University of Southern California
University of Southern California
Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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Remembering Florence Cromwell

, in General News, Alumni News

An esteemed USC alumna and occupational therapy leader passed away on Nov. 5, 2016, at the age of 94

By John Hobbs MA ‘14

Florence Cromwell 1922-2016. Photo undated.

Occupational therapy visionary, two-time AOTA president, and former faculty member Florence S. Cromwell MA ’52 died Nov. 5, 2016. She was 94.

The former faculty member was a USC alumna, an interim chair for two years before Elizabeth Yerxa ’52, MA ’53 took the chairship, and a member of the division’s Board of Councilors from 1996 to 2001.

Throughout her career, she loomed large over the occupational therapy landscape, making significant contributions on the national stage in areas of political advocacy, research, and education — all of which are still very much evident today.

A respected leader, Cromwell served two terms (1967-1973) as president of AOTA, the professional organization that represents the interests and concerns of occupational therapy practitioners and students across the nation.

During her second presidential term, Cromwell moved AOTA from its headquarters in New York City to Rockville, MD, to be near Washington, D.C., — a relocation meant to give AOTA greater opportunities to advocate on behalf of the burgeoning profession among the nation’s policymakers. 

Cromwell worked diligently to bring occupational therapy under the umbrella of health care by joining the Coalition of Independent Health Professions, a group of multi-disciplined health care professionals, giving occupational therapy much greater visibility among health care providers. She served as the group’s chair in 1974.

From early on, when she wrote Basic Skills Assessment about job assessments for people with disabilities, Cromwell was a champion for developing and refining the profession’s scientific literature. Throughout her career, she was a prolific researcher, writing several peer-reviewed journal articles and many textbooks, including Hand Rehabilitation in Occupational Therapy, The Changing Roles of Occupational Therapists in the 1980s, and The Occupational Therapy Managers’ Survival Handbook: A Case Approach to Understanding the Basic Functions of Management.

Cromwell’s countless contributions to the occupational science and occupational therapy profession did not go unnoticed. 

In 1974, she was honored with the AOTA Award of Merit. In 1999, she was recognized with the rarely awarded AOTA/AOTF President’s Commendation in Honor of Wilma L. West. She was also named an inaugural AOTA fellow in 1973 and became the first occupational therapist to be elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Florence Cromwell was the AOTA President when I entered the profession in 1970,” remembered Florence Clark PhD ‘82, associate dean of USC Chan. At that time, I revered her from a distance, and at 24 years of age, I was so pleased that there was a leader in the profession who not only had the name Florence (which was in rare use in the 1970s), but who also had the same first and last name initials – FC!

Florence added, “I couldn’t believe that one day I would actually meet her face-to-face, which happened in 1976 when I first joined the USC faculty. After that, we had an ongoing relationship. Once I became chair, she was always there for me, helping me to develop the leadership skills required for my new position. She was one of the foremost leaders in the profession and a remarkable person.”

Toddler palace may house clues to social skills in autism

, in General News

Dr. Barbara Thompson’s research is highlighted at the 2016 Society for Neuroscience meeting

By Sarah Deweerdt/Spectrum News

Toddler Palace

Palace keep: The amount of time a young child spends in a play castle may provide hints about her social motivation.

A half-hour-long ‘playdate’ between a toddler and an adult could help answer a long-standing question about whether and how much a child with autism is interested in social interactions.

Researchers presented the new paradigm yesterday at the 2016 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in San Diego.

“There are two hypotheses about what’s driving why kids with autism have social deficits,” says Barbara Thompson, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. One possibility is that children with autism just aren’t interested in socializing, and the other is that they actively dislike it.

It’s a difficult debate to resolve because even typically developing children can’t articulate much about their inner desires and motivations. That task would be even harder for children with autism, who have communication impairments.

To tilt at this windmill, the researchers built a ‘palace’ — a 7-foot-tall structure with gray faux-stone walls and a crenellated top — inside their lab. A set designer who worked on the television show “Six Feet Under” built the castle.

“That’s the advantage of being in [Los Angeles],” Thompson says.

Inside the castle are two toy-filled rooms, identical except for the color of their décor: green or orange. Over the course of a roughly half-hour-long exercise, children learn to associate one room with the presence of an adult who invites the child to play with toys — “Would you like to come and build a tower of blocks for King Kong to knock down?” — and cheerfully follows the child’s suggestions for play. The other room is empty except for an identical set of toys.

