Rocky Mountain College announced on Friday accreditation for its first doctoral program.
Starting in January 2019, the college will offer a Doctor of Occupational Therapy degree. After three years of planning, the program received final approval by the Northwest Commission of Colleges and Universities, the college said Friday.
“The OTD program will not only meet a rising need for occupational therapy professionals in our region,” said Rocky Mountain College Provost Stephen Germic in a release. “It will also be the first doctoral program offered in the long and distinguished history of Rocky Mountain College.”
Dr. Twylla Kirchen, a Rocky alumna, will come on as the founding director for the program. Kirchen, who holds a Ph.D. in occupational therapy, was most recently the director of a similar program at James Madison University in Virginia.
Germic said it was Kirchen who first expressed a desire to start the program at Rocky, and she was involved from the start.
Rocky Mountain College President Dr. Bob Wilmouth credited Germic for leading the school through the planning and approval stages of the doctoral program.
"We really are attempting to improve the human condition," he said.
Wilmouth said that the expansion into this particular doctoral program was strategic, complementing its other program offerings and the potential industry openings in the Billings health care sector.
The program will be housed on the top floor of the recently finished Charles Morledge Science Building, a nearly $10 million facility that will cater to natural science programs and laboratory work.
In addition to class and office space, the occupational therapy floor will include a mock living space, where students will study therapy meant to aid patients in everyday living conditions.
Kirchen will lead six other faculty members and a few support staffers. As many as 90 students could be in the program at a given time.
Germic said the college took three years to implement the program to make it as robust as possible.
"We're building this program to the highest standards of occupational therapy in the nation," he said.