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

Linah AlShaalan >(she/her)

Faculty Mentor: Mary Lawlor ScD, OTR/L, FAOTA

Research Lab: Sensory Integration Engagement and Family Life (SIEFL)

Year of Entry: 2018

Linah AlShaalan

I am a PhD student working in the Sensory Integration Engagement and Family Life lab under the guidance of Dr. Mary Lawlor. Our lab’s current focus is to understand the lived experiences, strengths, and needs of autistic individuals as they transition into adulthood and participate in their communities. My role in the lab involves helping out with organizing the lab’s workflow, coding qualitative data, and contributing to writing grants as a research assistant.

My research interests include neurodiversity, autism, disability, and adapting social network analysis methods to understand the role of social connectivity within neurodiverse groups, specifically autism. For my dissertation project, I am planning on using a mixed methods design that includes both qualitative and social network analysis methods to understand social connectivity of autistic adults in an effort to highlight real life examples of benign neurodiverse differences that may be commonly labeled as deficits through the paradigm of the medical model of disability.

Elisa Apra >

Faculty Mentor: Mary Lawlor ScD, OTR/L, FAOTA

Research Lab: Sensory Integration, Engagement and Family Life lab

Year of Entry: 2019

Elisa Apra

My research interests focus on improving the lives of people with mental illness through occupational science. I’m particularly interested in how technology can be employed in new ways to support day-to-day occupational performance, as well as the power of narrative in relation to mental health, especially in the Asian American community and other underserved populations. In the Sensory Integration, Engagement and Family Life lab, I am currently supporting research projects examining the experiences of autistic adolescents and young adults.

Emily Campi MA, OTR/L >

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

Research Lab: Innovations in Neurodevelopmental Sensory Processing Research (insp!re)

Year of Entry: 2019

Emily Campi

In my current role as a PhD student, I am involved in assessment training and video coding for the Parents and Infants Engaged (PIE) intervention study, which is a “proof of concept” of the PIE intervention for infants at-risk for neurodevelopmental disorders. I am also participating in the efforts of the insp!re lab to develop early screening tools and parent-mediated interventions for autism and related neurodevelopmental disorders by contributing to various ongoing research studies.

My long-term research interests include investigating the impact of a neurodevelopmental diagnosis on the entire family unit, including caregiver balance of engagement across occupations. I am especially interested in the impact of homelessness on caregiver role balance and the caregiver-child relationship as it relates to neurodevelopment.

Elizabeth Choi 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

My main research interests relate to infant, toddler, and child development, particularly in premature populations and populations at elevated likelihood for a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder and/or other neurodevelopmental disorders. I aim to contribute to an understanding of occupational development with a focus on the role and trajectory of communication in supporting occupational engagement. I am also interested in investigating the impact of occupational engagement on the development of language and social communication skills. I seek to explore how caregiver-infant bonding dynamics across co-occupations such as feeding, especially in terms of caregiver response to infant cues and infant solicitations, can impact infants’ social and communicative development. In the insp!re lab, I am coordinating the Southern California Child Development Survey to obtain norms on early sensory regulation and social communication development in 6- to 16-month-old infants through parent report. I am also 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 6- to 16-month-old infants using biobehavioral and neurophysiological measures.

My career interests include bridging the knowledge gaps between occupational science and speech, language, and hearing sciences with therapies and practice and in 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.

Dominique Como >

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

Research Lab: Sensory Adapted Dental Environments Lab

Year of Entry: 2016

Dominique Como

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.

Miranda Donnelly MS, OTR/L >

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

Research Lab: Neural Plasticity and Neurorehabilitation Lab

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)

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

Research Lab: Musculoskeletal Sonography and Occupational Performance (MSOP) lab

Year of Entry: 2021

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) Lab

Year of Entry: 2021

Marshae Franklin

I am a PhD Student in the Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy working under the direction of Dr. Amber Angell in the DREAmS Lab. I am honored to be a member of the DREAmS Lab team, where I can explore my research interests, which center around the lived experiences of neurotypical and neurodivergent individuals as they relate to mental health and health equity. In alignment with the lab’s mission, I am particularly interested in the impact of mental health conditions on occupational performance among Black autistic girls and women, which has been significantly understudied. As a clinician and a future occupational scientist, my goal is to utilize community-based participatory research to amplify the voices of historically underrepresented and underserved populations in the literature to promote equitable access to diagnosis, quality health services, and wellbeing.

Yoko Ellie Fukumura >

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

Research Lab: Musculoskeletal Sonography and Occupational Performance Lab

Year of Entry: 2019

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.

Bethany A. Gruskin OTR/L >(she/her)

Faculty Mentor: Bobbi Pineda PhD, OTR/L, CNT

Research Lab: NICU Therapy Lab

Year of Entry: 2021

Bethany Gruskin

To provide a brief background of my research experience, I joined the Back 2 Baby Basics (B2BB) research lab as an undergraduate research assistant. With a focus on early childhood temperament, my roles within this project included interacting directly with participants to collect data, coding videos for specific behaviors, entering and correcting information in datasets, and training new undergraduate research assistants. Upon graduation, I joined another Penn State project — the Study of Infant Emergent Sleep TrAjectories Family Foundations (SIESTA-FF) — as a full-time Human Research Technologist I. As a member of the start-up team for this National Institute of Child Health and Human Development funded clinical trial, I worked closely with the Principal Investigator and the project coordinator to create operating procedures, ensure efficient protocols for data collection and entry, and recruit couples, who were first-time parents. After this initial startup process, I worked directly with families through each stage of the project, including informed consent and data collection. As a project based in human development and family studies the terminology diverged, but ultimately, we were looking at occupations, co-occupations, roles, and routines within the emerging family unit. With this foundation, I pursued my Master of Science in Occupational Therapy at the University of New England and graduated in May 2021.

I am currently enrolled as an Occupational Science PhD student at the University of Southern California, immersed in Dr. Pineda’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Therapy Lab. My research interests focus on the outcomes of developmentally vulnerable infants and their families, especially pertaining to neurodevelopment, environment, and familial transitions. As a member of Dr. Pineda’s research team, I am responsible for collaborating with lab members to support research regarding the Supporting and Enhancing Neonatal Sensory Experience (SENSE) program, other projects evaluating neonatal outcomes post-NICU admission, and longitudinal follow-ups. My long-term goal is to promote positive outcomes for infants, caregivers, and therapeutic providers in the NICU through research.

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