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.

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.

Yun-Ju (Claire) Chen

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

Research Lab: Baranek ASD and Neurodevelopment Lab

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: Baranek ASD and Neurodevelopment Lab

Year of Entry: 2018

Elizabeth Choi

Research Interests

My main research interests relate to infant and toddler development and growth. I am particularly interested in the role and trajectory of communication within infants’ and caregivers’ engagement in occupations such as the co-occupation of feeding. I also seek to explore how caregiver-infant bonding dynamics, especially in terms of caregiver response to infant cues and infant solicitations, can impact infants’ social and communicative development.

My career interests include bridging the knowledge gap between occupational science and speech, language, and hearing sciences with neonatal/infant therapies and practice. Additionally, I am interested in contributing to research involving best methods for evaluation of swallowing in breastfeeding infants and in developing noninvasive measures of swallowing function specifically for the breastfeeding population.

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.

Raymond Hernandez

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

Research Lab: Chronic Conditions in Young Adulthood

Year of Entry: 2017

Raymond Hernandez

Research Interests

My research interest lies in exploring the occupation of “rest,” or more specifically, the “relaxation response” as explained by Dr. Herbert Benson at Massachusetts General Hospital: “a wakeful hypometabolic physiological state” that is the opposite of the fight or flight response. Regular elicitation of the relaxation response is believed to help people reduce their responsivity to stressors and increase resiliency. There is a large body of research to support practices such as yoga and meditation as effective methods to elicit the relaxation response. One interesting question is whether the occupations people self-identify as relaxing can elicit the “relaxation response” in a manner comparable to yoga and meditation. Another interesting question is whether “rest” can be conceptualized as a skill.

How is this all important to OT? In all OT areas of practice, stress has some degree of influence. For example, studies using both animal and human models have suggested that increases in the amount of stress experienced can increase wound healing time. If this is the case, then as part of holistic care in physical rehabilitation settings, OTs can encourage clients to regularly elicit the relaxation response and problem solve obstacles to doing so. Theoretically, this would increase resiliency to stress and hence reduce healing time.

My goal in doing this research is to expand the evidence base around the occupation of “rest” to the point where findings can be utilized in OT practice to improve the health and quality of life of the individuals and populations we serve.

Cristin Holland

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

Research Lab: Baranek ASD and Neurodevelopment Lab

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.

Kaori (Lily) Ito

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

Research Lab: Neural Plasticity and Neurorehabilitation Lab

Year of Entry: 2016

Kaori (Lily) Ito

Research Interests

Stroke is a neurological disorder that can leave an individual with lasting motor impairments. Among a wide range of factors that can influence stroke recovery, hemispheric dominance relative to the stroke — that is, whether a stroke is in a person’s dominant or non-dominant hemisphere — is likely to have a significant impact on function. For example, an individual whose stroke is in the dominant hemisphere may have difficulty performing daily activities that depend on the dominant hand, such as hand-writing and teeth-brushing.

At the Neural Plasticity and Neurorehabilitation Lab, I’m interested in understanding the effects of stroke laterality on neural plasticity and its implication on stroke recovery and rehabilitation. Through the use of functional MRI, I’m studying changes in brain activity and connectivity in motor-related networks following a stroke using various statistical modeling techniques, such as GLM-weighted correlation analyses and dynamic causal modeling.

Aditya Jayashankar

Faculty Mentor: Lisa Aziz-Zadeh PhD

Research Lab: A-Z Lab

Year of Entry: 2018

Aditya Jayashankar

Research Interests

I am a neuroscientist and PhD Student at the Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. I work with Dr. Lisa Aziz-Zadeh in the A-Z Lab at the Brain and Creativity Institute. Our project revolves around the study of the contributions of the social and motor networks and their deficits in typically developing children and children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Development Coordination Disorder (Dyspraxia).

My research interests relate to the improvement of diagnostic specificity through the use of multi-modal neuroimaging techniques in conjunction with neuropsychological testing to better understand how social, sensorimotor and cognitive learning network deficits contribute to distinguishing between different ASD subtypes.

Sandy C. Takata OTD, OTR/L

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

Research Lab: Musculoskeletal Sonography and Occupational Performance Lab

Year of Entry: 2016

Sandy Takata

Research Interests

As a career scientist, I aspire to conduct translational research that informs interventions and strengthens the evidence-base for hand therapy practice. I am interested in exploring novel assessment and intervention methods that promote holistic treatment, as well as facilitate patient adherence and engagement in their own recovery to maximize occupational performance in daily life. My current work involves examining these concepts from both theoretical and applied perspectives. I am conducting a literature review on the concepts of adherence, as well as evaluating a set of qualitative data regarding the experience of patients who received mind-body interventions as part of their hand therapy. In addition to this work, I am actively involved in exploring the use of sonographic imaging as a technique for understanding musculoskeletal pathologies in the upper extremities. Specifically, I am supporting research in the lab that uses imaging to evaluate the impact of occupational performance on changes in the median nerve. As part of this study, we are also conducting a meta-analysis that will identify reference values for the typical size of the median nerve in healthy subjects using musculoskeletal sonography. As I move forward into my own independent work, I hope to apply these concepts (i.e., adherence/engagement, musculoskeletal sonography, occupational performance) in evaluating hand therapy assessment and rehabilitation techniques. My current focus is using these concepts to enhance patient recovery and return to meaningful occupations following tendon injury and repair.

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