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Two NOVA OTA students to receive $1,000 in VOTA scholarships

VOTA Scholarship recipients
VOTA Scholarship recipients Heather Nielsen (left) and Laurie Seril (right).

Based on their commitment and dedication to the profession of occupational therapy, Heather Nielsen and Laurie Seril, occupational therapy assistant (OTA) students at NOVA’s Medical Education Campus, will receive scholarships provided by the Virginia Occupational Therapy Association (VOTA). Both NOVA students will be awarded the scholarships at the VOTA Annual Conference on October 14 at the Renaissance Portsmouth-Norfolk Waterfront Hotel in Portsmouth, Va.  

Nielsen will receive a $1,000 VOTA scholarship and Seril will be awarded the Barbara Howard scholarship in the amount of $1,000. VOTA awards scholarships to second year OT and OTA students each year at their annual conference. Students must be members of VOTA and apply for the scholarships during the first year of their OT or OTA program. The scholarships will be used to assist with their Spring 2018 tuition cost.

As a former certified nursing assistant, Nielsen decided to enroll in NOVA’s OTA program after observing the care her 17 year old son Tyler received from local occupational therapists. Tyler was born with hydrocephalus, a condition that occurs when fluid builds up in the skull and causes the brain to swell. Throughout his life, occupational therapists have helped him to learn how to write and develop mobility skills. Tyler’s ongoing improvement inspired Nielsen to want to help others in need.

“I love the idea of helping people to live their best lives, and that’s why I decided to pursue a career in occupational therapy,” Nielsen said. “I have been an advocate for my son for years to make sure he received the services he needed. As soon as I knew he would be taken care of, I was able to go back to school and NOVA has been the option for me.”  

Seril earned her undergraduate degree at The College of William & Mary in 1986, majoring in human relations and business, with a minor in theatre. After working a myriad of jobs in the hospitality industry in New York, D.C. and Reston, in 1992, she completed Anatomy & Physiology I (A&P I) at NOVA. After later enrolling in A&P II, she became a mother and withdrew from the course. Later in life, while working as a teacher and manager of Gymboree Play and Music, she discovered how much she enjoyed helping young children with developmental issues.

“After teaching classes, I decided it was time to revisit my dream of becoming an occupational therapist,” said Seril. “I retook A&P I & II at NOVA in 2015, and pursued the path that brought me to the Occupational Therapy Assistant program at the MEC. At my age, I have a more mature perspective on going to school and when I graduate from this program I want to maximize my time in the profession.” 

Coming from similar personal experiences, Nielsen and Seril both described themselves as non-traditional students in search of a more fulfilling career. The VOTA members shared how much they enjoy the role of being a student and motivating their younger classmates to remain vigilant in accomplishing their goals to become trained and certified occupational therapists. As mothers, volunteers and active members of the Student Occupational Therapy Association (SOTA), Nielsen and Seril said how proud their families are to watch them achieve their life-long dreams.

“It’s very interesting to be in school when you’re older because we know exactly what we want,” Nielsen said. “We now have adult kids that have invested in this journey with us and have been very supportive and proud. They said to us, it’s our turn now. Enrolling in this program at the MEC has given us a whole new perspective on life.”

Upon completion of the OTA program, Nielsen plans to work with seniors in a skilled-nursing facility and later obtain her master’s degree. Seril wants to focus on pediatric occupational therapy and plans to become a certified pet therapy partner with her Goldendoodle, Ellie. 


Media Contact: Kristina Ogburn | 703.503.6338 | kogburn@nvcc.edu



Northern Virginia Community College is the largest institution of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls more than 75,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield and Woodbridge, and through NOVA Online. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, call 703-323-3000 or visit the College's Web site, www.nvcc.edu.