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Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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Meet Our New Students: Auston Stamm MA ‘17 →

Aug 27, 2015, by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), in General News Student News

In advance of the USC Chan Division’s 2015 White Coat Ceremony on Friday, Aug. 28, we’re profiling three of the newest Trojan Family members: incoming occupational therapy students. For our final installment, meet Austom Stamm MA ‘17.

BY JOHN HOBBS MA ’14

Auston Stamm MA ’17 knows firsthand the impact an occupational therapist can have on the life of someone struggling with everyday tasks.

Born with mild cerebral palsy, Stamm, 25, has been seeing an occupational therapist since he was first diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 5 years old.

“Occupational therapy really changed my life,” Stamm says. “I would not have been able to succeed without it.”

At Friday’s 2015 White Coat Ceremony, Stamm’s success will be on full display as the young man, who once struggled with seemingly simple tasks, becomes one of the 205 USC Chan students to put on their white coats for the first time as occupational therapy students.

Finding His Own Way

It first became apparent that Stamm was different from other children after his grandmother began noticing that he had difficulty sitting up straight at the dinner table and struggling to use a fork. An MRI confirmed grandma’s suspicion that Stamm wasn’t just “gawky,” as his parents had believed. He had cerebral palsy.

While 80 percent of cerebral palsy cases in the United States are classified as hypertonic, characterized by spastic movements and extremely stiff muscles, Stamm was diagnosed with hypotonic cerebral palsy. This less prevalent type of cerebral palsy causes limp and weak muscles, which can give the individual a so-called “rag doll appearance.” They might have a tough time holding their head upright, standing and walking without assistance or maintaining proper posture.

As an elementary school kid, Stamm had trouble writing, using scissors and glueing together art projects. He also struggled (and still does) with some cognitive impairments caused by his cerebral palsy: difficulty remembering faces — he tries to remember people by their hairstyles or their voices — and even places — he relies on a GPS to navigate his way through the city, even to places he’s been many times before.

The condition made school tough for Stamm; he remembers being bullied in fourth grade after a teacher told the class they had to wait for Stamm, who had difficulty writing, to copy all the notes from the chalkboard before they could go to recess. When taking tests, Stamm could only get through half the questions in the allotted time, causing his grades to plummet. He says his mother was a fierce advocate for his education, putting him in a school for gifted students with learning disabilities and enlisting occupational and speech therapists to put her son on a better path.

With occupational therapy interventions, Stamm began adopting and adapting techniques and strategies to pass courses, including rapping his book reports (Fun fact: Mel Gibson, whose son went to school with Stamm, once complimented Stamm’s rapping skills at a parent’s day where Stamm “performed” his report.) Instead of making posters or dioramas for class, he made movies, casting his friends and family members and learning how to edit film using professional software by fifth grade.

When it came time to choose a career path, TV and film seemed to be a perfect fit. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Loyola Marymount in cinematography and film/video production in 2012 before going on to work for a production company for six months editing film trailers.

“Tricking people into seeing really bad movies wasn’t the most meaningful thing,” recalls Stamm, who began the process of soul searching for the ideal career.

Helping Others Find Their Way

Remembering a film he made as an undergrad about students with learning disabilities, Stamm began to realize he wanted a career where he could help others the way he had been helped. He contacted his childhood occupational therapist for advice and began shadowing occupational therapists in 2013 to get a better understanding of the profession.

“It was so inspiring to be in the room as these patients’ lives were being transformed,” Stamm says. “It reminded me of how far I’ve come and how I’d like to be able to give back.”

Stamm applied to several occupational therapy programs but chose USC Chan because he liked how welcoming it was of students with disabilities (he had the opportunity to speak with the late Dr. Neville-Jan and felt inspired by her story), how much scientific inquiry and discovery took place in the division, and, he says, it doesn’t hurt that USC Chan is the U.S. News & World Report’s top-ranked occupational therapy institution in the nation.

With the division’s annual White Coat Ceremony just one day away, Stamm credits his mother for her constant advocacy and for never giving up on him. He also feels really excited to be able to put on that white coat and take the professional oath of an occupational therapist.

“It’s like being at a fancy restaurant and the waiter pulls back the dome to reveal what’s for dinner,” he says. “I can’t wait to see even more from occupational therapy and help others the way I’ve been helped by occupational therapy.”

Meet Our New Students: Aviril “Apple” Sepulveda OTD ‘16 →

Aug 26, 2015, by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), in General News Student News

In advance of the USC Chan Division’s 2015 White Coat Ceremony on Friday, Aug. 28, we’re profiling three of the newest Trojan Family members: incoming occupational therapy students. Today, meet Aviril “Apple” Sepulveda OTD ‘16.

