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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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Student Blog


Graduation, Goodbye, and Good Luck: Onwards and Upwards! ⟩
May 17, 2016, by Ariel

Beginnings and Endings

The time has finally arrived! Essays have been essay-ed, tests have been taken, comps have been comp-ed, presentations have been presented, and friends have been . . . well, friend-ed and subsequently woven into my heart. In other words — we’re finished! Two weeks ago, we took the comprehensive exam — a test that pulls together information from seven of the classes we’ve taken over the past two years and reminds us all how much we’ve forgotten in such a short period of time. Suffice it to say, everyone I know got out alive.

We Did It meme

It has been such a privilege to study occupational therapy at this renowned institution. The myriad experiences I’ve had throughout grad school — from attending our national conference to hands-on classroom fun to customizing my courses to celebrating the gift that is life here in Los Angeles — have truly been a rollercoaster of excitement, challenge, friendship, and lessons in learning more about myself and occupational therapy than I ever thought I could.

Students in white coats

As I sit here on the precipice of graduate school and “real life,” I can’t help but feel a bit verklempt about leaving this place and the people who make it as special as it is. We’ve come so far; I can hardly believe it has been two years.

Students spelling 'USC OT' with their bodies

Next steps on my agenda? I’m moving from my beloved Echo Park apartment back to the San Francisco Bay Area, where I will complete my second level two internship in SF at California Pacific Medical Center (Sutter Health), a multidisciplinary outpatient pediatric clinic. I’ll be continuing to pursue my passion for impacting people’s lives through connection, compassion, and creativity. Whether it be through infusing technological innovation into my interventions, building adaptive equipment, or advocating for OT in the public sphere, I hope to advance our profession in my own unique way.

My fellow ambassadors have given you readers a number of great words of wisdom and pieces of advice for conquering graduate school, so I won’t repeat. Instead, I will leave you — my readers — with three suggestions my favorite history teacher left me with before I graduated high school. They still resonate with me today:

  1. If you want to make an impact on someone, write them a handwritten letter and mail it via snail-mail. Think about it; when was the last time you received a letter in the mail (handwritten, no less) that you actually wanted to read? It’s a surefire way to make a lasting impression.
  2. Take care of your back. Seriously. You only have one spine and you need it to be functional for hopefully ten decades or so. Once it’s hurt you’ll have a heck of a time trying to fix it, and it will encroach on almost every aspect of your life (and your ability to complete your daily occupations)! So strengthen your core, practice good posture, learn proper lifting techniques, and brush up on your workplace ergonomics. It will help you survive grad school and it will help you enjoy life.
  3. It’s never too late to send a thank-you note. No explanation necessary for this one! 😊

Students jumping for joy

So that’s it. Three morsels of advice from me to you. And with that — I’m out! Happy graduation to all who just completed the program, and WELCOME TO THE TROJAN FAMILY to all those who are just entering. FIGHT ON!!!

Fight on! hand gestures


HabitKick! ⟩
March 23, 2016, by Ariel


Hello again readers! It’s nice to get back into the swing of things now that we’re all back from our externships. If you need a refresher on what externships are, check out Heather’s blog!

Lots of students go abroad for their externships. I have friends who went on trips to Ghana, Korea, Philippines, Thailand, Japan, and Ireland to learn more about how OT is practiced in other countries.

For my own externship, however, I decided to stay more local. Specifically, I completed my externship wherever my laptop was, because mine was a hands-on project! For my project, I designed a mobile app called HabitKick, which essentially aims to help users replace cigarette cravings with health-promoting behaviors.

HabitKick logo

At the beginning, I had no idea where to start. I had never done anything like this before, and all I had to move me forward was an app concept that I wanted to explore. However, after meetings with professionals from several disciplines, lots of trial and error, receiving feedback from friends and family, and performing a real-life trial of the main functionality behind the app, I was able to make better sense of how mobile technology can be used to help our patients form healthier habits and curb nicotine cravings.

Before diving into the whole design process, I began by simply ruminating on my idea — speaking with smokers I knew who were trying to quit and asking them informally about what kinds of features they would want to see in a smoking cessation app. The most exciting idea I heard was “I wish there was an app out there that could predict when I’m about to have a craving and then tell me to do something else to distract myself instead, like taking a walk or brushing my teeth.” The idea took hold in my mind.

I wanted to come at the project from a uniquely occupational therapy lens, so I made sure that the fundamental theory behind my app with regard to habit change and formation tied back to the concepts I had learned as a fieldwork student at the USC OT Faculty Practice. I set out to design an app that would learn when users tended to have nicotine cravings throughout the day (ie. “in the morning when I first wake up, at 6pm right after work) and then help them curb those cravings by suggesting alternative health-promoting activities to do instead at those times. The idea itself has grown and morphed a lot over the course of the design process, but the main crux of it still remains.

Overall, the externship presented a great opportunity for me to engage with occupational therapy in a way that I had always wanted to try my hand at, but had not had the same structure to carry out at prior points during the program.

Externship experiences are as unique as the 100+ students in each graduating class. If you’re a first-year student, or plan on entering USC’s OT program in the coming years, hopefully this little peak into my externship experience will give you some inspiration to start thinking about yours!


