Dr Kylie Wales: Intergenerational pen pals provide unique learning experiences

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Dr Kylie Wales has been awarded the Work Integrated Learning Staff Member of the Year in recognition of her outstanding efforts in securing quality work placements for all Occupational Therapy students, while developing new partnerships and initiatives to keep the Work Integrated Learning program of courses thriving - both successfully achieved during the height of COVID-19.

Kylie wales

Utilising the University of Newcastle’s connections within the community and school system, Kylie successfully developed and implemented three new initiatives for the Occupational Therapy course this year, including the intergenerational program that had students living onsite at Calvary aged care facility providing companionship; the Pen Pal Project, which helped form an important connection between the elderly and school children; and the first ever student-led Occupational Therapy clinic with Calvary.

As an accreditation prerequisite, all Occupational Therapy students are required to complete 1,000 placement hours across their four-year course. During the height of COVID-19 when the initial restrictions were announced, 50% of the Work Integrated Learning placements in one day were withdrawn from a range of partners. Kylie and her team had no other option than to bounce back and pivot their way of thinking.

Kylie was instrumental in helping almost 400 students secure a valuable Work Integrated Learning placement during the year, through a combination of virtual and face-to-face opportunities, ensuring that fourth year students were able to graduate, and remaining students were not left to play catch up next year.

Kylie adapted her way of thinking and engaged in new ways to secure work opportunities for her students through the help of the versatile online consultation platform, Telehealth.

Dr Wales said two of her fourth year students were pregnant at the time that they needed to complete their practical hours, one wasn’t able to travel and the other was on bed rest. Thanks to Telehealth, the students were able to go on virtual placements in Broome and complete their course.

“This experience has taught us to be flexible and has helped us realise that there are other options out there”, Kylie said.

Proactive and courageous in her mission to create multiple and meaningful Work Integrated Learning opportunities for students, Kylie worked with Calvary and recruited several students to help trial the facility’s first Occupational Therapy clinic with the aid of Telehealth. During the eight week program, the team liaised with residents and care staff to build and adapt a program that was committed to the occupants’ needs, but also allowed students the freedom to “breath a bit of fresh air into the activities often seen in aged care homes”.

“It was exciting to embed a profession that hadn’t been there before, which takes a lot of work”, Kylie said.

During COVID-19 Kylie connected community partnerships with Edgeworth Heights Public School and Calvary, to create another meaningful project for her students to be involved in. Taking advantage of the University department’s Occupational Therapy clinic that was already in the school, Kylie decided to take the original intervention program that focuses on children’s handwriting a step further by creating the Pen Pal Project.

The Pen Pal Project commenced in lockdown and connected two different community groups that were experiencing significant changes in their circumstances, including social isolation. Coordinated by our students, Kylie said it was a great way for “the kindy kids to connect with the residents through this intergenerational aspect, and to both learn from the generations.”

Kylie has continued her progressive approach, successfully securing a prosperous Work Integrated Learning opportunity for next year. In partnership with the University Department of Rural Health in Taree there will be an Occupational Therapy supervisor-based program in a facility that will admit students for placement throughout the year.


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The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.