Drawn to help others- IUPUI Student Spotlight

July 28, 2015
by Ric Burrous

Seanna Nichols, a graduate student in occupational therapy in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, learned at an early age what she wanted to do with her life.

Nichols’ older brother struggled with Cerebral Palsy, but medical and therapeutic professionals helped him more fully participate in the community and in society, none more than the occupational therapists she saw in action.

Adopt a dog

“I knew I wanted to help others achieve their highest level of independence and maintain their dignity in every possible way,” Nichols said.

Her chosen field took her from her undergraduate home at Iowa State University to IUPUI, but also fit with her growing interest in volunteering and helping others, a view fostered by the paternal grandparents who “raised me and taught me responsibility and accountability.”

“Volunteerism is a supplement to my intended career,” she said. “It keeps me grounded, and working with people who have far more life experiences humbles me.”

That has drawn Nichols to Hands In Autism, the American Cancer Society and the IU Student Outreach Clinic, among others. All fit her community service goals, but she found an additional passion while working in Indianapolis neighborhoods: animal rescue.

“I volunteered one day at an (animal) adoption event and was hooked,” she said. “Two years later, I am the director of volunteers and adoption events coordinator with Every Dog Counts Rescue, and can’t imagine my life without EDCR!”

She has noticed common ground between her off-campus work and her volunteerism, too: giving a voice to those who can’t always speak for themselves. To her, animals, children and others on the fringes of society “are vulnerable beings who rely on others to serve as their voice,” Nichols said.

She acknowledges that she feels a sense of empowerment when she is able to help them, whether it is animals looking for a new home or people looking for someone to provide help.

That is one of the reasons why being part of the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences team in the Student Outreach Clinic has been so meaningful for her. Students in all the schools involved in the clinic (whether medicine, law, dentistry, social work, occupational or physical therapy, etc.) often get caught up in “another textbook to read, paper to write, or just day-to-day life,” Nichols said. “It’s easy to get jaded.”

“But at the clinic, we serve a population that truly appreciates any kindness or thought for their well being,” she added. “They offer a realistic perspective of the health needs in our country.”