University Park, IL ,
09:45 AM

Conversations with Leaders: Elizabeth Cada

Dr. Elizabeth “Beth” Cada moved frequently across the country as a child, following her father’s climb up the corporate ladder. It was her mother who led Cada and her sister to lives of service.

“My mother, the first in her family to attend college, was a librarian and a huge supporter of public education. She was always working for others in the church and community. She believed in giving back and really instilled that in us,’’ said Cada, an occupational therapist by profession and trailblazer by birthright.

The founding Chair of the GSU Department of Occupational Therapy and later Dean of both the College of Health and Human Services (CHHS) and Graduate Studies, Cada helped implement the law that today provides children with disabilities the opportunity to receive services such as occupational therapy in schools.

Indeed, for four decades Cada has followed her mother’s lead by serving children and families in need of occupational therapy services.

To service, Cada adds her own spin: improved access and equity for all.

Those have been the themes playing in the background of her life, a symphony of service that has inspired patients, students, and faculty both locally and nationally.

Cada is a Fellow of the American Occupational Therapy Association and has held leadership positions with the organization, as well as with the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy.

After the groundbreaking Individuals with Disabilities Education Act passed, Cada went to work training occupational therapists statewide to provide occupational therapy services that supported children’s educational programs in schools. Prior to the law passing, school-age children who needed supportive therapy were seen in private practice or medical settings.

To get a firsthand look at how the law was working at the local level, Cada took a job as a school-based therapist.

In 1996, Cada joined GSU with a dream to serve residents in the region by teaching future occupational therapists. She established the Department of Occupational Therapy and two years later—20 years ago this year—the Master of Occupational Therapy program graduated its first class.

The program was an opportunity to educate scores of therapists who would later serve clients in the Southland and throughout the rural region, where they were sorely needed.

The success of the CHHS programs brings a smile to the face of the former Dean who oversaw seven departments that generated millions for research and scholarships to educate health and human service professionals.

While she’s proud of her work as CHHS Dean, an entire generation of occupational therapists in the Southland owe some part of their careers to Cada.

“Before, many hospitals and community organizations in the area had to contract to bring therapy providers in. Now, we educate therapists in the area, and they also work in the area. That’s a huge impact that means a lot to me.”

More importantly, many of those GSU-educated professionals reflect the community they serve in a stark contrast to the monolithic demographic she saw two decades ago.

One of those students is GSU’s own Dr. Cynthia Carr, Associate Professor of Occupational Therapy and a founding faculty member of the department. Simultaneously a student and a professor, Carr earned her doctorate in 2012, one of the first Doctor of Occupational Therapy degrees granted.

“Dr. Carr, like many of our students, had strong reasons for wanting to be at GSU, and to continue honing her expertise in occupational therapy practice and executing educational best practices right here in the area,’’ said Cada.

After serving in dual dean roles for six years, Cada is now moving into a new position as Interim and Vice President of Academic Affairs, the senior administrator responsible for all academic affairs of the university.

It’s another opportunity to cast wide her service net as she seeks to build a stronger faculty and enhance curricula that are responsive to the needs of students and the region.

The assignment is challenging in the face of dwindling state funding for higher education; however, Cada is focused on the principles that have guided her from the beginning.

“I’m a great proponent of looking at people’s strengths. That comes from my days as an occupational therapist—not looking at the deficits. You get the best outcomes by building on people’s strengths.”