Commencement 2016: Graduates honor longtime associate dean during ceremony
BY YASMINE PEZESHKPOUR
Fariborz Maseeh ScD delivered the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy commencement speech on May 13.
Maseeh founded the Kids Institute for Development and Advancement (KiDA) in 2008 after his son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at the age of 2. Maseeh credited much of the success of KiDA to division students and the guidance of associate dean and chair Florence Clark PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA.
The class of 2016 consisted of 10 bachelor of science, 156 master of arts, 53 doctor of occupational therapy and one doctor of philosophy graduates.
During his commencement speech, Maseeh took a moment to recognize Clark for 28 years of leadership at USC Chan. Graduates and guests joined in with a standing ovation for Clark, who is set to step down as associate dean at the end of 2016.
Trojans take 3 of top 6 AOTF student scholarships
USC Chan students won three of the top six student scholarships, as ranked by dollar amount, that are administered by the American Occupational Therapy Foundation. Founded in 1965, AOTF is a non-profit organization that administers more than 50 annual scholarships to students enrolled in accredited or developing occupational therapy programs in the United States.
Sarah Chang MA ‘16 received a $5000 North Coast Medical Scholarship. Joseph Christian Ungco MA ‘16 received a $5000 OccupationalTherapy.com scholarship. Leah Goodman MA ‘16 received a $2500 Kappa Delta Phi Scholarship.
Mother and son: Meet the Drs. Margetis
Physical drawbacks don’t hamper the life of a USC faculty member who was adopted as an infant.
John Margetis was adopted from a Taiwanese orphanage by USC pediatric pulmonologist Monique Margetis. Though born without hands and only partial feet, John’s “limb differences” haven’t held him back one bit.
He skydives and rides a road bike. He drives an unmodified car. And at the Keck Hospital of USC, he teaches patients recovering from stroke to use their limbs again.
John Margetis is a clinical assistant professor in the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy.
USC Chan scientist using neuroimaging to advance autism research
Stefanie Bodison ’92, MA ’93, OTD ’10 is the latest in a long line of USC experts, stretching back more than 50 years to former USC faculty emeritus A. Jean Ayres ’45, MA ’54 and her landmark theory of sensory integration, seeking to better understand the relationships between sensory information and children’s neurological capacity for effectively using that sensory “input” for “output” movements and behaviors.
But unlike a previous generation, not only is Bodison armed with state-of-the-art neuroimaging technologies that provide measurable views of the brain and body at work, she also has grant funding to help her realize her mission.
A research assistant professor at the USC Chan Division, Bodison is using various brain imaging techniques including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to assess the structural and functional connectivity of sensorimotor integration — the term describing the brain’s ability to transform sensory information into a motor response — in both typically developing children and those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Because this complex process is dependent upon one’s ability to copy or imitate the movements of others, the latest phase of Bodison’s project, entitled “Investigation of the Neural Mechanisms of Sensorimotor Integration,” uses fMRI to examine the neural processes occurring during both hand gesture imitations and simple motor response tasks.
While positioned within the fMRI scanner, ten participants — 6-to-8-year-old, right-handed boys, six of whom have a diagnosis of ASD and four of whom are typically developing — were asked to imitate complex, meaningless hand gestures displayed on-screen and also to make either a simple “thumbs-up” sign or “number-one” sign with their hands in response to directional arrow cues displayed on-screen.
The fMRI images from this small sample suggest that, for children with ASD, a simple motor task requires the same extensive degree of motor planning as does the imitation of a complex, meaningless gesture. This suggests that the sensorimotor integration pathways in the autistic brain may contribute to the difficulties demonstrated by children with autism when learning new tasks requiring imitation of others.
This pilot study also demonstrates a new paradigm for the capability of fMRI to measure the neural substrates of sensorimotor integration in the brain.
“Our research team has shown that we can successfully acquire MRI scans in six-to-nine-year-old children with autism,” said Bodison, “which is significant because most of the current MRI research in autism is happening with individuals who are 12 years and older.”
Bodison is supported by a KL2 Mentoring Research Career Development Award, the National Institute of Health’s grant program designed to jump-start the research careers of junior scientists. As part of the KL2 program, Bodison’s designated mentors including Elizabeth Sowell, professor of pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles; Terence D. Sanger, provost associate professor of biomedical engineering, neurology and biokinesiology; Florence Clark, associate dean, chair and Mrs. T.H. Chan Professor of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy at the USC Chan Division; and Stewart Mostofsky, director of the Center for Neurodevelopmental Medicine and Research at Kennedy Krieger Institute located in Baltimore.
The Help Group – USC Occupational Science Initiative heads to the museum with upcoming project
The Help Group – USC Occupational Science Initiative has announced its next project to develop opportunities for advancing community-based social participation for children with autism spectrum disorders.
Under the direction of Mary Lawlor, associate chair of research and professor at the USC Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, this pilot program is implementing a science and social participation curriculum in classrooms at The Help Group’s Village Glen School and during outings at the California Science Center, an experiential science museum located in Exposition Park adjacent to the USC University Park Campus in Los Angeles.
The science and social skills curriculum is based upon the educational and therapeutic goals of students with autism and other special needs in the fourth through sixth grades. Lawlor is coordinating a team of USC occupational therapy faculty, graduate students and practitioners, in collaboration with Help Group educators and occupational therapy staff, to lead The Help Group students in a series of field trips to the California Science Center throughout the spring months. These trips are specifically structured to optimize the students’ social interactions in a museum setting, as well as to help them better access their respective grade-level science curricula.
“We are delighted to be collaborating with The Help Group and California Science Center in developing, implementing and appraising an innovative approach to learning through exploring new frontiers in science and enhancing social participation, both for students at USC and students at The Help Group,” Lawlor said.
This project is a replication of an original program designed by Ellen Cohn, clinical professor at the Department of Occupational Therapy at Boston University in collaboration with the Boston Public Schools and the Museum of Science in Boston. The program was designed to support students impacted by autism spectrum disorders to engage in informal science learning, socially interact with each other and with educators, and feel included in a community setting.
Assisting Lawlor is USC’s Emily Ochi, assistant professor of clinical occupational therapy; Jesús Díaz, assistant research professor; Monica Stephens, Occupational Therapy Doctorate resident; and Jenny Kovacs, postdoctoral fellow.
“Our graduate students at USC are excited by this remarkable opportunity to work directly with students at The Help Group to foster science learning and facilitate engagement and community participation through the field trips to the California Science Center,” Ochi said.
“It’s university partnerships, like this initiative with USC, that inform best practice methods in our classrooms and keep us at the cutting edge of evidence-based interventions,” said Dr. Barbara Firestone, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Help Group. “We are proud to continue to expand this partnership with the USC Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy.”
The Help Group – USC Occupational Science Initiative, formed in 2015, is dedicated to developing evidence-based intervention programs for children with autism spectrum disorder through the guidance of an interdisciplinary team of researchers, educators and clinicians.
A previous example of the initiative’s programming includes the integration of animal-assisted interventions into the classrooms at The Help Group’s five autism schools in order to help meet the educational and therapeutic needs of students. Leading the effort in animal-assisted intervention is Dr. Olga Solomon, assistant professor at the USC Chan Division.