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RESNA president: We need to capture interest in health science, technology

RESNA president: We need to capture interest in health science, technology

Carmen DiGiovineCOLUMBUS, Ohio – RESNA’s new board president, Carmen DiGiovine, PhD, ATP/SMS, RET, believes the educational opportunities for students looking to specialize in assistive and rehabilitative technology are approaching “critical mass.” 

Here’s what DiGiovine, a clinical professor at The Ohio State University, which is building a new Assistive and Rehabilitative Technology Certificate Program, had to say about the increasing focus in academia on this specialty and his new role as President of RESNA. 

HME News: You’ve been involved in RESNA in different capacities. What made you get involved in the first place? 

Carmen DiGiovine: It comes down to serendipity – and that’s how a lot of people first get involved in RESNA. I was attending the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the professors I was working with were doing research on wheelchair racing and they invited speakers to talk about this organization called RESNA. I ended up at the annual conference in Nashville in 1994. From there, RESNA has always been, for me, a way to address the challenges as they relate to assistive technology and rehab engineering.  

HME: What do you feel like you can bring to the table as president? 

DiGiovine: I like learning about, what does it take to mentor other people to make them the best they can be personally and professionally? I’m really passionate about mentoring people to be part of the RESNA community and to take a leadership role in the organization. 

HME: What will be your top priorities as president? 

DiGiovine: This may sound cliché, but my focus is the strategic plan for the organization. There are two goals: 1) professional and educational development and 2) increased value. I’m a huge advocate for education obviously, and so one of the things that I’m personally trying to do is create pathways for students who are interested in assistive technology and rehab engineering. That aligns with the first goal. The other priority is the annual conference, and that aligns with both goals. We’ve learned what it takes to put on a virtual conference and what it takes to have educational content that meets real learning objectives. We’ll be back to in-person next year but having the virtual conferences has showed us how we can do things year-round.  

HME: How has assistive technology and seating and mobility become an increasing focus in academia? 

DiGiovine: We’re going to get to the point where it’s no longer a challenge for people to get into the field. We’re getting to that critical mass. At universities, there are capstone projects in engineering and there has always been a group of students who are interested in design projects for people with disabilities. Fast forward five years and there’s an influx of those students. It’s really the merging of two areas, health sciences and technology. We have more than 30 students in our certificate program at Ohio State and we’re at capacity in terms of the courses we’re teaching on assistive technology. I feel that the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the University of Illinois-Chicago paved the way for other universities to step up and meet the need of a growing number of students who want to combine their interests in health sciences and technology. There’s an interest there and we just need to figure out how to capture it. 

HME: Looking forward, how will RESNA continue to evolve?  

DiGiovine: It’s all about emerging technology. I often say we’re in the field of technology integration – taking technology from different fields and fusing them together, and seeing what fun we can have. The funding environment has taken some fun out of it, so that’s part of our  RESNA’s role – advocacy. But it’s the emerging technology and technology integration that gets people in the organization really excited. 


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