Faculty / Staff Resources Student Resources
University of Southern California
University of Southern California
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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Current PhD Students

Stuti Chakraborty ⟩(she/her/hers)

Faculty Mentor: Sook-Lei Liew PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA
Research Lab: Neural Plasticity and Neurorehabilitation (NPNL)
Year of Entry: 2022

Stuti Chakraborty

My research interests involve understanding the neural mechanisms behind recovery from stroke and traumatic brain injury. I am interested in the use of functional and structural neuroimaging methods to determine regions of the brain affected in stroke to develop improved outcomes for recovery and also to aid in the understanding of disease processes. I have prior experience in the use of non-invasive brain stimulation to enhance motor skills in stroke patients with mild to moderate deficits. As an Occupational Therapist trained in one of the largest tertiary care hospitals in India, I have had the opportunity to work with a wide range of patients with neurological disorders, stroke being the most common. At the Neural Plasticity and Neurorehabilitation Lab, I look forward to combining my previous clinical training as an OT with my interest in neuroimaging to design, test and validate programs that are better equipped to treat and detect stroke lesions.

Elizabeth Choi-Tucci MS, CCC-SLP ⟩(she, her)

Faculty Mentor: Grace Baranek PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA
Research Lab: Innovations in Neurodevelopmental Sensory Processing Research (insp!re)
Year of Entry: 2018

Elizabeth Choi-Tucci

My career interests include bridging the knowledge gaps between occupational science and speech, language, and hearing sciences and moving both disciplines and related professions toward societal and global action. I hope to contribute to the development and support of multidisciplinary knowledge mobilization teams and research-clinical-stakeholder partnerships.

The Parent Expectations, Aspirations, and Concerns for Children (PEACCh) study is my mixed-methods dissertation project exploring the impact of sociocultural/socioeconomic and birth-related influences on infant development. One major goal of this research is to address persistent disparities in autism diagnoses that impact families from historically marginalized groups. Using an intersectional framework, I am explicitly incorporating sociodemographic factors as interdependent, intertwined, and reflective of social and power dynamics (such as racism and oppression). Part of my research includes using narrative-based interviews to gain a contextualized understanding of one aspect of developmental surveillance — caregiver concerns — that is crucial for taking steps toward addressing existing service gaps, changing public policies for promoting infant and child health, and improving early infant care.

In the insp!re lab, I am supporting research in the Sensory and Social Development in Infants and Toddlers project, a longitudinal study examining individual differences in sensory regulation and social communication development in infants using biobehavioral and neurophysiological measures. I was also the project coordinator of the Southern California Child Development Survey, an ongoing study to obtain norms on early sensory regulation and social communication development in 6- to 16-month-old infants through parent report.

Zama Dlamini MPH ⟩

Zama Dlamini

Sanibona!(Hello) My background is Public Health and my work has involved working with marginalized communities. I am from South Africa, and I’m currently a PhD student in Occupational Science under the guidance and support of Dr. Aldrich and Dr. Roll, and I am working as a research assistant to support the work that is currently taking place in Dr. Aldrich’s lab. Broadly speaking, my research interests revolve around occupational justice and the intersection of indigenous African health systems, culture, and management of chronic health conditions. One of my favorite quotes is by Dr. Molefi Kete Asante, a researcher, author, and professor in the discipline of Africana Studies, which highlights the importance of a culturally and historically grounded approach to studying people’s lived reality: “It’s not who we study, it’s how we study.”

Caitlin G. Dobson OTR/L ⟩

Faculty Mentor: Alison M. Cogan PhD, OTR/L
Research Lab: Rehabilitation and Functional Recovery Studies in Health Services (ReFReSH)
Year of Entry: 2023

Caitlin Dobson

My research interests have been informed by my practice as a home health occupational therapist in the California Central Valley from 2018 to 2023. My work in Dr. Cogan’s lab has focused on Medicare policy changes and disorders of consciousness among patients with brain injuries. I am especially interested in how health policy affects occupation, particularly among individuals who have conditions with unpredictable, nonlinear, or lengthy recovery times. I am also interested in narratives describing how transitioning to another social context or role affects social participation and the occupational challenges that arise.

Miranda Donnelly MS, OTR/L ⟩

Faculty Mentor: Sook-Lei Liew PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA
Research Lab: Neural Plasticity and Neurorehabilitation (NPNL)
Year of Entry: 2019

Miranda Donnelly

I am interested in innovations that serve people with neurologic conditions and support their everyday needs through meaningful engagement with technology. In the Neural Plasticity and Neurorehabilitation Lab, I support research projects that leverage technology to enhance stroke rehabilitation, including the development and testing of a game-based telerehabilitation muscle-computer interface that provides electromyography (EMG) biofeedback for chronic stroke survivors with upper extremity hemiparesis. Additionally, I help manage the stroke lesion segmentation and processing pipeline for the ENIGMA Stroke Recovery working group, which uses large datasets of post-stroke brain images to study how brain structural changes influence function after stroke.

