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Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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USC Chan appoints new associate dean, chair →

Aug 23, 2016, by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), in General News, Student News, Alumni News

Dr. Grace Baranek to lead USC’s occupational science and occupational therapy program beginning in 2017.


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.

Grace Baranek PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA

Grace Baranek PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA

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 Trojans publish in July/August AJOT →

Jul 14, 2016, by Mike McNulty, in General News, Student News, Alumni News

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.

Alarm Clock

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.

Friends with benefits in obesity research →

Jun 29, 2016, by Mike McNulty, in General News

New research shows how social and family relationships can improve adolescents’ obesity-related behaviors.

As the saying goes, it’s not what you know, but who you know. And in the nation’s ongoing fight against obesity, the quality of social relationships with peers and family members might buffer the impact of neighborhood economic contexts.

New findings published by USC researcher Sarah-Jeanne Salvy show that the quality of adolescents’ social and familial relationships predicts their obesity-related health behaviors, including eating habits, physical activity and amount of “screen time” using multimedia devices. Results appear in an early online access article of the Journal of Pediatric Psychology.

Sarah-Jeanne Salvy PhD/Photo by John Skalicky

Sarah-Jeanne Salvy PhD/Photo by John Skalicky

Salvy, a research associate professor at the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, and her colleagues at Santa Monica’s RAND Corporation examined longitudinal data gathered from more than 2,100 adolescents across Southern California enrolled in a middle school drug and alcohol prevention program.

The researchers measured the quality of adolescents’ peer relationships — defined as “peer social functioning” and reflected by answers to statements such as ‘I felt able to count on my friends’ and ‘other kids wanted to talk to me’ — their sense of “familism” — defined as a belief system often rooted in Hispanic culture in which the greater needs of the family supersede those of individual family members — and neighborhood-level socioeconomic status, which is considered a correlate of access to healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity. Salvy, who is a child clinical psychology researcher, and her team then compared these measures to respondents’ obesity-related behaviors such as eating habits, daily physical activity and recreational “screen time” spent on computers, mobile devices, television and video games.

Over time, the researchers found that stronger peer social functioning is associated with healthier eating habits, and this positive effect is even stronger among those adolescents with a greater sense of familism and among those living in wealthier neighborhoods.

The researchers also found that stronger peer social functioning is related to fewer hours of leisure screen time and more frequent physical activity, especially for those adolescents living in neighborhoods with low socioeconomic status. That finding is especially intriguing because it suggests that strong peer relationships may help guard against the well-documented negative effects of lower socioeconomic status. For instance, adolescents with stronger peer social functioning might hypothetically feel safer and more empowered to engage in outdoor physical activity despite limited resources of poorer neighborhoods.

“What I think is especially exciting about our study is that we examined the interaction between neighborhood economic context and social factors,” said Salvy. “We know that these complex sources of influence operate on obesity risks, but they have rarely, if ever, been simultaneously considered in early adolescence.”

Salvy, who is also a fellow at both the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics and at the USC Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research, hopes her expertise on the physical and social determinants of obesity and sustainable, evidence-based models for its prevention can help turn the tide both in Southern California and across the nation.

Indeed, a new study published earlier this month by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that America’s decades-long battle of the bulge doesn’t appear to be making much headway. By tracking 26 years of data of more than 16,000 12-to-19-year-old adolescents, the CDC researchers found that, between 1988 and 2014, the prevalence of obese adolescents has nearly doubled from 10.5 to 20.6 percent.

“Peer influence is increasingly the focus of prevention and intervention efforts targeting obesity,” said Salvy, “and our research further points to the protective power of healthy peer and family relationships for the promotion of healthy lifestyles.”

Clark visits Toronto to deliver 2016 Cardwell Lecture →

Jun 23, 2016, by Mike McNulty, in General News

Florence Clark, associate dean, chair and Mrs. T.H. Chan Professor of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, delivered the 2016 Thelma Cardwell Lecture at the University of Toronto on June 22. Her lecture, entitled “Occupational Therapy as Life Design: Fortifying Health and Well-Being through the Course of Life,” discussed The USC Well Elderly Study Research Program and Lifestyle Redesign® research intervention model.

Clark is the third Trojan, joining emeritus professors Ruth Zemke and Elizabeth Yerxa, to receive this prestigious award.

The lecture, founded in 1997, is named in honor of Thelma Cardwell, the founder of the Canadian Occupational Therapy Foundation and the first occupational therapist and first woman to be President of the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists. The annual lecture recognizes distinguished scholars and practitioners who have made a significant influence on the profession of occupational therapy and serves as an opportunity to join practitioners, administrators, students and academics to celebrate the vision and contributions of the occupational therapy profession.

Commencement 2016: Graduates honor longtime associate dean during ceremony →

May 16, 2016, by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), in General News, Student News, Alumni News

By Yasmine Pezeshkpour

Fariborz Maseeh ScD

Fariborz Maseeh ScD

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.

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