BY MIKE MCNULTY MA ’09, OTD ’10

It’s more than 7,000 miles, or an 18-hour airline flight, from Los Angeles to Cebu City, the second largest city in the Philippines. But in the heart and mind of Aviril Sepulveda, an incoming student in the USC Chan Division’s doctor of occupational therapy degree program, it’s infinitely closer.

Sepulveda, better known as “Apple” to her friends, was born, raised and educated in the Philippines.

She received her bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy from Velez College in Cebu City and came to the United States on a work visa in 2003. What she encountered when she arrived stateside opened her eyes to far greater potential — both for her career and for her own self.

“Being foreign-trained, occupational therapy [in the United States] was so different to me,” Sepulveda admits.

In the Philippines, her training seemed merely a first step on her path to an eventual medical degree. But in America, she discovered that occupational therapy wasn’t a stepping stone but a calling. “Occupational therapy was a great way to come to the U.S. for better opportunity, a better life,” she recalls.

During the dozen years since, Sepulveda has indeed grown to become a bona fide pediatric therapy specialist.

She has been a traveling therapist and works part-time at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where she provides outpatient services and has collaborated with pulmonology staff on research using VitalStim, a neuromuscular electrical stimulation modality, to treat dysphagia. She is also the director of rehabilitation at Totally Kids, a sub-acute facility in the San Fernando Valley, providing advanced care to medically fragile children often with complications such as tracheostomy tubes and mechanical ventilators. Thanks in part to her leadership, patient volume there has significantly grown.

Yet when Sepulveda celebrates her entrance into the USC Chan Division’s doctoral program at Friday’s White Coat Ceremony, her mind will most likely be focused on children living half a world away. That’s because her primary motivation to return to higher education is to improve the quality of life for Filipino children in her homeland.

Sepulveda certainly has her work cut out for her. In the mountainous rural areas outside of Cebu City especially, financial resources are constrained and healthcare infrastructure, access and education leaves much to be desired. As a result, occupational therapy is little appreciated and rarely delivered, which means children who might benefit from occupational therapy intervention develop greater degrees of otherwise avoidable disability.

But alongside her sister and USC alumna Bernardine “Berry” Sepulveda-Nikkel MA ’10, who lives in Cebu City and operates a private pediatric clinic there, Sepulveda has already begun turning the tide. “We are very grassroots, we have to be,” says Sepulveda.

Their efforts include regular outreach in remote villages where they coordinate, evaluate, consult with and educate local families. Sepulveda has also translated an evaluation questionnaire into Cebuano, a regional dialect related to similar Filipino languages, and also trains day care workers.

Sepulveda hopes that she will be able to successfully apply the education, skills and network that she will develop as a USC Chan doctoral student to service delivery models that can make an immediate and long-lasting impact back in the Philippines.

“My motivation is to further my education and background in order to prevent disability in the Philippines,” Sepulveda says, “by bringing knowledge, early awareness and intervention.”

Meet Our New Students: David Matharu ‘95, MA ‘17 →

Aug 25, 2015, by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), in General News Student News

In advance of the USC Chan Division’s 2015 White Coat Ceremony on Friday, Aug. 28, we’re profiling three of the newest Trojan Family members: incoming occupational therapy students. Today, meet David Matharu ‘95, MA ‘17.

BY YASMINE PEZESHKPOUR MCM ’17

Helping others is a family affair for David Matharu ’95, MA ’17.

His parents owned seven residential facilities in Los Angeles for adults with developmental disabilities.

His brother Yogi Matharu ’95, DPT ’98 is a practicing physical therapist, who works as an assistant professor in the USC Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy and is the director of that division’s faculty practice.

So when it came time for Matharu to start his own career more than 20 years ago, he decided to go into the family business by establishing Matharu Assisted Living Inc., an organization that runs single-family residences for adults with developmental disabilities. Today, there are four Matharu Assisted Living locations — two in Lawndale and two in Gardena — which provide housing to 24 individuals total.

In 2006, Matharu established Independent Horizons, a day program for adults with development disabilities. The program has since grown into two locations in Carson and Long Beach, serving 54 individuals each.

The power of occupational therapy
It was while working at these various programs that Matharu witnessed firsthand the impact that occupational therapy can make on the life of someone with a developmental disability.

“Observing our occupational therapists while they worked with our clients and realizing the impact that they make on the lives of these individuals is truly remarkable,” Matharu says.

It was this experience coupled with an inspiring orientation hosted by the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy that prompted the 44-year-old business owner to go back to school for his occupational therapy degree.

“I have a successful business working with adults with developmental disabilities,” he says.  “Although I love what I do, I wanted to work hands-on, in a clinical capacity, with my clients.” He also says he’d like to expand his horizons by working with other populations as well.

