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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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Hello Trello >

by Alyssa

Life Hacks

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Happy new year/new semester to all! Continuing from my last blog, let’s get organized for the semester.

I live laugh love ride and die by my Trello boards. I was introduced to Trello in a coding class in undergrad for the classic use of “to do” “doing” and “done” lists. As someone whose work style leans toward start-to-finish in one sitting, this workflow doesn’t really work for me. Trello is also built for team workflows in mind BUT I realized Trello had a lot to offer for personal organization.

My system is intuitive to me but challenging to explain, so here it is in 4 parts:

1. Multiple boards/visualizations

There are 3 main parts to the anatomy of Trello. “Cards” are single events/tasks. “Lists” are lists of cards. “Boards” are pages of lists. Within each card, you can add sub-checklists, descriptions, and attachments.

I operate my life around 2 boards: my due dates and my schedule. As soon as the syllabus is released each semester, I input all of the due dates into my board and color code them (see #2). This board can be viewed as lists for each class or as an auto-populated calendar of due dates.

Screenshots showing Trello to-do list and calendar view

Anatomy of a Trello board, featuring one of my class due date lists.

I then update my schedule board roughly every month to schedule out when I’m going to all of that work around my regularly scheduled events (class/appointments/etc). I add in personal plans and other to-dos as they come up.

2. Color coding

Trello offers 10 colors to label each card. I use these colors differently for each board.

For my due date board, each class gets its own color, and then I additionally categorize each task by type. Yellow for readings, Red for big assignments/exams, Orange for anything in between.

My schedule board is a bit more complicated: class (light blue), homework (dark blue), fieldwork (black) student ambassador work (yellow), OTSC (orange), any other club (mint), important personal to-dos (red), social plans (pink), workouts (purple). I do this so I can see the balance of my day/week. If I notice too much dark blue, I’ll try and rearrange to make sure I have some restorative pink or purple in there.

Trello daily schedule board

A mock-up of one of my weekly schedules on my Trello schedule board.

3. Keyboard shortcuts

Trello has keyboard shortcuts to add due dates, label cards with colors, create cards from templates, and quickly switch between boards. Using these shortcuts dramatically increases the efficiency of using Trello for scheduling.

My favorite one is hovering a card and pressing C and it disappears, which is how I mark something as ‘done’— a thrilling mix of achievement and relief.

4. Drag and drop

If I don’t get something done when I planned to, I like how Trello has an easy drag-and-drop feature for the cards. It lets me quickly rearrange my plans/tasks without having to rewrite anything. Honestly, it feels way less shameful and I see it as a metaphor for trying to be more flexible and give myself some more grace.


Ranking 4 Tools I’ve Tried to Organize My Life >

by Alyssa

Life Hacks

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I love to organize. I find it so interesting to see how other people organize their daily schedules and to-do lists, so I’ve decided to share my planner tool journey with all of you in two parts. Part 1 (this blog) is ranking my experience with every tool I’ve tried to use in the past few years. Part 2 (coming soon in 2022) will break down my current planner system.

Note: As with any occupation, the method for organizing and planning has to fit the person. This is my personal ranking, no hate to anyone who uses these.

#4 Paper Planners

Coming in absolute last for me is using a paper planner. I really wanted to like using one — I love the ✨ aesthetic ✨ of a nice paper planner. I tried hard to make it work and spent… too many dollars in the process. Sometimes buying an organizational tool feels like you’re getting organized, even if you don’t actually use it*. I was convinced I just hadn’t found the right planner set up, so I’d buy another one. This was an expensive self-misunderstanding.

My main qualm with paper planners is the commitment to keeping it with you. Unless I need to bring my laptop somewhere, I never carry anything except my phone. I ended up writing down random notes in my phone to then add to the planner, which was too many steps. In the same vein, I couldn’t check my to-do lists/calendar if I was on the go.

I wanted to color code it and make it pleasing to look at. The thing that got in the way of this was… me — (1) I didn’t dedicate any time to it, (2) My handwriting is not neat enough for that, and (3) I’m lucky if I have two pens on me at any time. Forget about carrying multiple colors.

Alas, my dreams of having a #bulletjournal instagram account were for naught. I moved into the acceptance phase of grief and transitioned to trying out digital systems for getting my life together.

