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Karen Jacobs keeps a heap of backpacks in her office, too many to have been left behind by forgetful students during office hours.

“In 1998, when I was president of the American Occupational Therapy Association, I brought something to their attention I had noticed with my own children,” says Jacobs (Sargent’79), a Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences clinical professor of occupational therapy and program director of the online post-professional doctorate in occupational therapy. “Their backpacks were getting bigger and heavier.”

Stuffed with heavy textbooks, laptops, and other paraphernalia, they were often designed or worn incorrectly, resulting in unnecessary pain and injury for children. So Jacobs introduced a program to promote backpack safety: now the annual National School Backpack Awareness Day is held each autumn across the country (Slogan: Pack it light, wear it right!). To promote the event locally, she began taking the students in her entry-level occupational therapy graduate classes to the Jackson/Mann K-8 School in nearby Allston to perform backpack-awareness skits, which explains the surfeit of backpacks in her office.

“I want the students to analyze them, to see what are the right ones for people to wear. Some are designed well and some are not,” Jacobs says.

Many of the objects on display in her modest fifth-floor office come from her frequent travels around the world—over the years she has studied or taught in Iceland and Israel, and in January she gave a keynote in Morocco. They’re meaningful to her because of their connections to her work. Even the 14 children’s books she’s penned (also on view) frequently address issues around disabilities that those in the occupational therapy field can address.

One of the more unusual objects is a 3-D printer. “It’s in here so nobody breaks it,” she says with a smile. Her students have used it to create a variety of novel adaptive aids for simple tasks, like opening packages and crocheting, that can be difficult for people with arthritis and other ailments. To create those objects, Jacobs’ students traveled across Comm Ave to the College of Engineering, where they partnered with Rebecca Khurshid, an ENG assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and her students to create the prototypes.

“What’s most memorable to me is that we had all of the students together, and I asked one of the engineering students to describe what engineers do, and she said, ‘We solve problems,’” Jacobs recalls. “And the OT students said, ‘So do we.’”

In our series “Office Artifacts,” BU Today highlights interesting artifacts professors and staff display in their office. Have a suggestion about someone we should profile? Email amlaskow@bu.edu.

Joel Brown, Staff Writer for BU Today, Bostonia and BU Today Marketing & Communications
Joel Brown

Joel Brown can be reached at jbnbpt@bu.edu.

2 Comments on Office Artifacts: Karen Jacobs

  • Megan Sullivan on 03.26.2019 at 7:17 am

    As her office artifacts show, Karen Jacobs has always been and continues to be a huge asset to BU. On behalf of our students and the greater BU community, I thank her!

  • Deidre Fisher on 03.26.2019 at 10:10 am

    I was delighted to be able to learn more about you via this article! You have made an incredible impact in Occupational Therapy and beyond… Best, Deidre

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