As an occupational scientist and therapist with clinical experience in adult neurologic rehabilitation, I value holistic rehabilitation. The sensorimotor, cognitive, psychological, social, and emotional recovery domains are complexly interwoven into the fabric of identity. When traditional rehabilitation approaches these domains separately, I believe we miss opportunities for people to have a deeper sense of alignment between their pre and post injury sense of self and belonging. My career interest is to study the intersection of technology, health, and occupation to empower people to live meaningful lives that reflect their values and identity.

Yiyang (Sunny) Fang OTD, OTR/L ⟩(she/her/hers)

Yiyang (Sunny) Fang

My research interests are focused on prevention of work-related musculoskeletal injuries in the upper extremity and ergonomics to reduce pain and discomfort. I am particularly interested in behavioral prevention strategies to help workers in industries that have high risk for developing work-related injuries. I am currently working on a research project that assesses the risk of musculoskeletal injuries in dental hygiene students.

Marshae Franklin OTD, MSOT, OTR/L ⟩(she/her/hers)

Faculty Mentor: Amber Angell PhD, OTR/L
Research Lab: Disparity Reduction and Equity in Autism Services (DREAmS)
Year of Entry: 2021

Marshae Franklin

As a PhD student in the Disparity Reduction and Equity in Autism Services (DREAmS) lab under the direction of Dr. Amber Angell, I use qualitative methods to gather in-depth knowledge about the lived experiences of underrepresented and underserved families of autistic girls. In alignment with the mission of the DREAmS lab, I am particularly interested in promoting authentic ‘belonging’ and increasing participation for vulnerable populations (e.g., neurodiverse and BIPOC) in various social spaces. Currently, my research centers around using participatory action research approaches (e.g., photovoice) to explore the experiences of neurodivergent women of color in higher education. As an occupational scientist and therapist, I seek to amplify the voices of historically marginalized populations. While closing knowledge gaps is critical, my scholarly work is also action-oriented, i.e., equipping readers with steps to improve diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, and belonging (DEIJB) outcomes for those at the margins.

Yoko Ellie Fukumura ⟩

Yoko Ellie Fukumura

Workplace injury continues to prevail despite guidelines and policy level change. Through the PhD program, I hope to further understand musculoskeletal injury from an occupational science perspective to change the ways in which we address injury prevention. As a research assistant in the Musculoskeletal Sonography and Occupational Performance lab, I am working on an interdisciplinary project to create an office workstation that uses machine learning to promote health behavior change and prevent injury. We are currently studying ergonomics of computer users to develop an algorithm that accurately senses the user’s posture in a pilot study. Through this study, we also hope to enhance our understanding of ergonomics and human behavior at the office workstation. I hope to apply the knowledge I gain from this project to address injury prevention in musicians in the future.

Sahar Ghahramani ⟩(she/her/hers)

Faculty Mentor: Bobbi Pineda PhD, OTR/L, CNT
Research Lab: NICU Therapy
Year of Entry: 2023

Sahar Ghahramani

I firmly believe that every experience you have, every choice you make, and every encounter you have with the universe is a chance to grow and learn and this was proven to me more and more up until this moment!

I come from the beautiful country of Iran, where I pursued my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. My academic path took me into the realm of pediatric therapy, particularly focusing on children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). For three years, I had the privilege of working mostly with these incredible young minds, helping them find their unique paths to play, learning, and childhood.

My time as a therapist, which began during my master’s studies, was rewarding yet left me with countless questions, serving as a constant reminder of the vast knowledge yet to be uncovered. It was during my master’s program that my academic orientation shifted as I embarked on a six-month internship at a prominent Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) center in the Middle East. This experience not only deepened my fascination with neonatal care but also laid the foundation for my research interests. My current focus revolves around the SENSE program in the NICU and the field of implementation science within this context. I’m particularly intrigued by the development and application of implementation strategies aimed at enhancing the accessibility of interventions within NICUs.

I have a fascination for research. The process of piecing together studies into comprehensive literature reviews gives me a unique sense of fulfillment. Writing the introductory section of a research article, followed by the anticipation of feedback from reviewers, is a thrilling journey of its own.

Savannah Gluck ⟩(she/her)

Faculty Mentor: Grace Baranek PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA
Research Lab: Innovations in Neurodevelopmental Sensory Processing Research (insp!re)
Year of Entry: 2022

Savannah Gluck

My research interests are focused on early indicators that may lead to an autism diagnosis, including sensory processing and communication differences. I am particularly interested in strengths-based parent education in relationship to screening, diagnosis, and early-intervention. As a research assistant in the Innovations in Neurodevelopmental Sensory Processing Research (insp!re) lab, I am working on a project that will use Respiratory Sinus Arrythmia (RSA) levels of both infants and caregivers to measure parent engagement and synchrony during early occupations (such as play, sleep, feeding, etc).

Prior to my time as a PhD student, I worked clinically as an occupational therapist in schools and for California Children’s Services for 4 years. During this time, I identified a need for more understanding of the parent and child relationship and how this impacts early occupation and development in young children with neurodevelopmental disorders. I am eager to explore this relationship, among many others, under the guidance of Dr. Baranek.

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