Back to school
As a self-described “business owner, property manager, administrator and human resource department all rolled into one,” Matharu plans to entrust his business with his partners and colleagues while he embarks upon full-time education.

“I am lucky to have a successful business that my wife Anita is managing while I complete my degree,” he explains. “Over the years, we have built a strong team of administrators and consultants to oversee to the day-to-day operation of the business. This made the decision to return to school full time easy.”

With all that he has achieved, Matharu hopes to apply what he has learned in his business to his studies.

“Twenty years of working in the real world and dealing with people has given me real-life experiences that are invaluable and will serve to make me a better therapist,” he says. “Had I gone to OT school immediately upon completion of my undergraduate degree, I would not be able to bring 20 years of experience into the classroom.”

Matharu will be one of 205 students donning their white coat and swearing their professional oaths for the first time on Aug. 28 as part of USC Chan’s annual White Coat Ceremony.

“The White Coat ceremony is a new beginning, a first step,” Matharu says. “I look forward to wearing my white coat for the first time and assuming this awesome responsibility, as well as everything else that it entails.”

Class of 2015: A Helper By Design →

May 13, 2015, by Mike McNulty, in General News Student News Alumni News

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.

BY JOHN HOBBS MA ’14

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.

Class of 2015: The Courage to Change →

May 7, 2015, by Mike McNulty, in General News Student News Alumni News

It took him nearly a decade, but Brian Wylie has found a career in occupational therapy that ties together his many disparate interests.

Brian Wylie

While one’s life is most often lived looking forward, it is perhaps best understood only by reflecting backwards.

For Brian Wylie MA ’15, a soon-to-be master’s degree graduate from the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, a decade of experiences will cohesively culminate at commencement.

“I have taken advantage of opportunities to do a whole lot of different things in my life,” says Wylie, a 33-year-old native of Novato, Calif., a Marin County suburb located in Northern California. “And now I can truly see how all these experiences led me to USC.”

After earning an undergraduate degree in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, Wylie embarked upon what he thought was his career calling by enrolling in the University of Notre Dame’s top-25 ranked law school. His career path seemed to unfurl before his eyes—except it didn’t.

“After a couple of months I knew that law school was just not for me,” Wylie recalls.

So he returned to Northern California, where he worked as a non-profit fundraiser for several years.

It wasn’t long before yet another opportunity came his way. In 2009, Wylie received a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Grant, which took him to Cheonan, South Korea, a city located 50 miles south of Seoul. There, he taught English to school children and lived in the home of a Korean host family.

“I was thrust into a situation that was so unfamiliar, not only professionally but also personally,” Wylie explains. In hindsight, Wylie realizes that this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity showed him not only who he was but—perhaps most importantly—who he wanted to become.

After a year teaching in South Korea, Wylie returned stateside, determined to pursue a career in the health professions.

As a former high school athlete and amateur Olympic-style weightlifter, he was interested in a field that could leverage his passion for physical activity. But equally important, as Wylie says, was finding a career that also integrated the all-important “human connection.”

While completing prerequisite courses through UC Berkeley Extension, Wylie earned a personal training certification, worked in corporate wellness settings to improve employee health and quality of life and even started his own personal training business.

After exploring many options, Wylie realized that a career in occupational therapy would combine many of the recurring themes spread across a decade of his personal and professional life.

“Working for a non-profit was about advocating for a cause and working for what you believe in,” Wylie says. “Teaching in Korea was not only about education but about reaching people across seemingly insurmountable barriers. Becoming a personal trainer and corporate coach reminded me of how passionate I am about physical activity, health and wellness.”

Wylie happily admits that he, in his own words, “stumbled” upon occupational therapy. But the various experiences that led him to the USC Chan Division only seem to make all the more sense as he looks ahead to the next chapter of his professional life.

“Occupational therapy holds a very unique place in the world, in society and in health care,” Wylie says, “and learning how I can be a part of that has been a very exciting process.”

But the soon-to-be graduate isn’t finished with his formal education just yet; he will be joining USC’s doctorate of occupational therapy degree program this August. As a doctoral resident based at the USC Occupational Therapy Faculty Practice located on the USC Health Sciences Campus, Wylie will continue advancing his education and interest in delivering lifestyle-based interventions to maintain and improve quality of life for people with chronic health conditions.

“This is a very special time for OT,” Wylie says, “and I want to see where I can make an impact to effect change on as large of a scale as possible.”

As for his advice to the USC occupational therapy master’s class of 2017, who begin the program in June, “Stay open, stay flexible,” Wylie says.

“It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day pressures of classes, papers and tests. But don’t lose sight of who you were when you began the program, how excited you were to come to USC and remember that ‘spirit of occupational therapy’ which we’re all in tune with.”

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.

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