The first-generation college student’s journey from a South Los Angeles elementary school to the 2017 White Coat Ceremony
Most of the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy’s new grad students are adults when they first set foot on campus. Viviana Padilla ’16, MA ’19, on the other hand, has been coming to USC for nearly a decade.
“USC was always there,” says Padilla, a South Los Angeles native who, alongside all Chan students starting new educational programs, will receive her white coat — a symbol of the ethical obligations associated with being a health professional — during Friday’s White Coat Ceremony.
Beginning as a sixth grader at Foshay Learning Center, a K-12 school located one mile west of USC’s University Park Campus, Padilla enrolled in the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative. NAI is a pre-college enrichment program that partners with area schools like Foshay to prepare students for future admission to higher education institutions. NAI’s successes, now more than 20 years in the making, were recently chronicled in a New York Times article.
Make no doubt about it, NAI demands much from its enrollees. Its requirements include six years of summer schooling, rigorous tutoring, parent–teacher counselling and, during every weekday morning throughout high school, attending classes hosted in buildings on USC’s campus.
But to first-generation college students like Padilla, the long-term impact on NAI participants — educational and otherwise — is obvious. Padilla was admitted to USC in 2012, where she later discovered occupational therapy as an undergraduate student in a class taught by assistant clinical professor Kate Crowley.
“In Kate’s class we read the book How Children Succeed,” Padilla recalls, “and there was a parallel with NAI and how that worked.”
The book posits that academic performance is not merely a function of socioeconomic status or intelligence but of the character, curiosity and stick-to-itiveness cultivated within children and young adults.
Padilla went on to complete the division’s minor in occupational science which she earned in 2016 along with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She spent the past year as a classroom aide at Villa Esperanza Services, a special education school in South Pasadena, working one-on-one with a teenager who has a developmental disability. After learning more about occupational therapy by visiting health promotion conferences and shadowing practicing clinicians, she knew it was the right career for her.
In June, she and 138 of her classmates began the USC Chan Division’s two-year master’s degree program in occupational therapy. At Friday’s White Coat Ceremony, they will gather with families, significant others and friends to officially commemorate their entry into occupational therapy.
For Padilla, it will be just another highlight in an educational life that has been intertwined with the university.
“I definitely would not be here without USC.”
For as long as she can remember, Alicia Mendoza MA ’17 has admired the work of Christian missionaries. In occupational therapy she found a career with similar attributes: provision of needed services, expertise for developing community programs and individualized focus on helping people transcend their circumstances, whatever and wherever they may be.
While at USC, the Northern California native has worked with Professor Mary Lawlor on research projects and manuscript writing, has taught students as a classroom assistant and has served as the division’s co-chair of the USC Student-Run Clinic. But the biggest lesson, she says, is fueled by her faith.
“I think I’ve learned how to be with people,” says Mendoza, who will receive her master’s degree in occupational therapy this Friday during the 75th annual commencement ceremony of the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy.
“Jesus spent time with people in their hard places, and it can be painful to just be with people when they’re suffering. But as occupational therapists, sometimes that’s the most powerful thing we can do.”
Fellowship to support writing new book on stigma
Professor Cheryl Mattingly has been honored with a 2017 Guggenheim Fellowship, one of only three USC faculty members to receive the prestigious award. She joins a diverse cohort of 173 scholars, artists and scientists from across North America selected from a pool of almost 3,000 applicants by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise.
Mattingly, who holds a joint appointment in the Department of Anthropology at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, is a medical and psychological anthropologist who is inspired by phenomenology, the philosophy of ethics and narrative theory.
Her research — including Boundary Crossings, a longitudinal study of health care trajectories in 30 African-American children with illnesses and/or disabilities, their families and the practitioners who serve them — has focused on the experience of disability, family care and health disparities for minority populations. Throughout her work, she has aimed to document more than large-scale forces of social injustice.
