Inspiring grads: Andrea Gurga

Andrea Gurga (Photo: Josh Clark)
Andrea Gurga (Photo: Joshua Clark)

While Andrea Gurga was working on her doctorate at UIC, her mother was diagnosed with lymphoma and needed care in another state. 

“I sat alone in my room, wondering what I would do,” she said, recalling when she first got the news about her mother in January 2019.  “Then I remembered a quote from the author Marie Forleo that said, ‘Everything is figureoutable.’ I knew that although I couldn’t control what was going on with my family or in my life, I could work at finding solutions and towards the ending that I wanted.” 

Gurga made the decision to commute up to seven hours each weekend to and from Wisconsin to be an advocate for her mother while working toward her clinical doctorate in occupational therapy and certificate in assistive technology.  

Her doctorate committee and her employers were highly supportive, giving her the opportunity to balance her schedule to complete her doctorate project and treat clients on the weekdays. Her persistence and dedication paid off, as she will celebrate commencement Dec. 14 with her mother, who is in remission.

“I would have never anticipated the last couple of years to work out as they did,” she said. “But I can say, I would not change the choices I’ve made. I’m going to graduate with my clinical doctorate, be hooded by my advisor and mentor, with my family, including my mother, in the crowd cheering me on. I truly have an unshakeable foundation moving forward.”

Gurga joined UIC in 2016 as a member of the Master of Science in occupational therapy cohort. She worked in the Children’s Participation in Environment Research Laboratory, or CPERL, led by Mary Khetani, UIC associate professor of occupational therapy in the College of Applied Health Sciences. There, she was mentored to contribute to the development and assessment of innovative tools that can accelerate family-engaged and participation-focused care planning and outcomes monitoring with individuals, organizations and service systems. After completing her masters, she decided to continue her education at UIC.

“I chose to pursue a clinical doctorate in occupational therapy because it was valuable to my future as an educator, leader and research-informed clinician,” Gurga said. “UIC gave me the opportunity to contribute towards research in the field, build community partnerships and learn through evidence-based practice. Pursuing my professional certificate in assistive technology was also important to me because I wanted additional training to assess my clients’ need for technology, as well as educate my clients to utilize tools and strategies to support them in doing what matters most to them.”

Gurga, who finished her coursework in August now works as an occupational therapist at Blue Bird Day, a multidisciplinary early childhood therapeutic program she partnered with frequently while a member of CPERL. She works with children who have autism, sensory processing disorders and other developmental conditions, as well as their families, to promote independence and participation in a child’s daily life and routine. 

“I love what I do — It’s always been my dream to make a positive impact on others’ lives,” Gurga said. “My mother was an occupational therapist. It’s an honor to carry on her legacy and make her proud.”

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