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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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Calvin’s Blog


Seeing Rejection as Redirection >

by Calvin

Admissions Life Hacks

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When the November 1st application deadline passed, I started thinking back to when I first applied to USC Chan about 3 years ago. Wait a minute… am I doing that math right? I started the program in June 2019, so how does that make sense? Well, let me tell you!

I already knew that I wanted to pursue OT when I was a senior in undergrad. I really only wanted to go to USC and I also wanted something to start doing right after graduating. So, I had submitted my application to just USC Chan for their 2018 entry cycle.

During the waiting process, I would always keep up with online OT graduate school forums where prospective students would share their stats, where they went for undergrad, who they heard back from, and when they heard back. It was like being addicted to “College Confidential” when I was applying for undergrad (if anyone remembers what that is)! I was also searching for a forum thread from previous years to see when the admissions committee had sent out results so I could kind of gauge when they would send it out during the year that I applied. From what I had read, it seemed that March was the month that results typically got emailed out, so I was mentally preparing myself for that. However, I also knew that things change each year and that I shouldn’t be frantically checking my email.

One night in February though, I was out with friends and we were just hanging out. The thought of admissions decisions wasn’t even on my mind at the time, but my phone was set to show email notifications on my lock screen. I saw an email with the subject line “USC Occupational Therapy”. I was completely freaking out and my friends watched me as I read the first sentence in the email.

2018 Rejection Letter from USC Chan

February 28th, 2018 | Rejection Letter from USC Chan

My heart sank and I felt numb. I ended up telling my friends that I was going to head home early and I just laid in my bed, staring at the ceiling. It didn’t fully hit me that night because I was so unprepared for the news. The next morning, I had work and when I parked my car, I just sat inside crying my eyes out, feeling like I had failed and that I wasn’t deserving to be an occupational therapist. I kept thinking to myself, “What’s wrong with me?” and, “If I can’t get in this time, what makes me think I can get in next time?”

However, I knew that if I let these thoughts take over, I wasn’t going to get anywhere. I later responded to the email asking if I could meet with the admissions committee to see what parts of my application could be improved. They were happy to accommodate my request and I took a visit to the division a few weeks after. They were so open to giving me constructive feedback on my application and they also took the time to reassure me while encouraging me to reapply the next year.

So, during the following cycle, I applied to USC again, as well as to a handful of other programs. Although attending USC was my dream, my end goal was to become an occupational therapist, and by applying to other schools I could increase my chances of joining the profession. So, I went through another round of waiting games of hearing back from the programs. I ended up being accepted into the other programs, but I was waitlisted to USC this time. My first thought was “okay…this isn’t a rejection and this is still an improvement from last year.” I was truly grateful to the other programs for offering me a seat, but I knew that my heart was set on USC, so I decided to make the wait.

2019 Waitlist Letter from USC Chan

March 1st, 2019 | Waitlist Letter from USC Chan

The thing about being on the waitlist is that it’s not a yes or a no and it’s so unpredictable that the admissions committee can’t guarantee what will happen. It was a pretty rough time for me during the wait and I was just praying for that congratulatory email to come my way, but I didn’t hear anything for quite some time. Fast forward to the morning of the first day of class for the entering class — I was still on the waitlist. At this point, I knew that I wasn’t getting in and I was actually preparing to pack my bags to head to a different program. Then, I got a phone call that afternoon.

I had no idea who was calling, but when I picked up I heard the news that ultimately changed my life. It was a call from admissions team representatives, Dr. Kristin Nxumalo and Dr. Arameh Anvarizadeh, telling me that a space had just opened up and asking if I wanted it. Honestly, that moment was such a blur. I just remember that I was losing my mind from all the excitement and I kept saying “YES” and “THANK YOU”! It was a pretty last-minute decision considering that I had to be ready to come to school the next day, but it all ended up working out.

2019 Acceptance Letter from USC Chan

June 17th, 2019 | Acceptance Letter from USC Chan

Now, I’m here! I’m here living out my dream of becoming an occupational therapist in my dream school. I never expected it to happen like the way it did, but I’m beyond grateful for the journey and I’ve learned so much along the way.