#3 Computer Stickies

For two years in undergrad, I kept all of my to-do lists in the Mac built-in stickies program. I set up my stickies with due date lists for each class for the whole semester. I then had one master schedule that I would type out and copy/paste tasks from the other sticky notes. I realized I liked my schedule in list format, and I wasn’t as interested in the visual blocks of time on a calendar.

This solved my issues with my often illegible handwriting, and I figured I needed to be on my computer for most of my tasks. But of course, I couldn’t access my lists without my computer so I was back to making random phone notes when I was on-the-go. I phased this program out when I discovered my current system.

#2 Google Calendar

I keep a Google calendar for a visual of my class schedule, but it never made sense to me for managing tasks. I like to schedule things even if they only take 5-10 minutes, and I couldn’t see the details of those “events” on the calendar without clicking on them.

Nonetheless, I’ve included it on this list out of respect for its interface. Lots of color options, repeating events, cross-device syncing — all beautiful features.

#1 Trello

I live laugh love ride and die by my Trello boards. I was introduced to Trello in a coding class in undergrad for the classic use of “to do” “doing” and “done” lists. As someone whose work style leans toward start-to-finish in one sitting, this workflow doesn’t really work for me. BUT I realized Trello had a lot to offer. I’ll get into it more in my next blog, but in summary, it combines everything I liked about Google calendar and my stickies system. ✨ Stay tuned! ✨

* Since Trello has been by my side for the last 3 years, I sometimes miss the thrill of setting up a new personal organization system. If this resonates with you, I highly recommend playing organizing video games (e.g. Unpacking, Wilmot’s Warehouse) to fill that void 🎮


12 Weeks of Fieldwork >

by Alyssa


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Welcome to a special edition of student blogs! For the next 12 days, we will be sharing a blog every day. To kick us off, I’m excited to tell you about my 12 weeks of fieldwork.

Level II fieldwork is a full-time 12-week clinical experience in any occupational therapy setting. As part of the Entry-Level MA, you do two of these in the 2nd and 3rd summer. I felt set on doing one of my Level IIs in a pediatric hospital, but many of those want someone who has already done a Level II in an adult hospital setting. So here was my criteria for searching for my first Level II: (1) Adult hospital setting (2) In a new and interesting place.

That was it really. I had little sense of what I wanted to get out of working with adults. In fact, I was terrified of working with adults. I had only ever worked with children and knew I loved it, so it never crossed my mind to pursue something else.

We can request fieldwork sites anywhere in the country, so I browsed the map of sites and picked Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital as my top choice. No one from USC had done their fieldwork there before, but it hit both of my criteria. It is a hospital with inpatient, outpatient, and day rehab programs in Wheaton, IL, a suburb of Chicago. And luckily - I got placed there! So after a lot of scrambling to find housing in Illinois, a state I had never been to, I packed up all my stuff and moved for the summer of 2021.

Here’s what my 12 weeks looked like:

Week 1: Observation, Loneliness, Exhaustion
To start out, I experienced a combination of excitement, overwhelm, and imposter syndrome constantly for the whole week. I was thankful that my site had weekly objectives for their fieldwork students, and week 1 was mostly observation. Even so, it was hard not to freak out knowing I would be actually doing what I was watching in a few short weeks.

It was tough adjusting both to a new role as a fieldwork student and to a new city at the same time. I only knew two people in the area, all the grocery stores were different, and I felt like a foreigner. I was subletting an apartment in Chicago and commuting 45-90min to and from the hospital. My hours were 6:30am - 3pm, but I tried to get there by 6. By the time I got home around 4:30/5, I’d eat dinner and immediately get ready for bed so there was no time to socialize. In all senses, I was exhausted.

Week 2: Leaning on Other People
By week 2 I was starting to feel more comfortable with the other people at the hospital. The OT schools in the Midwest had a different schedule, so the other fieldwork students were already halfway done when I came in. The conversations I had with them were the reassurance I needed that I was going to be fine.

The other therapists, nurses, and hospital staff were incredibly welcoming. I somehow picked a random site off a map and ended up at the nicest hospital in the country. It put me at ease knowing they were used to having students around and weren’t judging me for asking questions.

Above all, my fieldwork educator could not have been a better match for my learning style. He was great at giving constructive feedback in a way that was encouraging and he boosted my confidence when I was clearly very anxious.

