More than 200 USC students have taken advantage of an ‘amazing journey’ that led to Ghana
BY JAMIE WETHERBE
Bonnie Nakasuji ’74, MA ’94, OTD ’08 first went to Ghana in 2003 with a simple mission. She wanted to match patients with wheelchairs.
Two years later — thanks to her passion for occupational therapy and a good deal on airfare — Nakasuji returned to Ghana with 10 students from the USC Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy to help adults and children with disabilities.
During the past decade, Nakasuji, an adjunct associate professor at USC Chan who coordinates the division’s leadership externship to Ghana, has ushered 232 USC occupational therapy students to Ghana, taking on some 50 duties, from arranging air travel to lecturing at universities.
“It’s just been an amazing journey. When a student has an opportunity to give professionally, it’s really rewarding,” Nakasuji said.
The Help Group is pleased to announce an innovative partnership between The Help Group and the University of Southern California (USC) Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. The Help Group – USC Occupational Science Initiative is dedicated to developing evidence-based intervention programs for children with autism spectrum disorder through an interdisciplinary team of researchers, educators and clinicians.
The collaboration was established to better identify how animal-assisted intervention can be integrated into a curriculum that meets the educational and therapeutic needs of students in The Help Group’s five autism schools.
“With the success of our Paws and Pals program, we recognized the benefits of having volunteers and their therapy dogs visiting our classrooms and interacting with children across the autism spectrum,” said Dr. Barbara Firestone, president and chief executive officer of The Help Group, a national non-profit organization serving children with special needs related to autism spectrum disorder, learning disabilities, ADHD, developmental delays, abuse and emotional problems. “The Initiative holds great promise as one of the first of its kind to demonstrate how therapy animals can be utilized to help to facilitate social behavior and communication in children and teens with autism.”
Leading the effort on behalf of USC is Dr. Olga Solomon, assistant professor at the USC Chan Division. Dr. Solomon, a 2014 Summit presenter, also led a Distinguished Lecture Series presentation at The Help Group on “Animal-Assisted Therapy in Classroom and Clinical Settings” to provide practical strategies for including therapy dogs in a school setting. Joining The Help Group, under the mentorship of Dr. Solomon, is occupational therapy doctoral resident Allie Ticktin.
A program development and evaluation project is already underway this academic year at The Help Group. Therapy dog/handler teams are working in coordination with therapists and educators to develop animal-assisted activities for five-to-seven-years-old students with mild cognitive delays and social and communicative challenges.
The Initiative is The Help Group’s third partnership with a leading research university. In 1999, The Help Group partnered with the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior to create The Help Group Neuropsychology program, and once again in 2007 to form the groundbreaking Help Group – UCLA Autism Research Alliance.
“We are delighted to join with USC on this cutting-edge initiative to expand research into animal-assisted intervention,” said Firestone, “and look forward to a productive collaboration to foster growth and progress for young people with autism.”
All three USC Chan Division students running for elected positions to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) Assembly of Student Delegates (ASD) won their respective races. Joseph Ungco MA ‘16 was elected chairperson, Ellen Wleklinski BS ‘14, MA ‘15 was elected vice chairperson and Elizabeth Peters MA ‘16 was elected secretary.
The ASD is the legislative body for student input and concerns into AOTA affairs. As a standing committee of the Representative Assembly (RA), the ASD Steering Committee serves the ASD membership by synthesizing student concerns to represent the student point of view to the Board of Directors, the Representative Assembly, the Commission on Practice, the Commission on Education and other AOTA bodies as needed.
In other election results, alumnus and Board of Councilors member Shawn Phipps BS ‘97 was elected AOTA Vice President and alumna Arameh Anvarizadeh BS ‘05, MA ‘06, OTD ‘07 won her race for California representative to the RA.
View all AOTA 2015 Election Results. Congratulations and Fight On!
The Winter 2014 issue of the USC Trojan Family Magazine explores how the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy helps people live life to its fullest, no matter what challenges they face.
Into A New Era: With their $20 million gift to the division, USC Trustee Ronnie C. Chan and wife Barbara make history and cement a legacy.
Note: This story is published in the Fall 2014 issue of the USC Chan alumni magazine.
The universe works in mysterious ways.
That was the message—equal parts gratitude and awe—delivered by Associate Dean Florence Clark at a confidential gathering of division leaders in early August. A cryptic email summoned select faculty members to this off-the-record meeting and as the room filled, hushed speculations swirled. Yet the plastic flutes of champagne being passed around— not the typical beverage for a weekday business meeting—signaled the bombshell announcement ahead.
“What I am about to tell you, you can call it fate, call it good karma or call it divine intervention,” Clark said, as she brought the meeting to order. “Whatever you call it, it is nothing short of a miracle, a dream come true.”
With her husband, senior computer consultant John Wolcott, smiling beside her and with tears welling in her eyes, Clark broke the suspense: A $20 million gift agreement had been reached to name and endow the division for all time.
Gasps of disbelief crescendoed into unanimous applause. Institutional naming gifts, which guarantee a program’s existence for all time, are unheard of within occupational science and occupational therapy. They are indeed so rare that no occupational therapy educational program had ever been previously named. The implication of the announcement settled upon the room: USC was realizing another accomplishment in a long line of firsts, the benefits of which would one day ripple throughout the profession and across the world. The long-impossible dream to permanently endow the division was coming true.
An Accident, An Awakening
Occupational therapy is a career choice rarely made lightly. Just ask any therapist. More often than not, you will hear a story forged in a crucible of injury, illness and trauma on one hand, and recovery, healing and hope on the other.
