VOTA is Virginia's leading organization for occupational therapy practitioners and students. VOTA is committed to advocating for and further developing the profession of occupational therapy in our state.

2023 VOTA Award Winners


Mackenzie Westfall, Shenandoah University

 Mackenzie studied and worked as an elementary school teacher at a Title One school before enrolling in Shenandoah University to finally pursue her goal of becoming an OT. She serves her program as the SOTA SGA Ambassador and an active member of COTAD. She helped facilitate guest speakers for meetings and helped secure some funding to help send her and her peers to AOTA Conference last year.  She has volunteered as a side walker with Dream Cacher's Therapeutic Riding Center. In the future, Mackenzie wants to explore several settings and practice areas. She's particularly interested in lymphedema and pelvic health. She would like to work on bridging the gap between OTs and physicians.  She hopes that one day more therapists will be in places like OBGYN or pediatricians' offices.  


Joanna Rivera, Shenandoah University

Joanna is a student in the MSOT program at Shenandoah University.  Joanna has been involved with OT professional organizations, serving as the ASD Representative to the Volunteer Leadership Development Committee, a member of AOTA's Steering Committee, and SOTA officer and president of Shenandoah University's COTAD chapter. She also volunteered for organizations like Katie's Art Project, an adaptive skating program and her school's Lower Extremity Diabetic Screening Clinic. Joanna's professors say that she is compassionate, a hard worker, and has demonstrated a strong commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Joanna hopes to continue working towards expanding our scope and profession, making it more accessible to everyone.  She plans to also continue her education after graduating by pursuing a post-professional doctorate.  


Whitney Hoops, Radford University Carillon

Whitney Hoops is a student in the Master of Occupational Therapy program at Radford University Carilion.  She learned about occupational therapy while volunteering with friends to bring OT and PT services to people with disabilities in Rwanda who were often considered cursed and abandoned by their families.  Whitney is also a steward of her own community through her volunteer service students at her church and the Roanoke Refugee Partnership. She is a leader for Masterpiece Alliance which fosters a community for adults with disabilities and holds a multi-day camp in the summer. Whitney is an active member of OT professional associations. She helped with fundraising so she and her classmates could attend AOTA’s national conference and present their research on CIMT.  In the future, Whitney hopes to continue advocating for policy changes that widens the scope of OT and eases reimbursement, and serving local and global communities while looking through an occupational therapist's unique lens.  

Jodiann Bernard , Tidewater Community College

Jodiann is an OTA student at Tidewater Community College as well as an aviation structural mechanic in the Navy.  She witnessed both her grandmother and grandfather's recovery after each had a stroke, and ever since then she made it her mission to pursue a career in OT.

Jodiann helps raise money to provide sneakers to school children, volunteers at a therapeutic riding center for children and adults with special needs, provides Lego sets for children in a STEM ship building program, volunteers at the Southeastern Virginia Food Bank, and knits baby blankets for newborn parents in the military.  She also serves her OTA program as the SOTA vice president. Jodiann also demonstrates excellent leadership skills as an educator for junior sailors, CPR instructor, and sexual assault advocate. Jodiann is already preparing to apply to graduate school as the next step towards her goal.  She wants to eventually practice occupational therapy as an officer in the Navy. 

Elizabeth Richardson, Mary Baldwin University

Dr. Richardson is Associate Professor and Academic Capstone Coordinator at Mary Baldwin University’s Occupational Therapy Program. In addition, she serves the Leadership Committee of the Virginia Occupational Therapy Education Council (VAOTEC) as Doctoral Capstone Representative and is currently the Treasurer of the Virginia Occupational Therapy Association. She coordinated a pre-conference institute that led to the development of an inter-institutional collaborative project to integrate the resources of the occupational therapy and occupational therapy assistant program across the Commonwealth. The effort has led to the development of a sustaining capstone experience and extensive resources for academic and clinical educators. Most notably, the model of a collaborative consortium of partnered academic and clinical educators has been replicated by many states and will be featured in the upcoming edition of the AOTA Special Interest Section Quarterly

Dr. Richardson is a fixture across the Virginia occupational therapy education and practice landscape. For over 17 years, Dr. Richardson served as instructor and academic fieldwork coordinator at James Madison University, and she directed the JMU Occupational Therapy Clinical Education Services. She has worked clinically in outpatient pediatric settings serving the needs of children and youth and their families. She has trained other therapists and students in supporting children that have experienced trauma exposure. Her reach and her impact on the profession is profound, deep, and enduring, She is a dedicated volunteer, collaborative and compassionate colleague, leader of leaders, agent of advancement in the profession, and sharer of knowledge, expertise, and skill in her practice domains and well as leadership and education.

AWARD OF MERIT: Practitioner
Shivani Vij

Shivani works full time for Valley Health Home Health where she has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to take on leadership roles above and beyond her normal job responsibilities. When Shivani recognized an opportunity for improvement in our process for supervising home health techs, Shivani worked with management to refine the process, instructed her OT peers, and performs ongoing peer review chart audits with feedback to make sure that the new process was implemented successfully. She serves as an occupational therapy representative on the agency Documentation committee, where Shivani has made important contributions. Shivani routinely is involved in discussions surrounding patient care, making vital suggestions to facilitate best rehabilitative outcomes for her patients. Shivani has been called upon to take a leading role in peer review, providing feedback to her peers to facilitate quality and defensibility of both patient care and clinical documentation.

Along with providing feedback to peers, Shivani works to bring evidence to her own practice and throughout our organization. Shivani recently presented the Choosing Wisely findings to 50 of her peers at a recent Rehab Team meeting. Additionally, Shivani published two articles in the last year in the Indian Journal of Occupational Therapy, an admirable accomplishment for a clinician who sees a full caseload of patients every day. Shivani has also served as an external reviewer for the annual Bing Scholarship at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, a scholarship awarded to a rising student who shows potential for future professional leadership. She is also a reviewer for manuscripts presented in leading occupational therapy journals. Shivani is a passionate clinician who strives for excellence in all her endeavors and is a valuable asset to the teams she is a part of. She recently joined the Virginia Occupational Therapy Association as the Nominations and Awards chairperson.

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