I won’t lie though, I felt pretty undeserving and there were a lot of feelings of impostor syndrome since I had come off the waitlist so late. However, I remember during that first day, I walked down the aisle of the G-37 auditorium towards Dr. Samia Rafeedie, so that I could introduce myself and inform her about my situation. I was feeling nervous, but I’ll never forget how kind and understanding she was. When she told me, “you belong here”, that was when I started to actually feel like I did. I’m thankful everyday for the supportive community of faculty, staff, and students, for giving me so much strength and for reminding me that I do deserve to be here.

Rejection hurts, and I know that I’ll continue to experience rejection down the road. But that’s just how life works. There are times when things go my way, and there are times when things just don’t turn out the way I had hoped. However, I always try my best to remind myself that things happen for a reason. As admissions decisions approach, it’s going to be a stressful time waiting to hear back. Do what you need to do during this time and treat yourself with compassion.

Congratulations to all of you who’ve submitted your applications this cycle! You did it! When I was a prospective student, I found comfort in reading Student Ambassador blogs. Here are some that I think might be helpful for all of you during this time.

The Student Ambassadors and the Admissions Team are available to answer your questions as well.

I know that the wait for admissions decisions to roll out is nervewracking, but whatever decision you receive - don’t let that stop you from being the best OT you can be! I’ll leave you all with this quote that inspired me to share this story: “Every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being redirected to something better.” — Steve Maraboli


Back To OT School Day >

by Calvin

Classes Videos

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I hadn’t been back to school since like…March, which was around the time when we were all informed that courses were going to be moved online due to the pandemic. Ever since then, I’ve missed being with everyone in person, and I also kind of missed sitting in the classroom and being in that learning space. I’m so thankful that the division is allowing students to go back to class on some days because honestly, there are just some things that are learned better in person!

At first, I was pretty hesitant about going back because of the potential risk, but so far it’s been working out great! We’ve learned to be more flexible in order to adapt to this new learning format, and it feels good to see everyone again. Here’s a video on what my first day back to school looked like!


Finding Faculty Mentorship >

by Calvin

Life Hacks

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Having come from a large public university for my undergrad, I didn’t feel like it was as accessible to connect with professors and find that kind of professional mentorship. So once I got into this program, I was surprised to discover how available and how approachable the faculty truly are. There is an exceptional range of faculty and, although they may have a ton of things on their plate, I’ve found that something they all have in common is that their doors are always open to students.

However, while I am grateful to be able to call some of the faculty my mentors, I definitely remember how nerve-wracking it was to step outside of my comfort zone to reach out to them. Towards the beginning, I had these thoughts of, “should I only be talking to the professors that teach my classes?”, “what do I even say to them….”, and “will it look like I’m kissing up?” I know that it feels like there’s a lot of pressure to fully use the resources available at USC Chan, so I want to share some information on how I established mentorship and some overall tips and advice for all of you trying to move forward in this process!

Trust in the process:

  • I know that, even after hearing how friendly the faculty may be, they still might seem a little out of reach and maybe even scary to get in touch with, especially with those that don’t teach your courses. I felt the same way, and I would always think that I would be wasting their time if I asked to talk to them about their experiences, interests, life, etc. But speaking from experience of going through this process, just know that they’re here for you, they feel for you, and they really are open to being reached out to if you ever need anything.

They’ve been in your shoes before:

  • Before, it had never occurred to me to think about how the faculty here were students too. Well, they were! Some of them are actually alumni of USC Chan, and so they know a thing or two about the classes we’ve taken, the practice areas we might be interested in, and the challenges we’ve gone through to get here. The faculty are people too, and they know what we’ve gone through and will go through, so don’t be afraid to get in contact with them because they might be able to relate and give you some pointers along the way.

Do your research:

  • Go onto the Faculty Directory page and do some exploring! There’s also a dropdown menu that can guide you to a specific group of faculty. We have faculty that have a range of various experiences and expertise, so take some time looking over their biographies, research interests, and interests in general. You never know what you might be able to find! If someone doesn’t teach any of your classes, don’t let that stop you from reaching out to them. Maybe someone conducts research that you find fascinating or maybe someone is an alum from your previous school! Have fun with this experience because it’s like a little sneak-peek into each of the faculty here!

