Dr. Grace Baranek to lead USC’s occupational science and occupational therapy program beginning in 2017.
BY JOHN HOBBS MA ’14
The USC Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy announced this week the appointment of Grace Baranek as associate dean and chair of the division.
Baranek comes to USC from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she’s been a faculty member for 20 years. She is currently the associate chair for research in UNC’s Department of Allied Health Sciences, a professor in the Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy and has a dual appointment with the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience.
“There is no one better among those in the occupational science and occupational therapy community to lead our program into its next phase of excellence,” said Florence Clark, the division’s outgoing chair and associate dean who has served as its administrative leader since 1989. “I am excited to see what Dr. Baranek will create as we enter into the 100th anniversary of the occupational therapy profession and the 75th anniversary of occupational therapy at the University of Southern California. There is no doubt that her leadership will give USC Chan a very special luster and take it to new heights through its exceptional educational programs, innovative practice and scientific discovery.”
The announcement comes after an extensive nationwide search, led by Dr. Avishai Sadan MBA ’14, dean of the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC, after Clark announced last fall her intention to step down from administrative duties to focus on research and teaching.
“It has been an incredible honor to work shoulder to shoulder with Florence,” Sadan said. “She’s a force of nature, and I can confidently say the occupational science discipline and occupational therapy profession have taken quantum leaps because of Dr. Clark’s hard work and scholarship.”
The USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, like the USC Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy, is a division within USC’s dental school.
Focus on Autism
Baranek received a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy from the University of Illinois at the Medical Center before pursuing her master’s and PhD degrees in psychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Her body of research is heavily geared toward autism and related development disorders — a key area of study for USC Chan.
Baranek is a nationally and internationally recognized expert in the field of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Her research concentrations include early identification and intervention for children with ASD and related developmental disorders as well as understanding the impact of sensory features on the lives of individuals with ASD, according to her UNC biography.
In addition to publishing numerous research articles on autism — including one that won the American Occupational Therapy Association’s Cordelia Myers AJOT Best Article Award and another that earned her the American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology 2013 Editor’s Award — Baranek has added to the science behind autism by conducting interdisciplinary research.
She is co-director of the Program for Early Autism: Research, Leadership and Service, an interdisciplinary project at UNC Chapel Hill aiming to develop early assessment and intervention tools for ASD. She also served as the principal investigator of the Sensory Experiences Project, a 10-year research grant studying sensory features among children with autism spectrum disorder.
Baranek has been an AOTA fellow since 2005, an AOTF Academy of Research member since 2008 and maintains active memberships with the North Carolina Occupational Therapy Association, the International Society for Autism Research and the International Society for Occupational Science.
Baranek assumes the chair and associate dean position on February 1, 2017. Clark will take a year-long sabbatical before returning to focus on teaching, research and continuing to expand USC Chan’s global presence throughout Asia and the Pacific Rim.
Nine members of the USC Trojan Family are cited as authors across three new research articles published in the July/August issue of the American Journal of Occupational Therapy.
Professor Sharon Cermak co-authored Atypical Sensory Modulation and Psychological Distress in the General Population. By examining a community-based sample of 204 adults who completed standardized assessments, Cermak and her co-author found the group with atypical sensory modulation — characterized by over- or underresponsiveness to sensory stimuli in one or more sensory systems — displayed considerably more psychological distress symptoms than that of the comparison group. The authors conclude that ASM may be a risk factor for developing other mental health concerns.
Seven USC Trojans — four faculty members, a staff member, an Occupational Science PhD student and an alumnus — authored Napping and Nighttime Sleep: Findings From an Occupation-Based Intervention. Authors include assistant professor Natalie Leland, alumnus Donald Fogelberg PhD ‘08, Occupational Science student Alix Sleight MA ‘12, OTD ‘13, PhD ‘18, research assistant professor Cheryl Vigen, staff member Jeanine Blanchard MA ‘99, PhD ‘10, research professor Mike Carlson, and associate dean, chair and professor Florence Clark.
The research team analyzed a sub-sample from the Lifestyle Redesign randomized controlled trial to describe sleeping behaviors and trends over time among an ethnically diverse group of community-living older adults. Of those participants who reported daytime napping at baseline, 36 percent no longer napped at follow-up. Among participants who stopped napping, those who received an occupation-based intervention replaced napping time with nighttime sleep, and those not receiving an intervention experienced a net loss of total sleeping hours.
Sleight also authored Toward a Broader Role for Occupational Therapy in Supportive Oncology Care with research assistant professor Leah I. Stein Duker MA ‘06, PhD ‘13, Postdoc ‘15.
Sleight and Duker advocate for an extended framework for those practitioners working in oncology beyond current conceptualizations of occupational therapy for cancer survivors that too often focuses solely on physical interventions. With a wider focus on function, the authors suggest that practitioners can better address the full spectrum of physical and psychosocial care for expanding the profession’s involvement in supportive oncology care.
AJOT publishes peer-reviewed research six times each year examining the effectiveness and efficiency of occupational therapy practice so that occupational therapy professionals can make informed, evidence-based decisions about best practice.
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.
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 respected researcher, educator and leader to focus full-time on scholarship and division initiatives.
Florence Clark PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, associate dean and chair of the USC Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, after much reflection, has decided to step down from her administrative positions after the 2016 calendar year. The announcement was made to USC Chan faculty, staff and students in a memorandum distributed October 14 by Avishai Sadan DMD, MBA, dean of the Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC within which the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy is administratively operated.
Dr. Clark joined USC’s faculty in 1976 as an assistant professor in what was then known as the Department of Occupational Therapy. In 1983 she was promoted to the rank of associate professor, and in 1989 was appointed department chair at the rank of professor. Due to a strategic administrative realignment, in 2006 the department expanded to become a division within the USC School of Dentistry, and Dr. Clark was appointed the inaugural associate dean of the newly created division.
Dr. Clark was installed as the first Mrs. T.H. Chan Professor in Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, an endowed faculty position created in 2014 by the unprecedented $20 million gift made by USC Trustee Ronnie C. Chan and his family, which also formally named the division as the USC Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. Dr. Clark will continue to hold this named professorship.
“It has been a tremendous honor to serve as our division’s associate dean and chair,” said Dr. Clark. “I am so grateful for the many accomplishments, friendships, discoveries and joys that have imbued my personal and professional life, and I am invigorated to return to being a full-time scientist and educator on our faculty.”
During Dr. Clark’s 27 years of leadership, the USC Chan Division has grown exponentially: its budget today is 22 times larger than what it was in 1989, the faculty size has grown from seven members to more than 80 full-time members and extramural research funding has increased to more than $27 million of cumulative federal support.
During her tenure as chair, Dr. Clark also served one term as president of the American Occupational Therapy Association, acquired more than $10 million of federal research funding on most grants of which she served as principal investigator and was instrumental in securing the Chan family’s naming gift, the first and largest of its kind made to any occupational therapy program in the history of the field.
“We have been very fortunate to benefit from her leadership,” wrote Dean Sadan in the announcement. “I look forward to … her continued accomplishments as she returns to life as a full-time academic.”