University of Southern California
University of Southern California
Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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Research
Research

Current PhD Students

Yun-Ju (Claire) Chen

Faculty Mentor: Grace Baranek PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA

Research Lab: Baranek ASD and Neurodevelopment Lab

Year of Entry: 2017

Yun-Ju (Claire) Chen

Education

MS in Medical Sciences (Neuropsychiatry)
Keio University, Japan

BS in Occupational Therapy
National Taiwan University

Research Interests

My current research projects are centered around the validation/refinement of a parent-report measure (First Years Inventory) designed to identify young infants at risk for a later diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). I am interested in early identification of ASD — specifically behavioral and neurobiological markers and their applications to clinical practices.

Raymond Hernandez

Faculty Mentor: Beth Pyatak PhD, OTR/L, CDE

Research Lab: Chronic Conditions in Young Adulthood

Year of Entry: 2017

Raymond Hernandez

Education

MS in Occupational Therapy
California State University, Dominguez Hills

BS in Psychobiology
University of California, Los Angeles

Research Interests

My research interest lies in exploring the occupation of “rest,” or more specifically, the “relaxation response” as explained by Dr. Herbert Benson at Massachusetts General Hospital: “a wakeful hypometabolic physiological state” that is the opposite of the fight or flight response. Regular elicitation of the relaxation response is believed to help people reduce their responsivity to stressors and increase resiliency. There is a large body of research to support practices such as yoga and meditation as effective methods to elicit the relaxation response. One interesting question is whether the occupations people self-identify as relaxing can elicit the “relaxation response” in a manner comparable to yoga and meditation. Another interesting question is whether “rest” can be conceptualized as a skill.

How is this all important to OT? In all OT areas of practice, stress has some degree of influence. For example, studies using both animal and human models have suggested that increases in the amount of stress experienced can increase wound healing time. If this is the case, then as part of holistic care in physical rehabilitation settings, OTs can encourage clients to regularly elicit the relaxation response and problem solve obstacles to doing so. Theoretically, this would increase resiliency to stress and hence reduce healing time.

My goal in doing this research is to expand the evidence base around the occupation of “rest” to the point where findings can be utilized in OT practice to improve the health and quality of life of the individuals and populations we serve.

Christiana Butera

Faculty Mentor: Lisa Aziz-Zadeh PhD

Research Lab: A-Z Lab

Year of Entry: 2016

Christiana Butera

Education

MEd in Mind, Brain, and Education
Harvard Graduate School of Education

BA in Psychology
Wheaton College

Research Interests

I am a PhD student in the Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. I work in the A-Z Lab under the guidance of Dr. Lisa Aziz-Zadeh at the Brain and Creativity Institute. The project I work on is an fMRI study exploring social and motor connections in the brain in children who are typically developing, or who have a diagnosis of Developmental Coordination Disorder or Autism Spectrum Disorder. I graduated from Wheaton College with a B.A. in Psychology and received my EdM from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Mind, Brain and Education. I’m interested in the connections in motor and socio-emotional networks in the brain, embodied cognition, and the neural impact of movement and exercise in typically and atypically developing populations.

Sandy Takata

Faculty Mentor: Shawn C. Roll PhD, OTR/L, RMSKS, FAOTA

Research Lab: Musculoskeletal Sonography and Occupational Performance Lab

Year of Entry: 2016

Sandy Takata

Education

OTD in Occupational Therapy
University of Southern California

MA in Occupational Therapy
University of Southern California

BA in Psychology
University of California, Irvine

Research Interests

As a career scientist, I aspire to conduct translational research that informs interventions and strengthens the evidence-base for hand therapy practice. I am interested in exploring novel assessment and intervention methods that promote holistic treatment, as well as facilitate patient adherence and engagement in their own recovery to maximize occupational performance in daily life. My current work involves examining these concepts from both theoretical and applied perspectives. I am conducting a literature review on the concepts of adherence, as well as evaluating a set of qualitative data regarding the experience of patients who received mind-body interventions as part of their hand therapy. In addition to this work, I am actively involved in exploring the use of sonographic imaging as a technique for understanding musculoskeletal pathologies in the upper extremities. Specifically, I am supporting research in the lab that uses imaging to evaluate the impact of occupational performance on changes in the median nerve. As part of this study, we are also conducting a meta-analysis that will identify reference values for the typical size of the median nerve in healthy subjects using musculoskeletal sonography. As I move forward into my own independent work, I hope to apply these concepts (i.e., adherence/engagement, musculoskeletal sonography, occupational performance) in evaluating hand therapy assessment and rehabilitation techniques. My current focus is using these concepts to enhance patient recovery and return to meaningful occupations following tendon injury and repair.

