Class of 2019 Success Stories: Leadership, access to faculty help advance Samantha Abrass to graduate school

Social work major graduates on time despite life-threatening obstacle

By Bob Cunningham ’18

Samantha Abrass chose to attend Bowling Green State University because it was close to home and offered plenty of opportunities to grow as a student and as a person.
 
And, now that she has graduated with a Bachelor of Science in social work she is thankful for her relationship with BGSU’s talented and helpful faculty and how they helped her when it was discovered she had a life-threatening condition.

“I had a lot of good experiences with faculty and the honors program,” said Abrass, who grew up in Waterville, Ohio, 10 miles northwest of Bowling Green and attended Anthony Wayne High School. “I also had many good experiences with extracurricular activities. I was the director of Lady Parts, an all-female identifying improv team, on campus. That was a really big part of my college experience because I made a lot of my friends that way. I did a lot of things within social work such as advocacy and things like that. I got to work on campus, and I was just really involved overall.”

As a student in the Honors College, Abrass lived at Founders Hall during her first two years at the University. She also was an honors fellow for a year with the Honors Learning Community. Students in BGSU’s Learning Communities hope to excel through mentorship, guidance, discovery, adventure and conversation.

“I had a lot of good experiences with faculty and the honors program.”

Abrass figured out early on in her collegiate career that she enjoyed advocating for students and what they deal with in society on a day-to-day basis. Initially an education major, she switched direction because she felt more comfortable working with students through social work.  
 
“I have always known that I wanted to work with people,” she said. “And then taking that next step and refining that down to Pre-Occupational Therapy, I felt like I could work with a lot of diverse clients and doing the types of things I wanted to experience.
 
“The social work program itself was very welcoming. I felt like I learned a lot about diversity and the program itself was really fitting for me and I felt like I had a lot of good experiences.”
 
As far as advocacy, Abrass wants to support “anyone who is being oppressed.”
 
“Personally, I want to work with children who have disabilities,” she said. “I want to work with kids who have autism and I’ve always been very involved with mental health. That’s one of my biggest focuses in social work as well as occupational therapy.”

Over the summer, Abrass interned at the University of Toledo Medical Center. She worked with adolescents who have mental health issues, along with their families, which has always been one of her passions.
 
During her junior year, Abrass applied for the pre-admission occupational therapy doctorate program at the University of Toledo. The program allows for BGSU and Toledo students to apply before other students.
 
“I knew I wanted to go there because of all the field experience you get allows you to have experience in every aspect of occupational therapy,” she said. “It’s a three-year program and you get your doctorate at the end. It’s also close to home, which is important to me. I’m thrilled to start right away (August 26) and I’m excited for new experiences.
 
Career-wise, Abrass always has embraced leadership opportunities, but in the short term she is looking forward to working in a school center with children who have autism after getting her occupational therapy doctorate (OTD).
 
“Getting a job that would allow me to use both my social work background and my OTD is very important to me. Eventually, I plan to branch out in other areas.”
 
For her honors project, “Coping with Anxiety for Adolescents,” Abrass created a graphic novel. The story follows a young girl, a dancer who is unaware she suffers from anxiety; the girl’s mother also has anxiety.
 
“The book is presented in a way that children wouldn’t know that it is a mental health tool,” Abrass said. “I also created a parent companion guide, so with every page I had resources and questions parents could ask their kids. I noticed that just from personal experience as well as working within the mental health field that there is this lapse of understanding and identifying a lot of anxiety’s symptoms. I didn’t want it to be a scary experience, which is why I created the graphic novel.”
 
She hopes to further develop her project and use the graphic novel as a therapeutic tool to be given to children and their parents and perhaps even school therapists.

Abrass said she always has been creatively inclined, so a graphic novel was a natural approach to her honors project.
 
“I like art a lot and I’m interested in art therapies,” she said. “I loved working this summer with the kids at my internship. We did a lot of art-based therapies — that’s always something I want to integrate into therapy.”
 
Abrass appreciated faculty who offered their advice and spent their time and effort helping her achieve her goals. Drs. Laura Fullenkamp, social work, and Heath Diehl, honors, were instrumental in developing her graphic novel.
 
“Laura Fullenkamp is in social work, so I wanted to get a really strong basis on anxiety and children’s understanding of it from her,” Abrass said. “After that, Heath Diehl — he was my professor for both of my honors classes — helped me a lot. He’s also in the English Department, so he helped me develop the story line. I wanted to have a good story arc so it was interesting as well as being therapeutic.”
 
The biggest obstacle for Abrass, however, didn’t come in the classroom.
 
During her junior year, she was diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson syndrome/toxic epidermal necrolysis, a rare and life-threatening skin disorder. She had to take the spring semester off as she was hospitalized for a month in the intensive care unit of Mercy Health — St. Vincent Medical Center in Toledo.

“It’s very severe, and has a pretty high mortality rate,” Abrass said. “I’d like to give a shoutout to Dr. Peggy Adams. She came to the hospital to see me because I was so panicked about academics and graduating on time. I was already accepted into the occupational therapy program and I was on a timeline to graduate. She helped me with everything, including planning all of my classes. She contacted the University of Toledo just to put me at ease because I was already in a high-stress situation.
 
“That situation was very difficult for me because I like having everything planned out. The only thing I did that semester was the first half of my honors projects, which Dr. Fullencamp was extremely helpful with.”
 
Abrass won’t soon forget that BGSU faculty were there for her in her time of need.
 
“I just wanted to thank them because no matter what it is — whether it’s taking a health leave or taking a leave for mental health or whatever it might be, they were there for me,” she said. “To think that something that scary — my life was put on hold — and to be able to reach out to faculty like that was just a great resource for me.
 
“I was able to graduate on time — two weeks before grad school — but I did it!”