Susan Jurczak, an MSc(OT -Post-professional) student in Occupational Therapy at Dalhousie University, died on December 30, 2010. Susan had a strong interest in designing environments of long term care facilities that foster residents’ social connections and occupational lives. She got the most out of her master’s studies by focusing her practicum work, electives and thesis research on this interest area. Her thesis work was supervised by Robin Stadnyk and Anne Carswell.
Susan lived about 8 months of each year in Connecticut, where her husband Russ had an academic position, and the other 4 months in Edmonton, where she practiced and conducted her research. Her life circumstances made her a good candidate for the School of Occupational Therapy’s distance education program, which she began in 2003. Susan was a hard-working student. She immersed herself in academic life, taking every opportunity to learn and to push herself out of her “comfort zone” of clinical work. She presented papers and posters for many Alberta-based organizations and the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapy annual conferences. She received scholarships from the Canadian Occupational Therapy Foundation and the Alberta Association on Gerontology. She also received a peer-reviewed grant from the Capital Care Foundation in Edmonton to conduct her thesis. Susan sought mentorship beyond the occupational therapy program she was enrolled in through her involvement with the Canadian Association on Gerontology and a longstanding connection with Edmonton researcher Doris Milke. She fostered many connections with policy makers in Alberta.
In 2008-2009, Susan was on leave from her studies because she had a life-threatening illness. Despite ongoing struggles with treatments, she described her illness as a “chronic disease” and her “new normal.” Even in her final months of life her usual hope and optimism prevailed. She completed her data analysis in 2010 and had plans to defend her thesis in the summer of 2011.
With the help of her husband Russell, who located her research files, and research assistants Haley Augustine (MSc(OT) 2011, now a Dalhousie Medical student) and Vanessa Johnson (MSc(OT) 2011), the manuscript for Susan’s thesis was completed by Robin Stadnyk. Susan’s Master of Science degree was awarded posthumously on October 1, 2012. Russell received Susan’s degree at the convocation ceremony. Her thesis was entitled “Maintaining family relationships within assisted living facilities for clients with dementia: Effects of the physical and social environment.”