Week 3: Sweaty
Each floor of the hospital was sectioned into different clusters of patients. I was placed in the inpatient brain injury rehab unit, where each therapist has about 7 patients on their caseload that they see mostly every day. At this point, I was expected to take on a couple of my fieldwork educator’s patients onto my own caseload. There was a lot of sweat, but I was really enjoying getting to connect more closely with the patients.

Week 4: Getting Into the Groove
As I gradually built up my own caseload each week, I started to feel more competent in my own skills and useful as a teammate to my fieldwork educator. Plus, after 4 weeks, I had finally adjusted to my new normal of being asleep by 9pm and waking up at 5.

Week 5: Emotional Support Ice Cream
Weeks 5 and 6 looked a lot like week 4. I added about 1 new patient to my caseload each week and spent more time planning/documenting/reviewing with my fieldwork educator. Objectively, the workload was increasing, but it was a comfortable pace and I was feeling good.

I was also improving my life balance, including prioritizing meal prepping and making more time to socialize (especially weekly Bachelor/ice cream nights with friends).

Week 6: Midterm Eval
Woohoo halfway through! Anxiety no more! Just kidding. You get evaluated at the end of week 6 and I was really worried for nothing. I had been getting consistent feedback from my fieldwork educator, and the evaluation session was helpful for us to elaborate on that feedback and set goals for the second half of the summer.

Weeks 7-11: Full Caseload, Feeling like I Belong
The gradually-building-up-to-a-full-caseload part of fieldwork was over. I was still working closely with my fieldwork educator, but the goal was for me to lead all the sessions. Even though I had become more comfortable with treatment planning, the nature of brain injuries is unpredictable and you never knew what the next patient would be like – which was both challenging and exciting as an opportunity to get creative working in a hospital.

The role of a fieldwork student at this point of the experience was an unfamiliar middle ground between student and professional. Obviously, I was still learning and building my skills, but at the same time I felt like I was really in it and working. I got to collaborate with an amazing PT and SLP, my documentation required minimal review, and I got such kind comments from patients who were surprised I was a student. I really felt like I belonged.

Student Ambassador Alyssa at the Chicago Bean

On the side, I crammed in some Chicago tourism.

Week 12: A Tearful Goodbye
I am a sprinkler when it comes to saying goodbye. On my last day, I cried on the way there, I cried saying goodbye to everyone, and I cried on my way home. I never thought I would love working in this setting so much, and it was so hard to think about it being over and going back to school for a year before my next Level II. Looking ahead, I still can’t wait to try out pediatric hospital work, but I’m happy to know there’s a part of me that likes working with adults too.

Paper signs posted on therapy gym cabinet wishing me good luck

Signs up in the therapy gym for my last day with references to some inside jokes/memories from the summer.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading! TLDR: My Level II fieldwork was expectedly challenging but unexpectedly awesome.


OT Dance Party >

by Alyssa

Classes Getting Involved

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I’ve been teaching Zumba at the USC Village Gym since Fall 2018. As an extrovert who struggles to prioritize exercising, it has been a win-win. I am obligated to get myself to the gym and energized from both the exercise and the social time. Especially with how challenging graduate classes can be, it is a much needed reset to my week every Tuesday.

So, what does this have to do with OT?

This week in OT 534 Health Promotion & Wellness we had a “wellness workshop” day where students got to facilitate and attend different occupation-based activity groups to promote personal wellness. When we got the sign-ups to facilitate a group, I signed up right away. Bringing Zumba to OT school!

My fellow students submitted their preferences and were assigned to different workshops to attend during class time (some of the other options were cookie baking, songwriting, and vision boarding 😮).

Given that dancing in classrooms filled with tables and chairs would not be ideal, we had to improvise for the space. We were out facing the elements on the lawn (muddy uneven grass, an unexpectedly hot November day) with a small speaker and a lot of funny looks from people walking by. But still, I had a blast, and based on all the laughing at/with me & each other, I think the participants did too. It was such a fun chance to share one of my favorite occupations with my friends, especially those who have never done it before. Dr. Cox stopped by during the workshop and thought I was putting up a “fight on ✌️” while dancing… truthfully I was just indicating that the move should be done twice, but hey — two birds one stone.