Conditioned contact:

The concept underlying this paradigm is known as conditioning, and goes back to Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov’s experiments with dogs and dinner bells. The specific design of the team’s experiments is borrowed from rodent studies of addiction.

After the conditioning, the adult leaves the palace, and the researchers watch to see how much time the child spends in each room. So far, the researchers have tested typically developing children aged 2 to 5 years. These children spend four times as long in the room they associate with social contact after the conditioning as they did before. This confirms that typical children find social contact highly rewarding.

The researchers hope that learning how children with autism behave will help them understand the children’s interest in socializing. If a child chooses to spend more time in the empty room, it indicates that she may have an aversion to social contact, for example. But if she chooses to spend equal time in both rooms, that is a sign that she may be indifferent to or uninterested in socializing.

Thompson and her colleagues have begun to test toddlers and preschoolers with autism, but the results are not yet available. They also plan to analyze whether a child’s behavior in the castle is associated with his scores on autism questionnaires.

The paradigm could eventually be used as a tool to help guide treatment decisions for children with autism. A child who needs to overcome fear and anxiety about social interactions may require a different kind of therapy than one who needs to learn to tune in to them.

If it proves widely applicable, however, the palace paradigm might best be done in a virtual reality system, Thompson says. After all, not everyone has a Hollywood set designer handy.


Five Trojans to take AOTA awards

, in General News, Alumni News

Florence Clark to receive rarefied AOTA-AOTF Presidents’ Commendation

By Mike McNulty

Five USC Trojans will win annual awards from the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). The recipients were revealed last week by AOTA and will be presented their awards during AOTA’s annual conference in April 2017, when the association will celebrate the 100-years anniversary of its 1917 founding.

Florence Clark PhD ’82, associate dean, chair and holder of the Mrs. T.H. Chan Professorship, will receive the American Occupational Therapy Association/American Occupational Therapy Foundation (AOTF) Presidents’ Commendation Award in Honor of Wilma L. West. The governing Boards of both AOTA and AOTF jointly established this prestigious award, given only rarely, to honor a respected leader of the profession who has made sustained contributions to occupational therapy over a lifetime of service. More than one-third of all recipients of this prestigious award have been Trojans, including: Wilma L. West MA ’46 (1990), Carlotta Welles MA ’53 (1991), former faculty member Lela Llorens (1997), Florence Cromwell MA ’52 (1999), Joan C. Rogers MA ’68 (2010), and Mary Foto ’66 (2016).

Administrative manager Kiley Hanish MA ’02, OTD ’11 will be a recipient of the Emerging and Innovative Practice Award, a newly established award that recognizes occupational therapy practitioners who have developed non-traditional occupational therapy practices in visionary ways to achieve significant client outcomes. Hanish developed the Return to Zero Center for Healing, which has become a resource for outreach, education, and research for women who have experienced perinatal loss. Believed to be the first of its kind in the world, Hanish’s center hosts activity-based bereavement retreats for women seeking healing after their traumatic losses to provide an opportunity for grieving mothers to gather in a safe group of like-minded women and create meaning and community.

Assistant professor Natalie Leland will receive the Lindy Boggs Award in recognition of significant contributions by an occupational therapist toward promoting occupational therapy in political arenas such as federal or state legislation, regulations and policies or by increasing elected officials’ appreciation of the profession. Leland has worked in conjunction with AOTA for years to promote occupational therapy through leadership in Medicare policy, as her scholarship focuses on large administrative datasets, longitudinal data analysis and geographic variation in rehabilitation services including post-acute care and nursing home settings.

Assistant clinical professor Jenny Martínez BS ’09, MA ’10, OTD ’11 will receive the Gary Kielhofner Emerging Leader Award, which recognizes emerging leadership and extraordinary service early in an occupational therapist’s career. The award is named in memory of USC alumnus and former faculty member Gary Kielhofner MA ’75 who developed the Model of Human Occupation. During her six-year career in occupational therapy, Martínez has promoted occupational therapy workforce diversity and culturally responsive care for adults from ethnically and racially diverse backgrounds through co-authoring four academic publications, participating in AOTA’s Emerging Leaders Development Program and, most recently, beginning her term as Chairperson of AOTA’s Gerontology Special Interest Section.

