Maryville University Students Going To Guatemala


ST. LOUIS — Claire Ontiveros and Jenn Stenger traveled different roads to get into Maryville University’s occupational therapy program. But now as seniors, the two women will journey together to Guatemala for 10 days as they accompany Rebecca von der Heyde, OTR/L, CHT, an assistant professor of occupational therapy at Maryville, on a medical mission. The trio will be in the Central American country from October 18-28 as part of the Guatemala Healing Hands Foundation. They will treat children with congenital hand conditions and von der Heyde will give presentations to Guatemalan therapists.

This is the third consecutive year that von der Heyde has taken students with her to Guatemala. She began going in 2005 through her affiliation with the American Association of Hand Surgeons. Each year, von der Heyde selects one or more Maryville senior OT majors to accompany her. This year, she has chosen Ontiveros and Stenger, based upon a series of essays they submitted earlier this year, detailing why they wanted to go on the trip. The two students stood out for different reasons, von der Heyde said.

“For Jen, it was the effort she put into her application; her effort indicated her high level of interest,” von der Heyde remarked. “For Claire, it was the depth of her responses, her purity of heart. The two of them are just a wonderful match. … These two have been good students.” Ontiveros and Stenger both said they have looked forward to being seniors and being eligible for the trip as they have heard von der Heyde talk about the experience for the past three years. Both said there was a palpable sense of anticipation in the classroom when von der Heyde began reading the winning essays. Both students said they recognized their essays shortly after von der Heyde began reading them.

“As good as I felt, I knew there was somebody else who was equally disappointed,” said Stenger of St. Louis, who became interested in occupational therapy while working as team coordinator at Heartland Home Care and Hospice. “After I observed some of the home health OTs in action, I decided OT was for me. The OTs I worked with could see I had the drive and personality needed to develop into a great OT.” Ontiveros said she’s thrilled to be going to Guatemala, considering the tough competition. “There was nobody in that classroom who didn’t deserve to go.”

Ontiveros of Lake Saint Louis commented that occupational therapy always has appealed to her. Her interest in the field increased after becoming a volunteer in the Therapeutic Horsemanship program, which uses horses as Therapeutic aids for children with physical and mental disabilities. “It has been a very rewarding experience, helping them.” Both Ontiveros and Stenger look forward to making an impact on the lives of the Guatemalan children they treat, adding they feel honored to represent Maryville’s OT program and the University as a whole. “We are lucky to have been given this amazing opportunity,” Ontiveros said.

Maryville University is a private institution offering approximately 50 undergraduate, seven master’s and two doctoral degree programs to 3,422 students. Ranked by U.S. News and World Report as one of America’s Best Colleges, Maryville University prepares its students for successful and meaningful careers.

Among Maryville’s most recent graduates, 94 percent are employed or attending graduate school. Approximately 15,000 alumni work and live in the St. Louis region.