https://www.bryantstratton.edu/degrees/associate-degrees/aas-occupational-therapy-assistant.


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