Alumna Bonnie Nakasuji BS ’74, MA ’94, OTD ’08 will be a recipient of the International Service Award, a newly established award that recognizes sustained and outstanding commitment to international occupational therapy service to promote a globally connected community and address global health issues. For more than 10 years, Nakasuji has been traveling to the West African country of Ghana to provide occupational therapy services to various groups and communities, including Mephibosheth Training Center, a boarding school for “handicapped” children located in a village approximately two hours’ travel outside Ghana’s capital city of Accra. More than 250 USC occupational therapy students have traveled with Nakausji to Ghana as part of international externship experiences, where the USC students practice task analysis, graded therapeutic activities, adaptive equipment evaluation and pre-vocational recommendations with the Ghanaian students.

USC, Peking University to team on one of China’s first graduate programs in occupational therapy

, in General News

The partnership has the potential to transform the quality of life for millions of people, USC provost says

By Mike McNulty and John Hobbs/USC News

USC Provost Michael Quick and Peking University Health Science Center President Qimin Zhan formalize the partnership between the two institutions. (Photo/Philip Channing)

USC Provost Michael Quick and Peking University Health Science Center President Qimin Zhan formalize the partnership between the two institutions. (Photo/Philip Channing)

USC and Peking University have forged a partnership that could impact the quality of lives for millions of Chinese individuals living with, or at risk for, a disability.

USC Provost Michael Quick joined a delegation of senior leaders from the Peking University Health Science Center to formalize a new partnership between the academic institutions to develop one of China’s first graduate programs specializing in occupational therapy.

Alongside Qimin Zhan, president of the Health Science Center, Quick formally established the China Initiative partnership between one of China’s most prestigious universities and the USC Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy.

“Occupational therapy enables people throughout the world to lead healthier, happier, fuller lives,” Quick said. “By advancing occupational therapy education, research and clinical care in China, this new partnership with Peking University has the potential to transform the quality of life for millions of people.”

The announcement caps more than two years of intercontinental exploration and travel by USC Chan faculty members, including Associate Dean Florence Clark and the China Initiative’s Interim Director Julie McLaughlin Gray, to better understand the nuances of occupational therapy within China’s health care system and to identify an optimal partner capable of fostering the profession’s growth within the country.

A gift realized
The China Initiative began in 2014 as part of a multimillion dollar gift from USC Trustee Ronnie C. Chan MBA ’76 and his wife, Barbara, to endow and name USC’s occupational therapy division and to establish a partnership with an elite Chinese university to expand occupational therapy research, education and practice.

“We would not be here today without the foresight and generosity of USC Trustee Ronnie Chan, his wife, Barbara, and their family,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias. “Thanks to the Chan family, we will be able to extend USC’s faculty expertise across the Pacific in order to fortify the global occupational therapy community.”

Occupational therapy in China
Currently, there is just one occupational therapy graduate-level program in China. Typically occupational therapy — as we know it in the United States — falls under the auspices of general rehabilitation therapy — which is a bachelor’s degree program.

The China Initiative partnership builds upon that educational foundation, establishing one of China’s first graduate-level programs in occupational therapy. The program offers students a master’s in rehabilitation (with an emphasis in occupational therapy) from the Peking University Health Science Center through a program that will replicate the world-renowned curriculum at USC Chan. Graduates of the master’s program will then be eligible to apply to the post-professional occupational therapy doctorate program at USC.

During the first two years of the partnership, USC Chan and PKU/Peking University Health Science Center faculty members will collaborate to develop the contours of the program, making sure it is responsive to the specific health needs of the world’s most populous nation.

The program’s first faculty members will be individuals appointed by the Peking University Health Science Center to spend two years at USC Chan, earning both a post-professional master’s degree and a post-professional occupational therapy doctorate. These faculty members will then return to China to launch the Peking University Health Science Center program.

In addition to establishing the master’s program, the partnership paves the way for Chinese PhD students to study at USC Chan.

Once established and implemented, the partnership promises to continue the educational evolution of occupational therapy in China, training a new generation of practitioners to provide high-quality clinical services to the estimated 85 million Chinese living with, or at risk for, a disability.

Peking University Health Science Center delegation with faculty members of the USC Chan Division. (Photo/Philip Channing)

Peking University Health Science Center delegation with faculty members of the USC Chan Division. (Photo/Philip Channing)

More productive lives

Occupational therapy is a health care profession focused on enabling people to better manage chronic disease and disability through sustainable, health-promoting activities and routines in order to live more satisfying and productive lives.