Cristin Holland

Faculty Mentor: Barbara Thompson PhD

Research Lab: Social and Emotional Neurodevelopment Lab

Year of Entry: 2016

Cristin Holland

Education

MOT in Occupational Therapy
Worcester State University

BA in Psychology
University of Massachusetts Amherst

Research Interests

My research pursuits within the Social and Emotional Neurodevelopment Lab center on the intersection of neurodevelopment and social-emotional behavior, particularly within dyadic interactions. These dyadic interactions encompass mother-infant and adult-child laboratory interactions, in addition to therapist-child interactions. Dyadic interactions are important arenas for social-emotional learning and skill acquisition. I am interested in how developmental, neurological, and physiological factors impact social engagement in typically developing children and children with neurodevelopmental disorders. Additionally, I am interested in the development of social engagement across early childhood and the lasting impact of disrupting the developmental trajectory. I use a combination of standardized assessments and detailed behavior coding to investigate social-emotional phenomena occurring across a variety of dyadic interactions. Currently, I am exploring differences in social engagement during play in typically developing children and those with Autism Spectrum Disorders to better understand social and emotional behavior. Another avenue of my research focuses on integrating occupational therapists’ and children’s behaviors during sensory integration intervention sessions to better understand the complexities of intervention success and investigate the impacts of the therapeutic relationship during this intervention. My research on dyadic interactions aims to further elicit mechanisms of engagement that influence social and emotional development.

Kaori (Lily) Ito

Faculty Mentor: Sook-Lei Liew PhD, OTR/L

Research Lab: Neural Plasticity and Neurorehabilitation Lab

Year of Entry: 2016

Kaori (Lily) Ito

Education

MA in Occupational Therapy
University of Southern California

BS in Cognitive Science
University of California, Los Angeles

Research Interests

Stroke is a neurological disorder that can leave an individual with lasting motor impairments. Among a wide range of factors that can influence stroke recovery, hemispheric dominance relative to the stroke — that is, whether a stroke is in a person’s dominant or non-dominant hemisphere — is likely to have a significant impact on function. For example, an individual whose stroke is in the dominant hemisphere may have difficulty performing daily activities that depend on the dominant hand, such as hand-writing and teeth-brushing.

At the Neural Plasticity and Neurorehabilitation Lab, I’m interested in understanding the effects of stroke laterality on neural plasticity and its implication on stroke recovery and rehabilitation. Through the use of functional MRI, I’m studying changes in brain activity and connectivity in motor-related networks following a stroke using various statistical modeling techniques, such as GLM-weighted correlation analyses and dynamic causal modeling.

Dominique Como

Faculty Mentor: Sharon Cermak EdD, OTR/L, FAOTA

Research Lab: Sensory Adapted Dental Environments Lab

Year of Entry: 2016

Dominique Como

Education

MA in Occupational Therapy
University of Southern California

MEd in Policy, Planning & Administration
Boston University

BA (double major) in Psychology; Religious Studies
Arizona State University

Research Interests

I am currently a PhD student helping to administer this federally funded study which aims to reduce stress during dental visits for children with Autism through environmental adaptations. In my role as a graduate research assistant I work with children diagnosed with Autism and their families to carry out study related activities including consenting, diagnosis verification [Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS-2)] and set up and data collection during the intervention. In addition, I am also one of the members of the team that is responsible for coding our primary outcome measure.

I am also incredibly interested in aiding underserved populations and improving patient-provider interactions. As such, I have sought out opportunities to continue to strengthen the cultural responsiveness of Occupational Therapy practitioners by providing trainings to students and entry-level clinicians at national conferences and as a guest lecturer for entry level occupational therapy educational programs. I hope to continue this in some capacity in the future as my own research interests include serving individuals with autism, addressing health disparities and improving patient-provider relationships.

Mark Hardison

Faculty Mentor: Shawn C. Roll PhD, OTR/L, RMSKS, FAOTA

Research Lab: Musculoskeletal Sonography and Occupational Performance Lab

Year of Entry: 2014

Mark Hardison

Education

MS in Occupational Therapy
Tufts University

BA in Psychology with Minor in Music
University of Rochester

Research Interests

I am a licensed and registered occupational therapist and PhD candidate in the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. Within the MSOP lab, I act as a research assistant on the currently funded R01 grant which is investigating carpal tunnel syndrome within the dental hygiene profession. Also, I have assisted in coordinating the recently completed mind-body hand therapy study which piloted mindfulness and biofeedback interventions in hand therapy. My research interests span the treatment of musculoskeletal disorders, mind-body interventions for occupational therapy, and motivational psychology.

Carin Wong

Faculty Mentor: Natalie Leland PhD, OTR/L, BCG, FAOTA

Research Lab: Rehabilitation Health Services Research Lab

Year of Entry: 2014

Carin Wong

Education

MS in Gerontology
University of Southern California

BS in Human Development and Aging
University of Southern California

Research Interests

My research is focused on nursing home activity engagement.  Many nursing home residents are found to be inactive and do not engage in meaningful activities. This lack of engagement can contribute to a loss of physical function, social isolation, depression, and a lower quality of life. Conversely, residents who are engaged have a higher quality of life, less depression, and greater overall well-being. However, there is limited research on appropriate activity-based interventions for residents and how activity sessions are designed and provided. Thus, my research is on understanding current practices for activity engagement in nursing homes with a focus on how activities are currently provided for nursing home residents and how residents are engaged in activities.

Emily Kilroy

Faculty Mentor: Lisa Aziz-Zadeh PhD and Sharon Cermak EdD, OTR/L, FAOTA

Research Lab: A-Z Lab

Year of Entry: 2013

Emily Kilroy

Education

MS in Developmental Neuroscience and Psychopathology
University College London

BA in Behavioral Neuroscience Concentration in Psychology
Purdue University

Research Interests

My research focuses on the relationship between social and motor deficits in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). I use behavioral and neuroimaging techniques such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to better understand how sensorimotor brain systems contribute to both social and motor deficits in ASD compared to typically developing children.

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