The Guggenheim Fellowship will enable her to concentrate on her new book, Category Trouble: Stigma as Moral Experience. The book will explore recent attention to “moral striving” in anthropology that has highlighted how people struggle to transform or exceed the lives they inhabit — aspirations that can sometimes increase suffering. The writing will be more experimental than in her previous works, she said.
“Can I write compelling nonfiction short stories that also have a certain theoretical, even existential, resonance? Can my stories help us rethink stigma as a painful and personal lived experience, as a social marker of marginalized groups and also as a feature of the human condition?”
Since its establishment in 1925, the Guggenheim Foundation has granted more than $350 million in Fellowships to more than 18,000 individuals including scores of Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners, poets laureate, and members of the various national academies. The program remains an especially significant source of support for scholars in the humanities and social sciences.
Mattingly said she was stunned at the news she had won a Guggenheim, but added that she felt a special connection to the honor.
“There is deep significance for me in receiving a Guggenheim because of the program’s long history as a supporter of innovation and creativity, especially in the arts and humanities,” Mattingly said.
“Although anthropology is generally classified as a social science, I have always been a humanities-oriented type. One reason I gravitated toward anthropology as a discipline was because its research approach and methods encouraged us to listen carefully to the stories people told us and to record those stories ‘in their own words.’”
Mattingly is perhaps best known to occupational therapists for her scholarship, beginning in the 1980s, on the clinical reasoning of occupational therapy practitioners. Along with Maureen Fleming, Mattingly’s 1991 articles published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy as well as their 1994 book, Clinical Reasoning: Forms of Inquiry in a Therapeutic Practice, are considered seminal works on the topic of occupational therapists’ clinical reasoning and actions during patient care encounters.
Projects aim to improve health status of vulnerable L.A. populations
Erin Malia Sako MA ’18 and Allie Schmiesing MA ’18, first-year students in the division’s entry-level occupational therapy professional program, have been selected to the 2017-2018 class of Los Angeles Albert Schweitzer Fellows.
The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship supports university graduate students who conceive and implement projects designed to improve the health and well-being of vulnerable populations. Schweitzer Fellows partner with area organizations to identify an unmet health need, design a 200-hour service project with demonstrable impact, and usher the project from conception to implementation.
Sako will conduct her fellowship at the Painted Brain where she will serve people in Central Los Angeles County who are labeled with mental illness and address the need for accessible, affordable community-based programs that focus on managing stress and reducing stigma. With a community space located in Los Angeles’ Koreatown district, Painted Brain aims to provide sustainable community-based programs and solutions using arts, advocacy and enterprise for people living with mental health challenges.
Schmiesing has designed a program for older adults living in the greater Los Angeles community based upon research in the gerontology and occupational science literature that supports the use of reminiscence and inter-generational programs to improve quality of life among older adults. In conjunction with partners Front Porch and LifeBio, Schmiesing will facilitate participants’ reflection and storytelling to improve positive self-concept and quality of life across a variety of measures.
According to new data released by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy®, all 132 of USC’s new graduates successfully passed the Occupational Therapist Registered OTR® certification examination during the 2016 calendar year. This 100 percent passing rate was also accompanied by the highest average passing score of any Trojan cohort during the past three years on record.
The OTR certification examination — a four-hour test including three clinical simulations and 170 multiple choice items — is designed to validate a person’s essential knowledge for effective occupational therapy practice. NBCOT is the national certification organization for occupational therapy professionals in the United States which oversees the OTR examination. In California, OTR certification is a requirement for new clinicians to receive a license issued by the state in order to practice.
“Thank you to all of our faculty members whose diligent efforts ensure USC students are prepared for earning their national certification,” said USC Chan Associate Dean and Chair Grace Baranek PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA. “And congratulations to our 132 newest Trojan occupational therapists who will surely have long and successful careers ahead of them.”
USC alumni last achieved a collective 100 percent examination pass rate during the 2014 calendar year, when all 118 new graduates successfully earned their OTR certification.