USC has been ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the nation’s No. 1 occupational therapy graduate educational program for more years than all other programs combined, and USC has a legacy of professional leadership, including founding the nation’s first two-year, entry-level master’s degree in occupational therapy in 1962.

Peking University is China’s first national university and the highest ranked in mainland China, according to the annual QS World University Rankings. Built in 1912, the Peking University Health Science Center was the country’s first school to teach Western medicine in the style of the British medical education system and now is among China’s most selective and respected medical schools.

“This historic partnership with Peking University will dramatically influence practice and research to create innovative ways of improving quality of life in China,” said Clark, holder of the Mrs. T.H. Chan Professorship in Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. “By collaborating in the establishment of a state-of-the-art curriculum for educating Chinese clinicians and by fostering the development of scientists, USC continues demonstrating its investment in professional excellence throughout the world.”

Chinese translation of USC-PKU agreement

LA 18 Evening News covers the USC-PKU partnership, including soundbites from Clark, during the Oct. 20 newscast

USC Chan launches online MA degree program

, in General News

New part-time program looks to advance domestic and international therapy communities

By Mike McNulty

Current post-professional master's student Jennifer Bermudez tries out the online learning technology with daughter Mia. (Photo/Hong Le)

Current post-professional master’s student Jennifer Bermudez tries out the online learning technology with daughter Mia. (Photo/Hong Le)

The USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy is launching a new online program aimed at busy practicing occupational therapists who want to enhance their clinical competencies and advance their career development.

Beginning in January 2017, the USC Online Post-Professional Master of Arts Degree in Occupational Therapy will use state-of-the-art instructional methods including video conferencing tools and digital learning materials to deliver an exclusively online educational experience that upholds the quality, standards and reputation synonymous with USC occupational therapy.

“This is a landmark moment for the USC Chan Division, as we are now able to bring the best of USC occupational therapy education directly from Los Angeles to the worldwide community of occupational therapists” said Myka Winder, assistant clinical professor and the Chan Division’s director of online education. “No matter where in the world you might be practicing occupational therapy, as long as you can get online, USC Chan can get to you.”

The program is specifically designed to meet the needs of both seasoned American occupational therapists, who may be looking to reinvigorate their knowledge base or career trajectories, as well as international-based clinicians for whom a master’s degree signifies the pinnacle of occupational therapy expertise within their respective countries. To date, the USC post-professional master’s degree program has only been offered as in-person, on-campus program. With this new online, part-time option for earning the post-professional master’s degree in occupational therapy, students no longer need to suspend their clinical careers and relocate to Southern California in order to earn a USC degree.

“I am so excited that we are now providing an online degree option for practicing therapists to take their skills to the next level,” said clinical professor Erna Blanche, who is the director of the post-professional master’s degree program. “This is truly the best of both worlds — an excellent education with the convenience of an online, part-time learning format.”

As part of its preparation in developing the new online program, USC Chan has invested in a full-time instructional designer, who is an expert in the theory- and research-based processes of designing and implementing curricula and course materials for optimal learning. The program has also invested in the digital infrastructure needed to seamlessly deliver excellent online education such as Zoom Video Conferencing for live sessions and Articulate Storyline for interactive lecture slides.

“For nearly 75 years, USC has been at the forefront of innovation in educational programming and curricula,” said associate clinical professor Julie McLaughlin Gray, who also serves as USC Chan’s associate chair of curriculum and faculty. “This online program not only builds on that legacy but is a significant step towards the next 75 years of USC occupational therapy education.”

The USC Chan Division has an unparalleled record of innovation in occupational therapy degree programs. USC inaugurated the nation’s first post-professional degree program in occupational therapy in 1947, the nation’s first two-year, entry-level master’s degree in occupational therapy in 1962 and, in 1989, created the world’s first doctoral program in occupational science.

Eligible students must hold a baccalaureate degree in occupational therapy with a minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.0 from either an accredited college or university or from a program approved by the World Federation of Occupational Therapy®. Because the program is delivered entirely online, there are no additional on-campus attendance requirements in order for students to graduate.

To learn more about the new USC Online Post-Professional Master of Arts Degree in Occupational Therapy program, visit


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