As a freshman, Kris Mastrangelo, J89, A20P, did not have a positive impression of her first class in the Tufts Department of Occupational Therapy (OT). A few weeks into Professor Sharan Schwartzberg’s course on group process, she decided the class was a complete waste of time and money, which was a big deal for a student paying her way with work study, loans, and financial aid. “I called my mother to say I was so sorry for signing up for this class,” she said.

The course encouraged students to explore how they related to each other in a group and how those dynamics affected behavior. As the weeks progressed, Kris realized how deeply relevant the material was to all aspects of her life, and eventually to her work. “I use what I learned in that class to this day,” said Kris, who is now the founder, president, and CEO of a premier consulting and management company, Harmony Healthcare International. “I look at body language. I understand the natural progression of a group. Many of the things I do instinctively when I enter a room come from that class.”

Kris considers her degree critical to her success. “I am where I am today because of Tufts and the Department of Occupational Therapy,” she said. “OT teaches you workflow analysis, environmental analysis, group dynamics, body language. I use it every single day.”

Now, thanks to a generous gift from Kris and her husband, Peter, future generations of Tufts students will hone their skills in the Kris Mastrangelo Occupational Therapy Teaching Lab in the Collaborative Learning and Innovation Complex (CLIC) on the Medford campus. The gift expresses Mastrangelo’s gratitude to Tufts and the department that helped her become the person she is today. “In my worldview, every business should include training in OT,” she said.

Schwartzberg, who chaired the Tufts Department of Occupational Therapy for twenty-one years and continues to teach, agrees. “Kris uses her education to be a great leader,” she said. “She engages with people on a personal level. She knows about role clarity, role confusion, and team dynamics. She knows how to motivate people to overcome obstacles.”

Kris has overcome challenges of her own. She started her career as an occupational therapist, took on managerial roles, and eventually became vice president of reimbursement for a national consulting firm, SunQuest, a subsidiary of Sun Healthcare Corporation. Then, in 2001, she stepped away from that lucrative position to launch her own business from an office in her basement. Peter (now the company’s CFO) was her biggest source of encouragement and advice. “I’ve always been blown away by Kristen’s brilliance,” Peter said.

Six months later, she did not have a single client. “Running your own business is very different from providing care or even consulting with business professionals,” said Kris, remembering the stress of that first year. “I told Peter, ‘I have no customers. If you want me to close the doors, I understand.’” Instead he told her he would bet his life savings on her. “I thought, Now I really can’t fail!” said Kris.

Sixteen years later, Harmony Healthcare International is a recognized expert in health care regulations, compliance, and reimbursement. In 2012, the Boston Globe named it one of the Top 100 Women-Led Businesses in Massachusetts, while Inc. Magazine ranked it among the five thousand fastest growing private companies in America from 2010 to 2013.

 

At its core, OT focuses on how a person can remain active and engaged despite physical, sensory, or cognitive limitations. “Rather than give them a pill and change the person biologically, we look at how to change the environment,” said Schwartzberg. The OT curriculum starts with anatomy and physiology, but from there, Tufts students branch out into any number of areas. “Some of our students specialize in neurological disorders. Some have developed adaptive clothing for people with disabilities. One of our doctoral students is educating local OTs on disaster planning and preparedness for people with limited mobility,” said Schwartzberg. “Thanks to Kris and Peter, we have a dedicated classroom where we can accommodate the kind of unique learning activities that we do.”

Compared to the program’s former location at 26 Winthrop Street, the state-of-the-art CLIC building fosters collaboration with other disciplines. “The old location was cozy and warm, but isolated,” said James M. Glaser, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts. “The department now is co-located with other disciplines in a setting that reflects the professionalism of the field.” Faculty and staff in the Department of Occupational Therapy now walk the same hallways as colleagues in community health, Human Factors Engineering, the Entrepreneurial Leadership Studies Program, and several others, reflecting Tufts’ overarching dedication to interdisciplinary learning and innovation. “It’s about proximity but also creating knowledge,” explained Schwartzberg. “You do that by rubbing elbows with people from different disciplines.”

The Mastrangelos are happy to give back to the school that played such a large role for Kris personally and professionally. The family’s relationship with the university continues to flourish. Last year the Mastrangelos were proud to see their oldest daughter, Savannah, A20, continue a family tradition by joining her mother and uncle as a fellow Jumbo.

“There’s a reason I pumped my fist under the table when Savannah chose Tufts,” Peter said. “I didn’t go there myself, but I can see that the world at Tufts is very connected. When you hear someone talk about their experiences in college twenty-five years later, that’s the sign of a remarkable school.”

For her part, Kris is proud to support an institution whose commitment to diversity and inclusion helped her feel welcome as a young student on financial aid. “The student body here is filled with smart, talented kids, and yet they’re kind. I’m giving back to Tufts what they gave to me—this gift is about helping other people.”