Just hit the send button:

  • I remember when I was way too nervous to even send an email to them. I really just wanted to introduce myself, share why I’m interested in their work, and learn more about how they got to where they are. However, I was afraid of the chance that they might not respond or that they might be annoyed that I’m bothering them. But I realized that there is nothing to lose! If they don’t respond, then follow-up with them. Faculty get a mass amount of emails every day, so sometimes things get lost in the flood. If you think they’re not interested, then maybe it’s not a good fit or maybe you can ask to talk with them over a Zoom call/in-person (once we can do that again). Sometimes it’s hard to analyze someone’s attitude over an email and the faculty are busy people too. It might be that they don’t have time to respond or to write out a thorough email, so give them some time and check-in as needed.

Know what you want:

  • What qualities are you looking for in a mentor? Do you want someone to help with your professional development? Do you want someone to just have chill conversations with? What about both? It’s okay if the first faculty that you interact with doesn’t automatically feel like a mentor for you. The process takes time! As much as you want to find the right fit, the faculty also want to see if you’re the right fit for them. So, before you reach out to someone, you should at least have some idea of who they are and what they do, as well as what you want out of the mentorship experience. This is so that you and the faculty can picture what the potential mentorship could look like. Also, with all that being said, you aren’t limited to just one faculty mentor; you are free to build these relationships with as many faculty as you want! Just continue to remind yourself why you’re searching for mentorship and be realistic with your expectations.

Benefits of mentorship:

  • I’ve found that my faculty mentors have provided me with different, but strong benefits. Some provide me with affirmations to my skills, some are just nice to have casual conversations with, and some are really good at being real with me and keeping me in check! Having faculty mentors can serve as a resource in terms of networking opportunities and letters of recommendation. Mentorship can also come in all kinds of capacities ranging from consistent weekly/monthly check-ins or even just a few times a semester. As a mentee, I want to be able to provide mutual benefit by supporting my mentor and being there for them as well. I also want to pay this mentorship forward by continuing to support prospective students and current students. I’m super lucky to have been able to build this kind of relationship with some of the faculty here and it’s comforting to know that I can always reach out to these people, even after graduating from this program.

It kind of just happens:

  • You’re probably wondering: “What’s the step-by-step process to establishing a mentor?”, and what I’ll say is that it’s pretty fluid. The program does set up an actual faculty advisor program by splitting up students into groups and placing them with one faculty advisor per group. The idea is that your faculty advisor may help you to identify and connect with faculty mentors throughout your relationship with them and they can direct you to other resources, as needed. In terms of seeking out a faculty mentor on your own, it’s not really like a “can you be my faculty mentor?” situation. It’s more so just getting in touch with faculty, gradually getting to know each other, sharing experiences, even working together on projects, and so on. I like to think of it as more of a friendship because it kind of just happens as you get to know and interact with them more and more!

Being in graduate school has really made me appreciate the tight-knit community and intimate interactions with faculty. I hope that this gives you some insight into how to get started in establishing faculty mentor relationships. I also hope that this makes the experience seem a little less scary! I tried to be as real as possible so that I could give you all the information that I wish I had when I was in this process. Feel free to reach out to me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) if you need anything and good luck!


Humans of USC Chan Volume 1 >

by Calvin

Diversity Videos What are OS/OT?

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When I was applying to OT school, I remember that I really wanted to get different student perspectives on what programs were like and how they navigated graduate school. As a student ambassador, I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to share my experiences with all of you, but I know that there are so many other extraordinary voices in the division too!

So, I gathered some second-year Entry-Level Master’s students to come and talk about what their OT school experiences have been like so far! We went over topics related to what kind of OT they’re interested in, what their favorite classes and memories are, and what challenges they’ve faced. They even shared some advice for all of you thinking about applying to the program! If you watch it through YouTube, the video is time-stamped with each topic in case you ever want to go back to a specific conversation.

I hope you find this video helpful and that these diverse perspectives give you more insight into what student life is like in the Master’s program! Welcome to the Humans of USC Chan!



My Mental Health Immersion Experience >

by Calvin

Classes Fieldwork

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I actually started off in the Mental Health Practice Immersion but, to be honest, I came into it with little to no interest in mental health. I just wanted to get it over with so that I could focus on the pediatric and adult rehabilitation immersions since my previous volunteer experiences were more related to those settings. However, throughout my time in the immersion, my perception of what occupational therapy’s role in mental health was had changed, and I realized that it’s just as important as other OT practice areas.

