Creative and Compassionate Callings

Admissions Coordinator and “Lady MacGyver” Jill Rocca, OTD ‘08, is using her broad skill set to help others and strengthen the Tufts OT Department.
Jill Rocca

In the spring of 2008, Admissions Coordinator Jill Rocca made history. She walked across the stage of Cohen Auditorium, received her diploma, and became the first graduate of the Tufts Occupational Therapy Doctoral Program. Fifteen years later, she remains a trailblazing member of the department, shepherding prospective students through the application process.

Rocca studied occupational therapy as an undergraduate at the University of New Hampshire where she was drawn to the field’s unique pairing of creativity and medicine. “I’ve always been a creative problem solver,” Rocca reflects. “Growing up, I was encouraged to think outside the box to the extent that college professors were telling me to start thinking more inside the box! I also love connecting with people and building relationships, so OT has been the perfect fit for me.”

She had originally planned to work with children, but after a pediatric fieldwork placement in her undergraduate years fell through, she was assigned to a day program for individuals living with traumatic brain injury where she discovered her love of community-based programming and working with medically complex adults. 

After working in a rehabilitation facility serving older adults with orthopedic challenges, she applied to the Tufts master’s program, then the doctoral program, to gain more experience in community-based programming. Her doctoral research was on long-term community integration for individuals living with traumatic brain injury. She also earned a certificate in hand and upper extremity rehabilitation.

Rocca held a series of community-based positions after graduating from Tufts. She trained service animals to support individuals living with spinal cord injuries. She conducted assessments in homes of people living with physical disabilities and implemented modifications to support their independent living. “My boss and I referred to ourselves as ‘the Lady MacGyvers,’” she recalls. “I’m pretty sure I could still go into a Home Depot, scan the isles, and come up with some sort-of rig or creative solution to help ease someone’s daily living challenges.” 

Rocca also started a wedding coordinating business and a freelance photography business – all while working part time as the admissions coordinator for the Tufts OT Department. “When I graduated, I wasn’t ready to leave the Tufts community and I’m still so happy to be here,” she says. “We’ve always had wonderful faculty, but our current group is particularly talented. Our fieldwork office is strong and Jess Harney is a fantastic leader. I feel so good about the direction we’re heading in and I think the student experience is only getting better.”

Rocca is always happy to meet with prospective applicants, offer tips for applying to the program, and discuss the field of occupational therapy generally. “It’s so rewarding meeting prospective applicants,” she says. “Our applicants come from such varied backgrounds and it’s wonderful to see how motivated they are to make the world a better place. I love speaking with them about how we’re a leader in service learning and how our program can help them achieve their goals.”

Outside of work, Rocca is a proud mom, working to instill a sense of compassion, gratitude, and creativity in her three young children. She is also an avid pickleball player, having picked it up six years ago – “before it was cool!”.

Prospective applicants can contact Jill Rocca at To learn more about the admissions process, read a Q&A with Rocca here.