TOPS stands for “Training of Occupational Therapists for Practice in Schools.” The
U.S. Department of Education (DOE) Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation
Services (OSERS) awards $799,736 over a 4 year period (1/1/2008-12/31/2011) to the
Department of Occupational Therapy at Chicago State University (CSU), to increase
the number and quality of occupational therapists, particularly those from under-represented
and ethnic minority groups, who are prepared to serve the needs of children and youth
with special needs in the school systems/community settings.
Project TOPS is a service obligation training grant program. Recipients, while at
CSU, will receive a monthly stipend and financial assistance to help cover the cost
of tuition and books. Following completion of the Master’s of Occupational Therapy
(MOT) degree at CSU, recipients are required to provide service to children and youth
with special needs through employment in schools and early intervention services for
two years for each academic year of support.
Historically, CSU has graduated the highest number of minority occupational therapists
in Illinois and a significant proportion of our graduates are employed in medically
underserved communities in Chicagoland. CSU is uniquely positioned to meet the pressing
demand for a more diverse workforce and is in an optimal position to meet the needs
of children and youth with disabilities within the public school system and other
private schools in Chicago and surrounding areas.
Recent changes in federal legislation and increased public demand have resulted in
an increased focus on improving the functional performance of children and adolescents
within their natural environments of home, school, and ultimately the larger community.
Consequently, it is imperative that entry-level occupational therapists pursuing pediatric
practice be knowledgeable and well prepared to provide services to meet the needs
of children and adolescents with special needs within these major natural environments.
The grant, Training Occupational therapists for Practice in Schools (TOPS), funded
by OSERS was designed to recruit, retain, and prepare students of color and provide
them a value-added educational experience by working with children and youth with
disabilities, particularly in the school system. Over the four years duration, the
Department of Occupational Therapy will:
- Recruit and enroll 65 graduate level occupational therapy (OT) students; over 75%
of the graduate students will be of ethnic minority origins.
- Retain and graduate 18 OT students with specialized expertise to provide services
for children and youth with low incidence disabilities by providing financial support
during the four years of the project.
- Develop and implement a value-added curriculum above the requirements for the entry-level
professional practice, with a focus on providing early intervention and school based
- Provide specialized fieldwork experience in early intervention and school-based practice
for 18 selected students.
Who is Eligible for the TOPS Grant?
To be eligible to apply for this training grant, Project TOPS applicants must meet
the following criteria:
- Minimum GPA of 3.0
- Admission to the masters of occupational therapy (MOT) program.
- Successful completion for at least one semester prior to anticipated semester of grant
- Good standing in Chicago State University (CSU) and professional occupational therapy
- Complete a TOPS Grant Application, including submission of a Personal Statement and
- Complete a TOPS interview with primary grant personnel.
Students who receive a TOPS grant will receive:
- a monthly stipend
- Financial assistance to help cover the cost of tuition and books
- TOPS recipients also participate in a value-added curriculum consisting of:
- Fieldwork placements in community settings that serve infants and/or children
- Program Planning and Research Projects involving children and youth with special needs
- Participation in a Mentoring Program and an online Blackboard Community
- Portfolio Development reflecting on clinical skills and learning experiences that
highlights specialization with children and infants with special needs, school-based
and/or early intervention practice.
- Participation in a variety of community service learning activities