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

Research Interests

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

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 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

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(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

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, FAOTA

Research Lab: Lifestyle Redesign for Chronic Conditions (LRCC)

Year of Entry: 2017

Raymond Hernandez

Research Interests

My research interest lies in contributing to efforts to understand the demands of everyday activities and their impact on well-being, capacity for self-regulation, and cognitive performance. The overall demand of an activity can be measured by considering all its different types of demands including those mental, physical, emotional (e.g., frustration), and temporal (e.g., time pressure) in nature. These demands come with an associated physiological stress response, and as such there is a limit to the total amount of demands our bodies can experience. Whether or not activities are truly stressful or relaxing, physiologically, may depend on the demands required by them.

My current goals are to help advance measurement of activity demands through self-report, and in the future, to capture the physiological effects of the total demands placed on our bodies using smartphones and/or wearable technology. My goal is to develop tools that will provide metrics to help people determine if their everyday pattern of activities need to be adjusted (e.g., changing the number of high or low demand activities in which they engage) to improve or maintain well-being, capacity for self-regulation, and/or cognitive performance.

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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