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Sargent associate professor added to AOTA Roster of Fellows

Simone Gill, associate professor of occupational therapy at Boston University’s Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, was added to the 2021 American Occupational Therapy Association’s Roster of Fellows for her work in motor performance skills. ILLUSTRATION BY LAURYN ALLEN/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

After years of research on motor performance skills, Boston University community member Simone Gill is being honored for her work in the field.

Gill, who teaches occupational therapy in the Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation, was added to the 2021 American Occupational Therapy Association’s Roster of Fellows Nov. 2, along with 27 other professionals.

Sargent Dean Chris Moore said the honor is an important accomplishment because AOTA is highly revered. Recipients “represent the best of what the field aspires to be,” he said.

The Roster of Fellows consists of members who made a significant impact on OT services and members of the Association, according to the AOTA website.

Gill said her path to the award kickstarted in 2009, when she came to BU after finishing her Ph.D. She taught classes in Sargent and created the Motor Development Lab to pursue research.

Over the past 11 years, she has studied how differences in people’s bodies based on changes in their environment affect their ability to move around safely, particularly in regard to obesity. She also examines how different conditions affect motor development and function in children.

Moore, who became Sargent dean a few years after Gill was hired, said Gill’s and her colleagues’ work are what attracted him to the University. 

“The whole reason for coming to BU was to be able to support a terrific faculty and a terrific student body,” Moore said. “Researchers like Professor Gill make the possibilities in a job like mine that much greater.”

In addition to occupational therapy, Gill also teaches for the Sargent Ph.D. program in Rehabilitation Sciences. Moore said Gill’s work is collaborative, touching on every field in Sargent.

“To see her work having such broad implications across such disparate fields is really just so wonderful,” he said. “It’s what we aspire to at BU and at Sargent in particular, is to foster that collaborative spirit and collaborative, broad interdisciplinary impact.”

Moore added this award is “especially remarkable” because Gill’s initial training wasn’t in occupational therapy at all.

Gill said she started her journey as an undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon University studying psychology. It wasn’t until a freshman year developmental psychology class, she said, when she visited her friend’s lab and was exposed to research that intrigued her.

“I was like, ‘What’s a lab? I don’t know what that is,’” Gill said. 

She started helping with research that semester and stayed through her senior year before pursuing a master’s degree in occupational therapy at Tufts University. 

Gill said she then began working with children with physical and developmental disabilities, while hoping to combine her research experience in undergrad with her desire to make a clinical impact.

“I just kept thinking about, ‘What’s our rationale or justifications for different interventions that we’re using?’” she said. 

As a clinician, she worked with continued research that inspired her to pursue a Ph.D. During her doctoral program, she studied how infants, children and adults respond to changes in the body and the environment.

Gill’s lab research gradually pivoted toward studying the motor differences and risks associated with body changes such as obesity or extreme weight loss, and the clinical implications of those findings.

She said this issue was particularly important to her because of her own experience with weight loss, and the differences in movement she noticed in herself. Examining the health risks associated with obesity is also important to her, she said, because her father died of complications from Type 2 diabetes. 

One of her goals of examining obesity, motor control and health outcomes, Gill said, is to optimize health effects for individuals through occupational therapy or rehabilitation, which people do not often receive after bariatric — weight loss — surgery.

“That’s one of the things that I’m really looking for my work to do,” Gill said, “is to inform how we can not only improve health outcomes but how do we get people to the services that they might need?”

Though she said she is proud of her work and her award, Gill said she is most proud of being able to mentor the next generation. 

“My favorite part of my job is watching when this light bulb goes off for students,” Gill said.

In the future, she said, she hopes to expand her program and research by inviting more people into the lab.

Gill will be honored at the AOTA ceremony in April.

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