A Life Less Ordinary For Psychology Alumna

Sleep is not a word Jenna Reisert knows. A UCF alumna, Reisert has not taken a break since she first stepped foot on campus, back in 2014. After graduating from the psychology program in three years, an entire year earlier than planned, she embarked on an insane gap year to “live a life less ordinary” before she returns to graduate school next fall.

A member of the Burnett Honors College (BHC), the Psychology Honor Society, Best Buddies, the American Sign Language Club and the Pre-Occupational Therapy Organization (POTO) while she was a student, Reisert dedicated her time at UCF to laying a sturdy foundation for her future. She used every resource UCF offered to complement her education through internships and volunteer experience.

“I took a service learning class for credit, and learned about a lot of cool opportunities there,” Reisert said. “UCF has great programs that I was able to take advantage of, and the teachers and advisors I’ve talked with have been incredibly knowledgeable and helpful.”

Her three years at school found her as an intern at Freedom Ride, a horse-therapy facility, as a volunteer for Read 2 Succeed for two years through the BHC and as a teacher’s aide in a science museum, where she worked with a young boy with autism. As part of POTO, she participated in Knight-Thon. Through them, she also learned about other work opportunities.

“Joining the Pre-Occupational Therapy club was so helpful to me, because it introduced me to people who had already gone through the process of finding jobs and internships, and had good advice,” she said. “I ended up volunteering in the therapy department at Nemours Children’s Hospital for a year because of people I met through the club. I found out about CECO through there, as well.”

The Conductive Education Center of Orlando (CECO) is an organization that uses the Hungarian method of Conductive Education, a multi-disciplinary approach to education and development, to specialize in helping children and adults with severe motor impairments.

“I was paired one-on-one with a young child and worked with them throughout the day,” she said. “It was the most challenging work I’ve done, but also the most rewarding.”

Her experiences at UCF helped shape her decision and desire to become an occupational therapist.

“I originally considered a career in business or finance, because I felt they were good careers,” Reisert said. “Looking at my resume, though, I finally realized that working with children, especially those with special needs, was what I was truly passionate about.”

Occupational therapy focuses on developing fine motor skills and daily living ability, and can be tailored to whatever a client needs to work on to accomplish their full potential.

“I definitely think occupational therapy can change people’s lives, and more and more research is constantly coming out which shows how beneficial it can be,” she said. “One of the best things I feel people are doing with therapy degrees are early intervention programs.”

Early intervention programs focus on educating families who are having, or just had, a baby with special needs. The programs give information about the child’s disability and what different resources or programs are available for the family.

“Many parents are overwhelmed when their child is born, and aren’t aware of all the government assistance, community programs and therapy options available,” Reisert said. “Early intervention ideally helps families learn the facts about a disability, so they can focus on what the child can do and accomplish, rather than can’t.”

Occupational therapy isn’t just for individuals with special needs, though. Adults who have lost their fine motor skills and members of the elderly community also utilize it. Reisert, though, chose the career mostly for her interest in working with kids.

“I really liked the idea of being able to work one-on-one with children, to be able to see them progress during the years and be flexible with what they worked on in sessions,” she said.

To become an occupational therapist, Reisert must attend a graduate program and obtain her master’s degree in the field. But first, she’s spending the year pursuing self-discovery and doing all she can to experience the world before going back to school.

“I just want to see as much of the world and have as many crazy adventures as I can, while I’m fortunate enough to be able to,” she said.

Her first adventure was an internship at Island Dolphin Care- a facility that combines dolphin training with recreational and behavioral therapy.

“I had been interested in it for a year, but I didn’t know if I would have the time commitment required,” Reisert said. “So when I decided to take a year off, it was the first thing I knew I wanted to do.”

While there, Reisert worked directly with clients. She learned a series of behavioral techniques to use with children, and experienced taking observational notes. The facility also had programs working with adults who were stroke victims or veterans. As someone who typically works with children, Reisert used those times to expand her perspective on life.

And of course, there were dolphins. Reisert helped train and take care of the creatures as part of the internship.

“One day, I was able to have my own bucket of fish and my own dolphin, with no trainer behind me helping me,” she said. “I did various signals to keep him entertained and rewarded him with the fish when he did the tasks correctly. My dream when I was younger was to be a dolphin trainer, so it was a surreal experience for me.”

When the internship ended, Reisert found herself traveling to Europe alone for some much-needed time off.

“Most of my life, I’ve made my decisions about what to do next by what would look good on my resume,” she said. “The idea of traveling somewhere really appealed to me because I would have time to relax and make it all about what I wanted to do. It was easily one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

Despite being alone, Reisert used social media to make friends and find events to go to. Her decisions abroad were governed by the motto she has applied in her daily life.

“The motto I’ve adapted over the past two years is just ‘to live a life less ordinary,’” she said. “I first heard this quote years ago when Benedict Cumberbatch used it, and it has become my inspiration.”

To Reisert, this quote means saying yes to as many adventure opportunities as possible to help her grow. If she has the choice between an ‘ordinary’ or traditional path, something she’ll have the chance to do later in life, she wants to choose the ‘less ordinary.’

“I tend to get caught up in the timing of when I ‘should’ be doing things: getting a career, settling down in one city, getting married,” Reisert said. “But I still want to develop as a person before I start the next chapter of my life. I’m still figuring out for myself what my personal goals are, something I’m hoping to get closer to during this year off.”

When she isn’t traveling this year, Reisert will be spending the rest of her time off continuing to work toward her career in occupational therapy.

“I just completed the coursework to be a registered behavior technician,” she said. “Hopefully I’m going to pass the couple of tests needed to get board certified, and I can start working right away with kids with special needs.”

She will be applying to graduate schools at the same time, hoping to continue the education path she started at UCF.

“Even though UCF didn’t have an occupational therapy program, the advisors were still helpful and a good resource for finding out about other programs,” Reisert said. “I’m really glad I chose UCF for my undergraduate degree.”

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