Nov 11, 2020 Feature Story

OTA grad enjoys satisfying career

Ashley Desjardins Dagen
Ashley Desjardins Dagen.

Ashley Desjardins Dagen of Salisbury was not a traditional student when she entered the occupational therapy assistant (OTA) program at Wor-Wic. She already had a bachelor’s degree in communication arts and was almost 30 years old when she decided to become a certified occupational therapy assistant (COTA).

“I had worked for the Carnival cruise line for a few years after college and then tried a few other things,” Dagen said. “That allowed me to grow up and see the world,” she said. After realizing that this was not a career she wanted to continue in, she accepted a position as a rehabilitation technician at the Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Salisbury and soon discovered her true passion. That’s when she decided to get her degree to become a COTA.

“I was waitlisted for the program at Del Tech because I live in Maryland,” she said. Wor-Wic’s OTA program was just getting started, so she said she decided to go to Wor-Wic for the location and the instructors.

“I had taken classes at Wor-Wic before and loved the accessibility. Then I found out who the faculty were in the new Wor-Wic program. I knew them both and because of their reputations, I waited and applied for the OTA program at Wor-Wic.”

She said there were a lot of benefits for her as a Wor-Wic student. “If you need help, someone is there to help you. The instructors are available. The class schedules were great — two days a week, all day, so I had time to do the work and study and there was no need to run back and forth to campus.”

She said she loved the small class size, and that everything she needed was all in one building. “The professors had real life experience and could answer questions. They have been in the field for many years — so I was able to get a good sense of what it would be like on the job. I also felt like it was a community,” she explained. “You want to feel like a family and not number 500 in a giant auditorium.”

Dagen said that completing her clinical practicums at other locations was great for her. And although the program was challenging, she managed to get engaged, married and have a child — while completing the program on time.

She is still at Encompass Health, now employed full time as a COTA, working with patients who have had a stroke. She said she loves her job and that it is very fulfilling, while allowing her to enjoy a work-life balance, so she still has time for her husband and 4-year-old son.

Her mentor at Encompass is also a faculty member at Wor-Wic — Stuart Gibbs, fieldwork coordinator and instructor of the OTA program. “He is encouraging me to continue my education and become a registered occupational therapist,” she said. “He wasn’t a faculty member when I was enrolled. They are a dynamic duo — Ellen and Stuart,” she said, speaking of Gibbs and Ellen Siegmund, department head and associate professor of the occupational therapy assistant program. “Today’s students don’t know how lucky they are to have them.”

For more information about the OTA program at Wor-Wic, visit or call 410-572-8740.

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