Latellas enhance OT student experience through professional passion

January 09, 2024

Two women smile for a selfie.

Representing two generations of Bobcats, Donna Latella, and Kristy Latella ’18, MOT ’22, have found gratifying work helping others and enhancing lives in their clinical practices and in Quinnipiac classrooms.

In her 27 years at Quinnipiac as a professor of occupational therapy (OT), Donna has contributed much to the OT program, including sharing her expertise as a practitioner in Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) specializing in canine and equine assistance programs.

Donna has also fostered several unique AAT clinical programs in Connecticut and authored books on the topic. At Quinnipiac, she runs an elective course in the OT program, Human Animal Interaction in Occupational Therapy, for which she also wrote the curriculum.

“Quinnipiac has facilitated my ability to dive into a unique passion, working with animal assisted therapy,” said Donna.

Shortly after earning her master’s in 2022, Kristy joined the School of Health Sciences as an OT department adjunct faculty member.

Thanks to her mom, Kristy’s experiences as a member of the Bobcat family started at a young age, beginning when Donna was earning her post-bachelor’s certificate in OT at Quinnipiac. As a mother of young children at the time, Donna involved her kids in her studies.

“If I didn’t have someone to watch the kids, I’d bring them to class with me," Donna said. "They would write on the board at the back of the room. Kristy came for Baby Day and she came to class with me. She grew up at Quinnipiac and she knew it was part of who she is."

Donna feels her passion for assisting others through her clinical work, especially AAT, may have had some hand in fueling Kristy’s interest in the OT field.

“As soon as she was able, Kristy started working with me by volunteering at nursing homes or adult day centers where I brought the dogs," said Donna. "And then, she started working with the horses with me. As the right-hand person next to me doing all of that, it led her into her passions too.”

Now, Kristy has found her niche in OT. She works with young adults in acute care mental health at in-patient Connecticut Valley Hospital, with the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. Kristy has been in the role for a year and a half.

“I feel it’s been helpful for me to see this in-patient experience and experience true psych work," Kristy said. "I really like that. And I work with young adults, which I couldn’t love more. It’s fun to work with an age group that’s close to mine."

While Kristy followed her mom’s footsteps into the OT realm, it was not a direct path. Kristy started out at Quinnipiac as a physical therapy (PT) major.

“By about my sophomore year, I decided I really liked working with mental health and children, particularly children with behavioral issues," said Kristy. "And although that can be part of PT scope of practice, it’s more OT. At that point, I didn’t know much about OT, even though I sat in my mom’s classes for so many years! I only knew the type of OT that she practiced. So, I took a leap of faith and talked to some of the professors that I knew worked in mental health and pediatrics and it turned out to be a great decision for me."

Both Donna and Kristy feel their clinical work creates opportunities to enhance student learning at Quinnipiac and hopefully inspire the next generation of OT professionals.

“What I love most is being able to infuse my clinical experience in the classroom, said Kristy. "It’s important for me to always bring it back to what it looks like in the clinical setting."

Donna shared that another rewarding aspect is being able to share personal experiences involving successful outcomes of practices her students are learning in lectures and labs.

“Helping people to get back to their daily lives, be independent and do what’s meaningful and purposeful for them, is absolutely rewarding and part of the reason why we do this,” said Donna.

As professional colleagues, Donna and Kristy collaborate on OT presentations and scholarly activities. In October, mother and daughter gave a presentation on equine therapy for the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship. In March, they will be presenting two posters at the American Occupational Therapy Association conference.

In addition to their Quinnipiac ties, Donna and Kristy also share the same college preparatory alma mater, Sacred Heart Academy in Hamden, Connecticut. In a full-circle moment, they will travel to Sacred Heart in April to give students a presentation on OT.

“One of the last times we were there together was for my graduation in 2014,” said Kristy. “It’s really great to be going back with my mom to talk about OT together.”

Stay in the Loop

Sign Up Now