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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Current PhD Students

Linah AlShaalan

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

Research Lab: Sensory Adapted Dental Environment Lab (SADE-2)

Year of Entry: 2018

Linah AlShaalan

Research Interests

I am a PhD student working in the Sensory Adapted Dental Environment (SADE) lab under Dr. Sharon Cermak. The study’s main aim is to reduce stress during dental visits for children diagnosed with autism through environmental adaptations. My role in the lab includes setting up the adapted dental environment, collecting data for the study and processing data, specifically coding electrodermal activity.

As a Saudi occupational therapist, I am interested in researching policies that aim to organize and elevate occupational therapy as a profession and occupational science as a basic science. Additionally, I am particularly interested in learning about establishing clinical protocols, similar to what is being researched in the lab I am currently working in, especially since occupational therapy is in its nascence in Saudi Arabia. The SADE lab also enables me to explore my passion for environmental adaptations that aim to improve specific occupations and promote accessibility for different populations with special needs.

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

Research Interests

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.

Christiana Butera

Faculty Mentor: Lisa Aziz-Zadeh PhD

Research Lab: A-Z Lab

Year of Entry: 2016

Christiana Butera

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.

Emily Campi

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

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

Year of Entry: 2019

Emily Campi

Research Interests

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.

Yun-Ju (Claire) Chen

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

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

Year of Entry: 2017

Yun-Ju (Claire) Chen

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.

Elizabeth Choi MS, CCC-SLP

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

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

Year of Entry: 2018

Elizabeth Choi

Research Interests

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

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.

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

Research Interests

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.

Raymond Hernandez

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

Research Lab: Lifestyle Redesign for Chronic Conditions (LRCC)

Year of Entry: 2017

Raymond Hernandez

Research Interests

My research interest lies in investigating the relationship between stress, activity patterns, and health/well-being outcomes. The psychological definition of stress is the perception that environmental demands exceed one’s ability to cope, accompanied by a negative emotional response. The endocrinological conceptualization of stress does not describe it as a negative emotional state, but just as a perception of demands resulting in an increase in alertness to deal with them. Researchers have theorized that it is not just the unpleasant psychologically stressful events of life like losing a job that can take their toll on health and well-being, but also excessive exposure to more ordinary endocrinologically stressful events like daily work, school, and caregiving tasks. Excessive endocrinological stress has been theorized to lead to greater allostatic load, or wear and tear on the body, that has been associated with poorer executive functioning (manifesting as decreased self-regulation), greater likelihood of long-term health issues such as cardiovascular disease, and greater incidence of mood disorders such as depression.

Questions I am interested in addressing include: “What activities result in endocrinological stress and which promote recovery from it?” and “How can endocrinological stress be assessed through self-report and/or wearable technology?” To help in answering them, for my dissertation I will assist in the collection and analysis of data for an R01 study, Function and Emotion in Everyday Life with Type 1 Diabetes (FEEL-T1D). In the FEEL project, 200 adults with t1d are asked to complete 14 days of intensive longitudinal data collection, including continuous blood glucose monitoring (CGM) and electronic momentary assessment (EMA) surveys administered through smartphones. The focus of my dissertation analysis will be on investigating the relationship between a theorized proxy measure of endocrinological stress (task load), activity engagement, daily well-being variables, and daily blood glucose.

Cristin Holland

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

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

Year of Entry: 2016

Cristin Holland

Research Interests

I am a third year PhD student in Occupational Science. I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy. I have clinical experience working as a pediatric occupational therapist within clinic, therapeutic school and residential treatment settings, with a focus on sensory integration. My research interests lie at the intersection of sensory processing and social-emotional development in typically developing children and children with neurodevelopmental disorders.

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