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.”
Standing at the starting line of the world’s most notorious obstacle course, USC Chan alumna Karly Streisfeld MA ’05 took a deep breath and mentally visualized her route through the challenges looming ahead.
As a competitor on the June 22 episode of the NBC competition television series American Ninja Warrior, Streisfeld would need to muster all her strength, agility and endurance to successfully navigate ominous obstacles, including a series of suspended tire swings and a 14-foot-tall concave wall.
Streisfeld, to her advantage, knows what it takes to optimize performance of the human body. She is an occupational therapist at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, the nation’s third-largest public hospital where she specializes in physical rehabilitation of patients with trauma-related conditions such as stroke, brain and spinal cord injuries.
When she isn’t busy improving her patients’ quality of life, the lifelong athlete can often be found building her own body’s physical capacities at her hometown gym or with area fitness groups.
“I tend to think very biomechanically, like physical therapists do,” Streisfeld says, “but I became an occupational therapist because of our more holistic perspective on health and wellness, and I’ve realized more and more how I can really integrate both of those approaches into my rehab practice.”
The times when she is neither at work nor working out, Streisfeld volunteers with Haiti Rehab Project, a non-profit organization that provides medical care, supplies, equipment and education to disadvantaged and disabled populations in the poverty-stricken country.
Streisfeld first traveled to the island nation in the aftermath of the country’s devastating 2010 7.0-magnitude earthquake, and has since made several more return trips to construct low-cost medical devices, establish a clinic and train local partners to provide community-based rehabilitative therapy in remote rural areas where care is otherwise scarce. She also witnessed both the inflow of international aid following the earthquake and, more recently, its outflow.
“There is still a lot of work to be done in Haiti,” Streisfeld says. “People are still living in emergency tents that were only meant to be temporary shelters. So much aid has been pulled out. The world needs to know that the rebuilding job isn’t complete.”
So it should come as no surprise that, when a friend suggested the avid fitness enthusiast audition for American Ninja Warrior earlier this year, Streisfeld immediately knew she could raise visibility among a national television audience to a cause greater than herself.
After submitting an audition video, show producers invited her to attempt the qualifying course in Orlando, Fla., in May. Cheering along the course sidelines were two of her Haitian partners flown in especially for the taping, one of whom was among the first above-knee amputees from the earthquake to receive a prosthetic limb. Thanks in part to Streisfeld’s guidance, he now crafts prosthetic limbs for his fellow Haitian amputees.
With supporters rooting her on, Streisfeld took off down the course and easily flew through the first obstacle. But she soon met her match in the rolling log—a synthetic “log” to which competitors desperately cling and spin upon while rotating down an decline—as she was cast off into the disqualifying water pool below.
But Streisfeld, an eternal optimist, knows her cause won’t be slowed by her defeat on the course. She expects the awareness and fundraising she began prior to her television appearance to only continue gaining momentum.
“I wanted to use American Ninja Warrior as a platform for the vital work being done by Haiti Rehab Project,” Streisfeld says. “That’s what I’ve done and what I will continue to do, for a country and people who need it most.”
Former graphic designer Eun Kyung Bae MA ’15 sets out on a new career path to redesign lives for senior and disabled populations as an occupational therapist.
Eun Kyung Bae MA ’15 didn’t think she would ever be in a position to help others.
After a fall left Bae paralyzed from the waist down, the then 31-year-old Korean native says she expected life in a wheelchair would make her always require help from others.
It wasn’t until a middle-aged woman with her own spinal cord injury approached Bae for advice that Bae’s limited vision for the future began to change.
“I shared my story with her and explained how I had started adjusting to my new circumstances,” Bae says. “I don’t know how I touched her, but she was just crying and so appreciative of me sharing my story with her.”
After their talk, Bae says she felt something she hadn’t felt in months. “I just realized I felt happy to help someone else,” she says. “It was then I realized: Oh my God! What I want is to help people.”
It was with this experience in mind that Bae, who had been working for nearly 10 years as a graphic designer, began looking to make a career change.
“I had an occupational therapist in my home country after the accident,” Bae explains. “I was depressed and didn’t know how to live, so she just gave me some solutions, and I was really impressed. I thought this was a good field for me.”
After relocating to the United States, Bae sent an email to the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy inquiring about the U.S. News & World Report’s No. 1 ranked program and whether her spinal cord injury might hold her back from pursuing an occupational therapy education.
It wasn’t long before she got her answer. In 2013, she began working toward her master of arts degree in occupational therapy and found more than enough support—from both classmates and faculty members, including the late associate professor Ann Neville-Jan—to be successful.
“When I met Dr. Neville-Jan the first time, I was really timid. It was a completely new set of circumstances and new experiences, so I was really afraid,” Bae says. “She comforted me and had a lot of advice for me.”
Bae counts Neville-Jan, who had spina bifida, as one of her role models.
“I really want to help people with disabilities live more independently and be successful like Dr. Neville-Jan was,” she says.
Bae also found support from her peers. Her classmate Donna Ozawa MA ’15 rallied their class one weekend to build a wheelchair accessibility ramp for Bae to use when visiting Ozawa’s house.
“I was really impressed,” Bae says. “I was so thankful to them. They’re all occupational therapists already. They may have only [officially] been OT students [at the time], but they’re occupational therapists in their hearts.”
Now, with commencement just days away, Bae is looking ahead to the a future as an occupational therapist.
First up, she will do her required fieldwork experiences through the end of 2015. She then hopes to begin her doctor of occupational therapy degree in 2016.
Ultimately, she says, she wants to use her undergraduate degree in woodworking and furniture design coupled with her post-graduate education in occupational science and therapy to help design interventions that will prevent injuries in the homes of seniors and people with physical disabilities.
“I’m really happy,” she says about finishing the first step toward her new career. “I thought it was impossible for me to help people, but the program helped me to do just that.”
USC’s 132nd annual Commencement is Friday, May 15, at the University Park Campus. The satellite commencement ceremony of the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy will follow at 11 am on the Leavey Library West Lawn. Details are available at commencement.usc.edu.