AOTF st catherine challenge 2023

The AOTF St. Catherine Challenge: Student-Driven Philanthropy Building OT Evidence

Today’s article is a guest post from the American Occupational Therapy Foundation (AOTF) showcasing the AOTF St. Catherine Challenge and what it does to help expand and support OT research. For more information about AOTF, be sure to check out our additional article, How AOTF is Building Evidence to Improve OT Practice and Health.

Today’s occupational therapy students know how vital evidence is for their practice. Not only do they study research that informs interventions, but they understand that the lack of occupational therapy evidence is a hindrance to delivering quality care, receiving reimbursement and making policy changes OTs need.

To support new occupational therapy research that will build the evidence they need, today’s OT students engage with the American Occupational Therapy Foundation (AOTF) in the annual St. Catherine Challenge.

What is the AOTF St. Catherine Challenge and why should you help your alma mater?

The St. Catherine Challenge is an annual, student-led fundraising initiative that raises money for early-stage OT research through the AOTF Intervention Research Grant (IRG) program. This year, dozens of OT schools and hundreds of OT students will participate because AOTF is the only organization dedicated to advancing the science of occupational therapy and because the IRG program is the only OT specific, early-stage research grant opportunity addressing priority needs for our profession.

The Challenge is a fundraising competition among OT schools to highlight the need for more OT evidence and promote support of new OT research. The Challenge gives students an active role in strengthening their future profession. Since the Challenge began in 2013, over $400,000 has been raised to fund Intervention Research Grants!

The Intervention Research Grant program is a unique grant program only offered by AOTF to help OT scientists collect pilot data and build proof of concept through preliminary research. Since the creation of the IRG program in 2013, AOTF has funded 45 grants covering two-dozen different topics in occupational therapy.

In addition, this program is bolstering research capacity by supporting early-career OT researchers through the research mentorship component of the grant program. By investing in new early-stage research and early-career researchers, AOTF and OT students are strengthening evidence-based practice. A full list of all the grants can be found at AOTF Intervention Research Grant Recipients.

The founding St. Catherine University OT students chose to support the IRG program because of two important reasons. First, the IRG addresses the critical gap that exists in early-stage research funding. Without this type of support, OTs cannot build or receive funding for the large-scale studies that prove their interventions meet the criteria needed for adoption into widespread practice. Second, the IRG program is fully reliant on annual gifts to continue. Each year AOTF awards 5 grants at $50,000 each. This means that $250,000 must be raised from charitable giving every year.

Listen to a few of our past IRG recipients discuss their work:

Dr. Kendra Heatwole Shank, Towson University 

Dr. Victoria Wilburn, Indiana University  (2022 AOTF Intervention Research Grant Recipient)

Dr. Jewel Crasta, Ohio State University (2021 AOTF Intervention Research Grant Recipient)


Since 2019, the Challenge has raised over $50,000 each year, – that’s one IRG is fully funded by student efforts! Last year was their most successful year ever, with almost $60,000 raised by 65 schools. This year the Challenge goal is to raise $75,000.

Schools and students fundraise in a variety of ways, but the common thread among them is their passion for occupational therapy evidence and the importance of teamwork and creativity to support meaningful lives.

The 2023 Challenge has just begun and will run until March 13, 2023. The top fundraising schools will be recognized at the 2023 AOTA Conference with awards, photographs and exclusive invites to AOTF events. Most often, the schools that raise the most money are those with the most alumni support.

If your alma mater is participating, this is a great opportunity for you to help make an impact. What is great about giving through the Challenge is that your philanthropic gift will count twice; once for your school and once for occupational therapy research.

To see if your school is participating, visit AOTF’s Challenge page here.  Then, make your gift and be sure to include your school’s name in your giving information.

If you wish to help further, schools are always looking for alumni volunteers to help them promote the Challenge, connect with other alumni and share their own stories.

Who can I contact about the Challenge?

If you have any questions about the St. Catherine Challenge, more ways you can support AOTF, or to connect to the student leaders at your alma mater, please contact AOTF’s Chief Development Officer, Lawrence Liff at 

We want to thank you for any support that you are able to provide!


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