Dr. Crawford to retire after 20 years at MMI

by John Keenan, UNMC public relations | June 23, 2020

Image with caption: Michael Crawford, Ph.D.

Michael Crawford, Ph.D.

As an assistant professor of therapeutic recreation at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Michael Crawford helped to establish the Hattie B. Munroe summer camp for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), as well as the first year-round recreational therapy programs at the Munroe-Meyer Institute: an afterschool special recreation program and a Saturday morning gym and swim program.

About Dr. Crawford

Dr. Crawford's 45-year career achievements in recreational therapy include national awards in research and service from the American Association of Leisure and Recreation and the American Alliance of Health, Recreation, Physical Education and Dance. He holds research fellow status in both the National Academy of Leisure Sciences and the National Association for Recreational Therapy and was recognized as one of the top 25 most influential researchers by the American Association of Recreational Therapy in 2020. He has authored 45 publications in professional and scientific journals as well as multiple textbooks, including the top selling "Introduction to Recreational Therapy," which has just gone to its fifth edition in 2020. He has presented papers at 63 national and international conferences in the fields of recreational therapy, adapted physical education, adapted aquatics and rehabilitative medicine. His lifetime grants and series contract awards exceed $12.2 million.

As Dr. Crawford prepares to retire 38 years later, after spending the last 20 years as director of the department of recreational therapy at MMI, all three programs still serve the IDD community.

In his two decades as director of recreational therapy and associate professor at MMI, Dr. Crawford oversaw unprecedented growth, transforming the department into a national model program. Over time, Dr. Crawford:

  • increased funding for adult services by more than 300%;
  • transitioned the department to a true lifespan service;
  • increased the number of dedicated programs from eight to 27;
  • tripled the operational budget and staffing; and
  • oversaw fundraising campaigns which added outdoor barrier free playground and water park facilities as well as a model adapted cycling program.

His 20 years at MMI have seen grants awards of $3.3 million and he has administered additional direct service contracts of $7.8 million. He marshalled support from boards, foundations and private donors, as well, allowing him to greatly expand recreational programs for individuals across the lifespan.

"Dr. Crawford had a remarkable career and leaves behind a lasting legacy," said MMI Director Karoly Mirnics, M.D., Ph.D. "Without his efforts, the MMI Department of Recreational Therapy would have never risen to its national prominence. It is equally important to point out that he has touched all of our lives -- families, trainees and colleagues alike. We wish him the best in his future endeavors wherever they may take him."

With increased programming efforts came the need for increased volunteer services and over time the recreational therapy department created the largest service-learning program in the state, with more than 500 annual volunteers providing more than 13,000 service hours to MMI. Many former volunteers have gone on to careers in health and human services and continue to work in the IDD field.

Dr. Crawford also contributed to the academic mission of MMI by establishing a professional student internship program in recreational therapy that has trained 51 students from nine different universities in the past 17 years.

Dr. Crawford extended the MMI mission to the public schools by developing a copyrighted social skills training curriculum for youth with autism and delivering long-term therapeutic recreation services to the students of Westside and Millard public schools. The curriculum has enjoyed adoptions in Japan, Canada, England and Australia. Today, the only recreational therapists delivering public school services in Nebraska are MMI clinicians.

Dr. Crawford said he leaves an incredibly talented and eclectic professional staff in place who administer a department with the most curriculum offerings available for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the field of recreational therapy in the nation.


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Shelley Smith
June 23, 2020 at 12:06 PM

Congratulations on building an outstanding program!

Tom O'Connor
June 23, 2020 at 11:36 AM

Congrats on the retirement, Michael! Job well done!