On the first day of class, I felt really nervous about going into this immersion because it was my first one ever. On top of that, I had no prior experience being in the mental health field, so my knowledge and insight were extremely limited. Nerves had really taken over during the first week, but my course instructors, Dr. Celso Delgado Jr. and Dr. Tessa Milman, were instrumental in reassuring and validating the entire cohort of our feelings. They said that the purpose of this course was to help introduce us to various perspectives so that we could understand the impact of mental health on occupational engagement, as well as the influence of occupation on recovery experiences. They also emphasized that it was okay to be feeling uncertain and sensitive to the experiences ahead, so I went in with an open heart and an open mind.

The mental health immersion incorporates a related Level I fieldwork experience, in-service training, discussions with experts by experience, team debriefs and so many more opportunities. For my Level I fieldwork, I was placed at a community mental health site and collaborated with mental health professionals, as well as peer specialists with lived experience. Now, this may sound surprising, but there was actually no occupational therapist at my site. According to the 2015 AOTA Salary & Workforce Survey, only 2.4% of respondents worked in the mental health practice setting. I was definitely shocked by this statistic, but it pushed me to really try and inform my site of the distinct value of OT. However, even with that ambition, I still yearned for guidance from an OT and, towards the beginning, I had a difficult time understanding what occupational therapy’s role was in mental health.

I had this internal conflict where I felt like I had to spread my OT knowledge and make all this positive change. However, I realized that Level I fieldwork experiences are meant more to be spaces for students to learn, observe, and gain exposure to the area of practice. I also had this perception that OT’s role in mental health was restricted because it seemed similar to what social workers and case managers do. However, I discovered that this isn’t true and that occupational therapy actually plays such an extensive role in community mental health. Although there is collaboration with professionals from other disciplines, OTs have the scope and capacity to address occupational needs, promote functioning in the community, analyze performance skills, and provide unique assessments and interventions. Not having an occupational therapist to guide me through my first fieldwork experience was challenging, but I was grateful for the opportunity to connect curriculum material with my immersive experience. I was also thankful to have had a very involved interdisciplinary team by my side to advocate for the OT profession and they always tried their best to provide me with as many resources as possible!

Finally, I want to talk about my experience with my Cohort B lab team! Within these groups, we did a lot of team-based learning, discussed the course material, interacted with experts by experience, and debriefed about our fieldwork experiences. These people really made my experience in the mental health immersion and I honestly would not have gotten through this without them!

Mental Health Immersion Group Picture

Team CarrOTs! | Picture from left to right: Dr. Tessa Milman, Tess Mayer, Liz Broske, Bethany Hom, Morgan Smith, Helen Han, Sam Randolph, Adi Nisimov | Picture credits to our Expert by Experience 😊!

My favorite part about this course was the team debriefs, where we would each share about how our different Level I fieldwork experiences were going. This opportunity opened up a safe space for us to learn about different mental health sites, share our challenges, provide advice and feedback, and just act as each other’s emotional support systems. An expert by experience also participated by sharing their thoughts and perspectives on how to approach certain situations at our respective sites. We were also incredibly grateful to have Dr. Tessa Milman as our team’s faculty supervisor and mentor. They each imparted such extraordinary mental health knowledge and expertise while also providing us with unwavering support throughout it all. These team-based discussions opened my eyes to the various potentials of mental health and how occupational therapy plays a special role in holistically addressing the needs and barriers of individuals experiencing mental health conditions.

This is us after we devoured the food from our Cohort B lunch potluck! Then we immediately went into a food coma haha!

In the beginning, I was nervous to start the mental health immersion because I had no prior experience or exposure. However, through this opportunity, I was able to challenge my implicit biases and build supportive relationships within my team and my fieldwork site. This empowered me to see the bigger picture and to develop a deeper understanding of the connection between occupational therapy and mental health. Regardless of what setting I go into, I know that I will be using my foundation of mental health knowledge in every endeavor I pursue!

Ending this post with appreciation collage for my team! Don’t worry, these pictures were taken during class breaks~

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