As prior blog posts have mentioned, the final semester of the program is full of unique electives. These classes range from lecture-based courses in advanced practice areas to research involvement to hands-on experiential opportunities. After reading over all of the course descriptions, I was most excited about this last category, which includes a class called Autism in the Community.
Despite keeping an open mind throughout the program, I have always wanted to work in pediatrics. I initially became interested in occupational therapy after learning about the role in schools helping children with developmental disabilities. Growing up, I used to visit the special education classroom during lunch to play games with the students in the class. It was a great way to relax during the day and become friends with new people!
Now, as I finish up my Master’s degree, I have found myself coming full circle. This past Friday, I visited a nonpublic school for children on the autism spectrum and spent two hours bonding with them over board games. To be clear, I played Connect 4 for graduate course credit—living the dream! Seriously, I had so much fun meeting this class of amazing students. Now that we have met the students, my classmates and I will each be assigned our own buddy from the special education classroom. In the coming weeks, we will take weekly field trips with our buddies to the California Science Center. Not only do these trips allow our buddies to learn and apply their science curriculum, but being in the community provides valuable opportunities to practice social skills and regulation. Reciprocally, my classmates and I gain hands-on experience working with adolescents with autism—in pretty much the most fun way possible
As part of OT 540: Leadership Capstone, one of the final required courses of the Master’s program, all students embark on a two-week long externship experience. During this course, students learn about the many skills that contribute to being a leader. Various facets of leadership include developing strong personality traits, collaborating on interdisciplinary teams, joining professional organizations, and understanding a profession’s role within a wider job market. In California, occupational therapy is represented by the state organization Occupational Therapy Association of California, as well as at the national level with the American Occupational Therapy Association, both of which advocate on behalf of occupational therapists by protecting the scope of practice, supporting research, and publicizing the profession.
In addition to weekly questionnaires and a public policy discussions, the main project of the class is centered on the Leadership Externship. Different from an internship, an externship is a short-term immersion in a new experience. Externships emphasize active observation, in which exposure to new opportunities leads to the development of new ideas.
One of the greatest features of this assignment is that it is student-driven, meaning it is up to you where you want to go, what you want to learn, and how you will learn it! Students develop their own learning objectives and shape the externship process around meeting them. Because the class is focused on leadership, the ultimate goal is to learn about management, advocacy, and professionalism.
One of the other greatest features of this assignment is that the externship dates are scheduled right before Spring Break, giving students the opportunity to travel for an additional third week. The combination of student-driven work and three weeks off from classes allows many students to complete externships out-of-state—or even internationally! Global Initiatives, the department within the Chan Division focused on international connections, organizes multiple Student Exchange Programs. Through these programs, students complete the externship at partnered universities to observe occupational therapy programs at different universities and experience the field of occupational therapy in a different country!
In just over two weeks, I will embark on my externship to Griffith University in Australia, so stay tuned for travel updates…
Before deciding to enter a graduate program, you may have asked yourself, “Can I be an OT?” I may not know you too well yet, but I have a feeling the answer is yes! While a Master’s degree in occupational therapy is required to practice, many professionals arrive at this destination from vastly different origins.
My path was a bit more direct as I entered USC directly in the Bachelor’s to Master’s program. However, in the effort to gain a well-rounded undergraduate education, I also pursued a major in psychology and a minor in nutrition & health promotion. By studying these diverse fields, I feel enabled to blend multiple perspectives to inform my future practice as an occupational therapist.
Occupational therapy stresses the importance of client-centered practice and treating the whole person. Because each OT exudes a unique therapeutic style, one’s practice can be informed by his or her background. An OT with a background in business might differ from one who studied sociology, but they can both provide valuable treatment for their clients. Further, these varied perspectives allow therapists to share knowledge and exchange ideas with each other, which improves therapists’ clinical reasoning and the profession as a whole!
When starting graduate school, housing is a big consideration. I have moved each year throughout my time at USC and have been fortunate enough to live by both the University Park Campus and the Health Sciences Campus. Everyone has different priorities, but for me, I specifically sought out places that came furnished, were located near campus, and created a welcoming environment for students.
The OT House is a convenient option full of future occupational therapists—what could be better?! Despite its name, it is an apartment building, not a house. It is located near UPC with a tram stop right outside. Students usually take the morning tram to commute to HSC, which makes it manageable to live without a car. A portion of the OT House is dedicated as a special interest housing community for occupational therapy students. The recreation room on the second floor is home to Engage, a student organization focused on engaging community youth in meaningful occupations. Because it is managed by USC Housing, the rental cycle aligns with the semester schedule of the OT program.
This year, I live in Currie Hall on HSC, which was just built last year. The facilities are new and the location is incredibly convenient; I can see the OT building from my balcony! Complete with a pool, hot tub, gym, and fire pit, Currie Hall is the place to be. Don’t worry parents—there is a study room, too, and it offers free printing! Aside from all the amenities, I especially appreciate the opportunity to live in a community full of health science students. Many of my OT classmates live just down the hall (or next door!), but I have also met students from other professional programs, as well. In fact, my roommates consist of an occupational therapy student, a medical student, and a gerontology student. We have learned from each other and become close friends as a result of living together.
These are just two student housing options, but there are surely more out there. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me or the other ambassadors!
I never thought that I would be so far from home. As a New York native, California was far from my future plans—both geographically and idealistically. Little did I know, USC would win me over and become my home, 3000 miles away from home.
Admittedly, my first few months were challenging. I came from a small town and went to school with classmates I had known for the past 12 years. But then, slowly but surely, I found myself enveloped in and invigorated by the Trojan Family. I joined a sorority, I participated in student organizations, I buried my nose in the book stacks of Doheny, and I cheered on the football team.
But New York is always my home base. My parents lend their ears when I need to vent. My brother offers advice to guide my way. My friends make me laugh even in the midst of midterms. A simple text message can traverse the vastness of the country, making distance virtually nonexistent.
And the holidays provide the perfect reason to physically traverse the country, enduring the bus-plane-car trio to finally land back in my twin size bed. Though my trips home have become less frequent each successive year, they have not become any less meaningful. It is now my first time home in a year, since I was in Utah for fieldwork over summer break. During these three weeks, I will soak up as much winter cheer as I can.
One of my favorite New York winter sights!
Though leaving home may be difficult at times (as is graduate school), I have no regrets about my decision. With friends that feel like family and an education to prepare me for my future, USC has truly become my home away from home. That being said, of course there is no place like home!
If you have any questions about moving out of state for OT school, please do not hesitate to reach out