Student Spotlight: Natalie Baumgarten
Hello there! My name is Natalie Baumgarten and I am a Senior majoring in Health Science. I aspire to be an occupational therapist and will be applying to graduate schools this Fall of 2019. I am from Port Saint Lucie, a town on the Southeast coast of Florida, and am blessed to be here in Gainesville at the University of Florida in the BHS program.
I was in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at a very small high school. Being well-rounded and finding a variety of things enjoyable made picking a profession near impossible. My mom and I were constantly career searching and we came across occupational therapy. The definition we found was vague but for some reason I thought it sounded cool and I went for it. Little did I know, it was SUPER cool.
I had no idea what OT actually was until I found UF’s Student Occupational Therapy Association (SOTA). Therapists explain their experience in the field at meetings and opened my eyes to a profession that is so meaningful. I shadowed at a pediatric facility during my freshman year and officially fell in love. I knew I would never have to work a day in my life because I would truly enjoy my job. I applied to be on the SOTA executive board at the end of my first year, earning a position as a social chair. I am now the professional development chair and have loved giving people an opportunity to learn about OT.
With the IB diploma, I was able to apply into the Bachelor of Health Science program during winter break of my freshman year. It was a little stressful because I just got to the University and here I was applying into a competitive program and taking challenging prerequisite courses simultaneously. My high school prepared me well though and with a little time management and anti-procrastination, I got into the program and performed well in my classes. I enjoy being in the program because giant lecture halls are not conducive to making friends and the lack of one-on-one opportunities with professors makes you feel isolated. Once I got into the college of Public Health and Health Professions, my classes shrunk allowing me to make relationships with my professors and strong friendships. As future health professionals, we are all like-minded and I think this creates a comfortable learning environment.
UF offers a seemingly infinite number of extracurriculars and new things to try. Sports are a huge part of my life. I thought I would play soccer or run here but for some reason I joined Club Ultimate Frisbee. I don’t know how it happened, but I am so thankful it did. My teammates are the best people to suffer through stadium workouts with but also attend country-themed parties with on the weekends.
Another community I have deeply invested myself in is the Catholic Gators. I love my hometown church, but St. Augustine is so unique. Catholic churches are usually mostly older people, who I love to death, but seeing a church full of people my age was refreshing. They have free dinner once a week, service events, social events, bible studies, and daily masses. It is much easier to live out Christian ideals with your friends beside you. Two of my best friends joined my bible study this past year; every Tuesday we had two classes together, ate lunch at the Chick-fil-a on the Sun Terrace of the Communicore building, and went up the hill to the church for bible study. Later that night I would go to frisbee practice and get home around 10:30 p.m. Even though it was a packed day, it was always my favorite day of the week.
At the beginning of 2019, I helped one of my professors put her hard work to action by creating a student organization for wheelchair basketball. I gathered every willing student I knew and we began creating an executive board and a constitution, becoming UF’s Wheelchair Basketball Association in February. We have lots of fun and recently had a game against Brooks Rehabilitation Center in Jacksonville. The club has come a long way and we hope to further expand the integration of diverse students at UF through sport. The diversity on this campus is exhilarating and I have loved meeting international students and people with various other backgrounds through my involvement.
Additionally, I attend Grace Marketplace with my church to help feed Gainesville’s homeless population. I shadowed an OT and volunteered with a teacher in the classroom at Sidney Lanier frequently this past year. The teachers really love having college students help out, and just being there with the kids can really make their day. Recently, I started volunteering at Balance 180, which is another great opportunity to work with children with and without disabilities in a gymnastics center. I also work at the Jimmy John’s on University Avenue as a sandwich maker. I have great coworkers and love how close it is to my church and classes. When I have some free time, I like to play Dungeons and Dragons with my roommates and watch Parks and Recreation. I make time, most importantly, for my family and loved ones who have always supported me and fueled my joy.
While change is scary and uncomfortable, allowing these small communities within this enormous university to become a part of me has made all the difference. I cannot stress enough how important it is to open yourself up to the experiences that this program, university, and town have to offer. If you have questions about anything, please do not hesitate to reach out to me! I love sharing my experiences and would be glad to help you create some. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.