Meet the Class of 2018
May 7, 2018
Before the 135th USC Commencement ceremony on Friday, May 11, meet some of the outstanding Trojans receiving degrees in occupational science and occupational therapy.
Melody McKay, Master of Arts Degree in Occupational Therapy
Amid the hustle and bustle of studying for her “final finals” of graduate school, Melody McKay MA ’18 still seeks the same work-life balance she has been mastering since her first day in USC Chan’s master’s degree in occupational therapy program.
McKay represents numerous grad students who have transitioned from previous professions to a career in occupational therapy. After she earned her bachelor’s degree at Stanford University, McKay pursued her passion for working with people though Human Resources. But it was during maternity leave with her first child that she discovered occupational therapy and, with a three-month-old at home, enrolled in prerequisite courses.
“When I was accepted to USC, I was pregnant with my second child,” McKay says. “I was so excited but wondered, ‘How am I going to manage this?’”
Two years later with two young children, McKay is one of many Trojans who are not only full-time students but full-time parents as well.
“I could not have finished the program without an amazing support system: my husband and mom,” McKay says.
And the most significant mantra for her successes at USC Chan is also one she hopes to communicate to her future clients once she becomes a licensed occupational therapist.
“Through USC, I learned that lifestyle balance is about choosing what matters to you most.” — Bryan Kang MA ’18
Diego Lopez, Master of Arts Degree in Occupational Therapy
Diego Lopez ’16, MA ’18, characterizes his time at Troy as a transformative experience — and one that didn’t just begin with graduate studies at USC Chan.
As an undergraduate, the Pasadena native threw javelin for USC Track & Field and was team co-captain when his passion for occupational therapy was ignited, thanks to Assistant Clinical Professor Kate Crowley.
“She inspired me to earn a minor in occupational science, to become an advocate for persons living with disabilities and, ultimately, to teach,” Lopez says. “It’s been an amazing journey.”
Mentorship from Crowley has continued into Lopez’s time in the USC Chan master’s degree program, and this past spring he served as a teaching assistant in that very same undergraduate course in which he was once a student himself.
After graduation, Lopez will keep studying at USC Chan for his clinical occupational therapy doctorate degree, and is already looking ahead to the fall semester when he will be an OTD resident working at Los Angeles City College. At LACC, he will be providing clinical services to student populations, and plans to create an “Intro to OT” course available to all LACC students.
Now that he feels equipped to make a positive difference in peoples’ lives through occupational therapy, Lopez is quick to express his gratitude. Given his experiences and ambitions, the advice he offers to incoming students is no surprise.
“Take time to get to know the teachers in the program. We have this amazing opportunity to benefit from expertise and experience that extends far beyond the classroom.” — Evan Nicholas MA ’19
Kelcie Kadowaki, Doctorate of Occupational Therapy Degree
“Say yes to everything.”
That’s the advice of Kelcie Kadowaki MA ’17, OTD ’18 after looking back on the past year in USC Chan’s occupational therapy doctorate degree program. OTD students like Kadowaki spend a year embedded on the front lines at clinical residency sites across Southern California to learn how health services programs and systems work — and to find innovative ways to help them perform even better.
At the USC Occupational Therapy Faculty Practice, Kadowaki has been treating fellow Trojans through the USC Lifestyle Redesign for College Students program while sharing the good news with USC physicians about occupational therapy’s unique role in improving student mental health and wellness. The topic is more timely than ever, as across the nation students continue reporting rising rates of mental health challenges while institutions deploy responsive ways to more comprehensively address their needs.
In the College Students program, Kadowaki works alongside students to help them develop occupation-based habits and routines in order to better manage stress and anxiety, use time more productively and to cope with the ever-shifting demands of campus life.
“I understand the struggle that any college student can experience,” Kadowaki says, “and want them to know that people are available here to help.” — Mike McNulty ’06, MA ’09, OTD ’10
Carol Haywood, PhD Degree in Occupational Science
Carol Haywood PhD ’18 is now in the home stretch of her journey to earning a PhD in Occupational Science from USC Chan, and looking back, she has her share of lessons learned.
“The type of research you do and the ways you demonstrate your competency as a scholar and researcher will-slash-should be unique from your peers,” Haywood says. “It took some time for me to realize this, but it’s been important to identify ways to make program requirements and related benchmarks fit what’s true to me and my passions.”
Haywood’s dissertation research focused on understanding lived experiences of adolescents and young adults with a spinal cord injury and their caregivers. With support of her advisor, Professor Mary Lawlor, Haywood simultaneously pursued her passion for patient engagement. She was awarded a series of Pipeline-to-Proposal awards from the federally-sponsored Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to collaborate with young adults with chronic conditions for research planning. The goal of that work is making research and practice more relevant and relatable to patient populations and other stakeholders.
Haywood is already looking to what lies ahead in her academic journey. She plans to advance her training through a postdoctoral fellowship, continue work related to her PCORI grant and prioritize a few summer travel adventures for good measure.
In the spirit of paying it forward, Haywood encourages future PhD students to access experts and discover shared interests, whether that’s during the first year of doctoral studies or after 30 years of research.
“I’ve “fangirl-ed” a few times in my PhD experience,” Haywood says. “Meeting and working with scholars whose work I’ve long admired has been surreal and intimidating. But what I’ve consistently experienced has been an unexpected willingness of many experts to converse and collaborate with me; It’s been a refreshing reminder that we’re all humans who share passions and common interests.” — Erika Lim MA ’18