Spring is HERE! ⟩
February 16, 2016, by Ariel

Life Hacks Living in LA

It’s February! Los Angeles is looking B-E-A-utiful, with 80-degree weather on the regular and spring flowers already making an appearance. The beaches are beckoning and everyone is gearing up for spring break.

When I first moved to Los Angeles to start OT school at USC, I had no idea what I was in for — although parts of LA are quite urban, there are lots of not-so-hidden gems to explore outdoors in Southern California that help offset some of the cons (ahem-traffic-ahem). Here are a few of my favorites:

The Beaches
Okay, so this one is pretty obvious. LA is known for its beaches, which are some of my favorite features of this area, by far. They’re great for decompressing after full-time fieldwork week, bonfire-ing with fellow trojans from the health science disciplines, and surfing (for therapeutic purposes or otherwise!).

The Hiking
With beautiful weather comes opportunities to get out and explore the trails. LA is home to some great hikes!

The Gardens
A post like this would be incomplete without a nod to the many stunning gardens LA boasts.

As Rachel Carson reminds us in Silent Spring, “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. . . . There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”

To anyone considering a move to Los Angeles, I encourage you to check out some of these stunning spots, and expect to see many more!


Where Should I Live?: OT House vs. Off Campus Housing ⟩
January 27, 2016, by Ariel

Housing and Transportation

When I was first admitted at USC for my masters in occupational therapy, my first thought was “I’m so friggin’ ecstatic!” My second thought: “Where should I live???”

As a bay-area native, I was looking at uprooting myself from my post-undergrad living situation (read: my parents’ basement) and relocating to sunny Los Angeles. The OT department offers a house (The OT House) for occupational therapy students to live in, if they so choose. Alternatively, I could find housing off campus on my own.

As a student ambassador, lots of newly admitted students ask me about what factors influenced me in making my own housing decision. Here are my thoughts:

Each housing situation comes with its own set of considerations. When making the decision, it’s important to think of which of these factors is most important to you.

OT House Centennial Apartments

USC Centennial Apartments, where the OT House is located

OT House Considerations

  • geared towards students, lease available by the semester (if desired)
  • I wouldn’t have to worry about running around to open houses around LA to try and find the right spot/roommates
  • built in OT study buddies!
  • OT professor on my floor, who I could potentially make a great connection with
  • facilities are nice considering the cost
  • free shuttle that takes students to and from the health science campus (where we have almost all of our classes)
  • opportunity to partake in weekly events with ENGAGE, a program that works with at-risk youth by giving them opportunities to participate in activities from arts and crafts to cooking to science experiments.
  • right near the USC OT department’s Center for Occupation and Lifestyle Redesign (a beautiful Victorian house where we have department events and can study)
  • close proximity to the USC main campus, which gives easier access to student life, campus events, screenings, performances, etc.
  • a bit further from where we have classes every day

Off-Campus Housing Considerations

  • flexibility in choosing which neighborhood I’d like to live in and who my roommates are
  • (relative) flexibility in determining how much I would like to pay each month
  • ability to live closer to the health science campus, where we have classes every day (or right next to the beach, if that’s your priority!)
  • more homey environment/less of a dorm-like environment

Ultimately I made the decision to live in the Echo Park/Silverlake area; I really liked the feel of the neighborhood, found a spot with really great roommates (all USC alums!), and got incredibly cheap rent. I love it because I have autonomy, and I appreciate coming home to people who are not in our program, since we spend the majority of our days with our classmates! The apartment I chose is a 9-minute drive to the Health Science campus without traffic, and rarely more than 15 minutes even in heavy traffic.

In terms of actually finding housing, I didn’t have too much trouble finding a spot as soon as I started. I actually found a few fellow soon-to-be OT students through our class’s Facebook group and we all did some neighborhood-hunting together during the Admitted Students Reception weekend. The main neighborhoods I considered heavily (due to proximity to campus, cost, and “walkability”) were Pasadena, South Pasadena, Echo Park, Silverlake, Los Feliz, and Downtown LA. Friends of mine chose to live in areas like Culver City, Santa Monica, Venice, and Glendale. *Pro tip for incoming OT students*: Sometimes the graduating second year OT students post in the incoming class’s Facebook group because they’ll be leaving their apartments around the same time you guys will be moving in!

However you choose to approach the housing hunt, make sure you research the neighborhood and the opportunities available to you in each location. Talk to others who have gone through the same decision-making process, and don’t let yourself get too stressed out — we all found housing in the end!


Ellen Loves Occupational Therapy ⟩
January 12, 2016, by Ariel

Videos What are OS/OT?

Hey guess what! Ellen Degeneres gave a shout out (and a whole lotta love) to occupational therapy on her talk show the other day.

Meet Ashlyn: Ashlyn works as an occupational therapist in one of the nation’s most poverty-stricken counties, and is making an amazing difference with her positive energy and generous spirit.

”. . . these kids make it so worthwhile. The best part of my job would have to be helping these kids and putting a smile on their face, knowing that I’m helping and making a difference. That is the most amazing thing.”

Happy Tuesday everyone!

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