By Kate Hunger
When Mei-Ling Lin, Ph.D., OTR, was weighing her career options, her desire to help others drew her to occupational therapy.
“I like to work with people,” said Dr. Lin, assistant professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy. “When I was in high school, I decided I wanted to pursue a profession where I could constantly interact with people and help them.”
Dr. Lin recently joined the School of Health Professions faculty. She grew up in Taiwan where she earned her bachelor’s in occupational therapy and spent her free time volunteering in a group home for children.
“When I was not in classes I always went there to help the caregivers play with the children,” she said. “They needed so much attention and lacked opportunities to play with others.”
Dr. Lin worked as a school-based occupational therapist in Taipei City, Taiwan, for two years before beginning her doctoral program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She earned her doctorate in occupational science 2018, and wrote her dissertation on family occupations and child development.
Most recently, she was an assistant professor in the master of occupational therapy program at the University of Texas at El Paso, where she and her students developed a research project to assess the accessibility and inclusivity of playgrounds in the area’s neighborhoods.
“We found out that in certain ZIP codes there were no playgrounds,” she said. “This is data that is telling us, what about those children living in those areas? What about their right to participate in outdoor play?”
Dr. Lin plans to publish the playground data and use it to advocate for greater access to playgrounds and parks for children who are currently underserved.
“I think play is just an example,” she said. “I do plan to continue similar projects, to explore the community needs and then do something to address the gap. I think my job is to publish, to have the data be visible to the public.”
Dr. Lin is inspired by the potential of children and considers herself and other occupational therapists to be role models for handling emotions and social interactions.
“There are so many children that can benefit from OT because of our knowledge of child development,” she said. “We can capture their attention and play with them in a fun way. We can show how we handle our emotions; we can show them when we are frustrated how we handle being upset or frustrated. We can show them some of the appropriate ways that we make friends.”
Students will benefit from Dr. Lin’s clinical and research expertise in the social-emotional needs of children and youth, said Bridgett Piernik-Yoder, Ph.D., OTR, associate professor and chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy.
“She brings strong expertise in qualitative research methods and is looking forward to applying these approaches to community-based research initiatives regarding equitable play environments for children and youth,” Dr. Piernik-Yoder said. “I am really excited for all the things I know she will contribute to the department, the School of Health Professions and the San Antonio community.”
Dr. Lin’s teaching philosophy includes a healthy dose of humility.
“I am not afraid to let students know the mistakes I have made,” she said. “I like to solve problems, and I like to help students solve their problems, too. I love to help students move forward and overcome the obstacles and provide guidance and study tips.”
With her own experience as an international scholar, Dr. Lin is eager to mentor international students as they adjust to the language and cultural barriers.
“I know how challenging it is,” she said.