Donnamarie Krause sees opportunity everywhere. Omnipresent and unfettered. Permeating her soul and guiding her to provide others with opportunities of their own.
As a third-generation American whose grandparents immigrated from Sicily to the United States in the early 20th century, Krause is also a first-generation college graduate.
“When my grandparents first came to this country, they didn’t have the opportunity to go to college. My mother didn’t have any opportunities either. So, for me, being able to go to college and expand my scholarship while helping others do the same — it’s indescribable,” she said.
During her college graduation, Krause wore a set of pearls, one from each set of her grandparents, as a way to thank them for the sacrifices they made; leaving their old lives behind in the hopes of providing their children and grandchildren with the opportunity for a better life in the U.S.
As director of the Occupational Therapy doctorate programs inside the School of Integrated Health Sciences, in addition to working as an occupational therapist for more than 25 years, Krause understands the potential that a new opportunity can bring.
It also explains why she’s been drawn to birds for as long as she can remember.
Krause spent her adult life in Minnesota, watching the birds and braving the winters that forced the birds to migrate south every year. To her, a bird’s nest represents the very essence of occupational therapy: taking what’s around us and creating a new opportunity.
"Nests are about building new life," she said. "Instinctually, birds know how to gather supplies and build a nest. This provides them with hope and security so they can invite others to share as the new life begins. And that’s what OT is. We take what’s around us and create new opportunities. It’s about finding beauty and hope in everyday life."
What inspired you to pursue a career as an occupational therapist?
I always say that OTs are master problem solvers. We help people overcome their tragedy emotionally, psychologically, and physically. After completing my master’s, I worked as a clinician inside the burn unit in a Minnesota county hospital. Since it was a county hospital, nobody was denied care. I loved it.
In occupational therapy, we are always finding ways to heal. Sometimes it’s finding a new way to comb your hair, to put on socks, to help get around. We take what’s around us and create new opportunities.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Growing up, I wanted to be a forensic pathologist. They are all about solving problems, and I knew I wanted to have a career where I could solve problems.
I started in pre-med and was planning to go to medical school. After I graduated and began studying for the MCAT, I learned more about occupational therapy. My mom was also an occupational therapy assistant, and the more I learned about the profession, the more I grew to love it.
What drew you to UNLV?
Coming to UNLV was a great move for me. It is a bigger public institution, and I am an avid fan of public institutions because we can offer more opportunities.
Occupational therapy is also a women-dominated profession, and I wanted to give women a better opportunity for career growth. At a public institution, UNLV does a lot to support that. This institution doesn’t just talk about giving back to the community, it seeks to find ways to give back to those who are disenfranchised. The university is open and accepts people to come in at all levels.
In our program, we have a very diverse faculty, and that is also reflected in our student body. Service to community and culture is a huge part of our program. I get to experience that every day.
What have you learned about the campus since you arrived?
I joined the program full time in 2020, and I think many people really don’t know how beautiful our campuses are. On the main campus, we have blooming botanical gardens and wonderful fruit trees. On Shadow Lane, there is grass and trees and birds and nature that is very healing for our students and faculty.
For me, that speaks to the culture at UNLV and the opportunity for renewal by going back to nature and sitting under a big, beautiful tree outside. The desert has beautiful transitions and seasons. It’s wonderful here. UNLV is really working hard to draw in some beautiful escapes on campus. We know that green is very healing for our students.
Was it difficult coming from a cold weather climate like Minnesota to the Las Vegas desert?
No, not at all. I didn’t know much about Las Vegas before we moved here, but I’ve learned that there are 12 National Parks within driving distance. The sun is beautiful and it shines here a lot more than it does in the Midwest. That is something I do not take for granted.
The antithesis of 120 degrees here is 30 below in Minnesota. The traditions we had in the Minnesota winter are what we do here in the summer. We just stay inside, do puzzles, or read. There are many days in the Midwest winters without sun, and I’m just thankful that I don’t have to do that anymore.
What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
That I love bird watching. I have a little book where I document my findings. My husband and I have found different migratory pathways that we visit during the fall and spring. We are located on a beautiful, ancient pathway out here. The first thing we looked up when we moved to Las Vegas was where the birding trails and migratory pathways were.
Do you have a favorite bird?
My favorite bird is the hummingbird. They’re just ferocious and tiny. They are curious and fun and social. They’re here whether it’s hot or cold. The hummingbird flight is so impressive to me. They never give up. They’re not intimidated by what is out there, and their sounds are so joyous.
What was the last book you couldn’t put down?
I love to read. I’ve been a reader all my life. Over the past few years, I’ve been reading this genre of books that helps to explain our spirituality. I’ve spent a couple of years looking at the influence of spirituality and the intersection of spirituality and health.
What I have found is that I can’t put these books down, and I keep getting new ones. It informs our psychosocial emotional connections. Spirituality is huge in its effect on health and healing, and I want to honor that as a part of health care.