OT students dancing on the lawn

2nd year Entry-Level MA students participating in the Zumba workshop. Photo by Silvia Hernandez Cuellar

Even though I did not get to participate in the other activities, I loved how Wellness Workshop day highlighted how seemingly random skills could be an asset for OT’s role in health promotion. What other career path has a place for backgrounds in dance and martial arts and songwriting and cooking and crafting? I mean, OTD Resident John J. Lee even facilitated a Squid Games competition. Opportunities for wellness are everywhere — you never know what skills your colleagues will bring to the table!


A Love Letter to the OS Minor >

by Alyssa

1 comment

Classes What are OS/OT?

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With USC course registration coming up, let’s chat about the occupational science (OS) minor and why it’s the best dang minor ever (Let’s be real — it’s part of my job to promote our programs… but I promise this is my honest opinion and I’d say all of this for free).

Undergrad was a very stressful time for me. My major courses involved many overlapping creatively-demanding projects, and I spent plenty of late nights glued to my computer to keep up with it all. For me, and for many others, the OS minor was a refuge. Beyond their obvious application to OT school and life in general, I thought they were all really fun and often were a stress-free few hours of my week. AND I actually remember what I learned in them. Here’s what I took & my favorite project from each class:

OT 250 (4 units): Introduction to Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
  • What is it? The only class required for the minor. It was like a sampler of everything OT has to offer — we learned about healthy habits and routines, flow, motivational interviewing, lifestyle redesign, OS research, neuroscience, stress management, sleep hygiene, creativity, exercise, sensory systems, and (still somehow) more!
  • My favorite project: We wrote a paper to reflect on occupations that bring us into a flow state — I wrote mine about Zumba. 💃
OT 251 (4 units): Across the Lifespan: Occupations, Health and Disability*
  • What is it? The OT department’s lifespan development class. This class was great preparation for the Team-Based Learning format used in several of the OT graduate classes. *(Bonus: it covers a prerequisite for the graduate program so it’s like a 2-for-1 deal)
  • My favorite project: Individually, our final assignment was to read a memoir by a person with a disability and relate it to the course — I applied the person-environment-occupation model to Tara Westover’s Educated and it was the first time I got to practice this kind of analysis.
OT 330 (4 units): Perspectives on the Daily Life of Families
  • What is it? A class dedicated to the roles within and occupational impact of family life.
  • My favorite project: A family tree diagram to identify occupational connections within our families. We could make it as extensive as we wanted, and I had a blast. My final tree was 23 pages wide 😮
OT 350 (4 units): Disability, Occupation, and the Health Care System
  • What is it? Amazing guest speakers and meaningful discussions surrounding the varied experiences of living with a disability and navigating the health care system.
  • My favorite project: We had weekly journals to reflect on our developing understanding of disability — my favorite journal activity was an accessibility scavenger hunt around USC’s main campus.
OT 370 (4 units): Understanding Autism: Participation Across the Lifespan
  • What is it? This class was so different from psychology classes I had taken that included content about ASD. We focused on neurodiversity, lived experiences, and advocacy.
  • My favorite project: My ‘media representation of ASD’ group project. I got to illustrate a children’s book and explore ways to help typically developing children understand their peers with ASD.

If I could have fit more in my schedule, I would have. Specifically, the human-animal interaction class. A few weeks ago, my friend’s dog was a guest speaker in that class — he was excellent.

Dr. Ashley Uyeshiro Simon and Guest Speakers Samantha Kosai (human) and Oliver Kosai (small dog)

Dr. Ashley Uyeshiro Simon and guest speakers Samantha Kosai (human) and Oliver Kosai (small dog). The start of Ollie’s long career in academia, I’m sure.

As a student ambassador, I recently got to go back and give brief presentations to some of this semester’s OS minor courses, and it made me really nostalgic. When I feel nostalgic, I get emotional. When I get emotional, I write letters and never send them (usually because they are addressed to real people. Since this one is addressed to a non-sentient academic program, I’m ok with publishing it on the internet. So, here we go).

To my beloved OS minor,

I wish we could have spent more time together. I miss a lot about being an undergrad at USC, and your classes are no exception.

Thank you for classes that brightened my afternoons when I’d usually be needing a nap. Thank you for faculty mentors who have supported me through ups and downs both academically and personally (shout-outs to Linsey, Kate, & Kristy). Thank you for literally assigning some of my closest friends, Leah and Dakotah, to me as part of my group for OT 251 — they’ve stuck with me all the way til the MA-II program, and now they’re stuck with me for life.

Thank you for guiding me into the best career in the world.


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