Ten years ago, assistant clinical professor Adley Chan ’07, MA ’08, OTD ’12 was an undergraduate sophomore student at USC when he received an email that, in retrospect, changed the trajectory of his entire life. The message notified Chan that a good friend who was traveling through Louisiana was injured in an automobile accident, had sustained a traumatic brain injury and was currently in a severe coma. As days turned into weeks, Chan decided to visit the friend’s family to do whatever possible to help console them. But when he arrived at the hospital, Chan was greeted with an incredible surprise: The friend had awoke from the coma. At the hospital Chan watched intently as occupational therapists began the long process of physical and cognitive rehabilitation.
After he returned to campus in Los Angeles, Chan was in for another surprise. At the beginning of his Monday morning class, an occupational therapy student ambassador gave a brief presentation about the profession and the undergraduate major at USC. The following semester Chan knew he had to enroll in the undergraduate course, OT 250: Introduction to Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. What felt right—if only as moral support for a rehabilitating friend—grew into something more.
“I attended every class of OT 250, did all the readings and homework and I actually enjoyed it,” Chan recalls with a smile. “I thought, ‘maybe there’s something to this occupational therapy after all.’”
This was more than coincidence; it seemed like a calling. Having witnessed the impact of such a catastrophic condition on a friend, Chan felt called upon to help others through similar circumstances. He soon declared occupational therapy his undergraduate major and continued at USC to earn both his master’s and clinical doctorate degrees in occupational therapy.
A decade later, Chan’s friend is now back living life to its fullest, happily married with three children and able to work full-time. Such a recovery could not have been fully possible without occupational therapy.
A Thoroughly Trojan Family
The phrase Trojan Family is often used as a metaphor for USC’s extensive and devoted alumni network. Quite literally, Adley Chan belongs to another Trojan family—his older brother Adriel earned a bachelor’s degree from USC in 2004 and his father Ronnie C. Chan earned his MBA degree from USC in 1976.
In the decades since, the elder Chan built his family’s Hong Kong-based business into a thriving multinational corporation. He became the chairman of Hang Lung Group Limited and its subsidiary Hang Lung Properties Limited which, with its wide-ranging portfolio of retail, commercial and residential properties, stands among Hong Kong’s leading property companies. He also co-founded the Morningside Group, a private investment firm that owns and manages industrial and service companies throughout the United States and Asia. In 1995, former USC President Steven Sample welcomed Chan to the USC Board of Trustees and later honored him with the 2009 Asa V. Call Achievement Award, USC’s most prestigious alumni award.
As the youngest Chan progressed through years of occupational therapy education, the elder Chan and his wife Barbara grew to become good friends with Clark and Wolcott. And with their resolute commitment to philanthropic endeavors in partnership with health and education institutions throughout the world, the Chan family would soon add another generous act to their names.
At a September celebration hosted on the USC Health Sciences Campus, USC President C. L. Max Nikias made the announcement official: Ronnie and Barbara Chan committed $20 million to the division of occupational science and occupational therapy, the first naming gift and largest ever made to any occupational therapy program in the history of the field.
It was the second major gift the Chans had made to a U.S. university in as many weeks, with Chan’s Morningside Foundation making a substantial gift to Harvard’s School of Public Health in honor of patriarch Mr. T.H. Chan on Sept. 8.
The USC gift was made in honor of the Chan family’s matriarch, Mrs. T.H. Chan, who was trained as a nurse in Northern China during the mid-20th century. The gift established an endowment in perpetuity and named the division the USC Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy.
“This is a special day for USC, as we celebrate our half-century-long connection with this singular family and the professional commitment of its venerable matriarch,” Nikias said. “USC’s extraordinary presence in the Pacific Rim is due in no small measure to Ronnie’s years of tactical work and gracious outreach.”
Nikias then introduced Ronnie Chan, who was treated to a standing ovation by the standing-room-only crowd as he took the podium.
“Let’s get one thing right,” Ronnie Chan said. “Don’t thank me for the gift—it is my wife and I, my family, that have to thank USC for giving us that tremendous opportunity and privilege.”
He also shared a family story that resonates with many who have chosen a career in occupational therapy. When Mrs. T.H. Chan graduated from nursing school in Northern China she had an opportunity to enter medical school. But to the surprise of her family, she didn’t. The reason? “She felt that she [could] do more good, and help people more directly,” Chan said, “as a nurse rather than as a medical doctor.”
The gift will also extend the division’s international reach thanks to the USC Mrs. T.H. Chan Occupational Therapy China Initiative. This focused, short-term initiative will establish a partnership between the division and a top Chinese university to develop a graduate program in occupational therapy in China. In addition, the gift endows the Mrs. T.H. Chan Professorship in Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. Florence Clark will be installed as the first holder of the professorship.
“Endowed chairs help USC recruit and retain the very best faculty,” said Elizabeth Garrett, USC provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, at an intimate October celebration of the Chan’s gift at New York City’s Carlyle Hotel. “Dr. Clark, along with the other clinician-scientists in USC’s occupational therapy programs—Dr. Chan included—are committed to improving quality of life for people across our communities.”
One month after the fanfare of the announcement festivities, Clark was asked to reflect on the long-term implications of the historic gift. “I really do believe that the universe works in mysterious ways, and that in the infinite wisdom of the cosmos, this gift was just somehow meant to be,” Clark said. “But I don’t think there is any mystery as to the fact that it will improve the lives of so many people across the world.”