9 Perfect Strangers: A Cohort’s Connection >
December 21, 2021
Here at USC, we often talk a lot about the Trojan Family, but when you arrive on campus as a first-year that sentiment can feel intangible. But the truth is, for me, I found my family before my first semester had started, even if I didn’t know it at the time. Traditionally, fall move-in day takes place on the Wednesday before the first day of classes and is followed by six weeks of welcome week programming. During this time many students rekindle friendships with people they met at orientation, attend Visions and Voices events, or just settle into the place they will be calling home for the next couple of years. In the case of the Class of ‘21 and ‘22 BS-MA OT students, we attended the USC Chan Division’s First-Year Welcome Dinner.
I may not remember all of the details from that dinner, but some things have stuck with me over the years. 1) I chose a completely hairless action shot of me swimming to showcase my favourite occupation as my grand debut 2) Back and forth O-H!, I-O!-ing with Dr. Samia Rafeedie and Dr. Shawn Roll whenever any of us brought up our experiences in Ohio and 3) the first spark of connection I felt when meeting my cohort for the first time.
Over time that connection has grown thanks to the design of the BS-OT program. Despite the program having a built-in buddy system, it didn’t feel forced. As an undergraduate OT student, you’re granted a lot of freedom to explore what college has to offer, while also knowing you have Chan to come back to. The course sequence is laid out in a way that slowly scaffolds your knowledge of OT. This is done not only through the complexity of the content but also through the number of classes you’re taking. This all culminates when you’re fully immersed in the graduate program. But this also means that you can scaffold the cohort experience too (More details about the progressive program in a blog coming soon so say tuned)! Some OT courses allow you to select the date and time so you may see some folks one semester and the others the next (like OT 250 and OT251), while there are other courses that most of the cohort will take at the same time (often anatomy and physiology). As time goes on, you’ll also start coordinating all of these together and commuting between campuses and before you know it, you’re no longer classmates, but full-on friends! From these bus rides to hiking, and rollerskating, and museum trips together with Dr. Amber Bennett, you’ll develop a support system as you head into the graduate program together. For me, this is when these friends became family.
Suddenly you go from the OT foundation courses that were just your cohort to the full grandeur of the 145 other OT graduate students, you’re navigating graduate-level courses full-time, commuting to the health science campus, and trying to grapple with the occupational transition. It can feel like a lot to tackle all at once, but find solace in the fact that there are anywhere from nine to fourteen other BS-OT students who are going through the same thing, not to mention the BS-OT students a year ahead of you! When I have a question I turn to my cohort first in the GroupMe we’ve had since that first welcome dinner. When discussing challenging course content, we debrief together on the shuttle. And when we want to have fun and catch up before finals, we head to brunch! Every step of the way, we’ve been on this journey together and come so far. From a welcome dinner to a COVID-19 graduation to our white coat ceremony reunion and our upcoming master’s ceremony, I couldn’t have asked for better people to be at my side. As I look towards the future, I know that no matter where our professional paths take us that together we will #FightOn forever. ✌️
From Inside of Your Mind to Outside of Your Closet: Making a Case for Dressing >
November 22, 2021
We all know that a good dressing can make or break a salad, but what can it do for your day? No, I’m not talking about dousing yourself in ranch, Italian, or even a tasteful balsamic vinaigrette, this blog is about clothes! The American Occupational Therapy Association’s Occupational Therapy Practice Framework (OTPF): Domain and Process (4th ed.; 2020) defines dressing as:
Selecting clothing and accessories with consideration of time of day, weather, and desired presentation; obtaining clothing from storage area; dressing and undressing in a sequential fashion; fastening and adjusting clothing and shoes; applying and removing personal devices, prosthetic devices, or splints. (p. 30)
When I am asked about dressing, however, I simply define it as one of my favourite occupations.
We all know the basics: is it hot outside? Put on a t-shirt. Is it time for bed? Time for pajamas! Do you have an interview later today? Gotta wow them with your best business casual. Some people may find these decisions a chore, as something that takes up those precious moments in the morning that you could instead use to snooze your alarm. It could even be that you may be one of these people, but I often think that there are a lot of missed opportunities when it comes to dressing and I’m here to push the envelope. Although AOTA’s definition is dynamic, two parts stand out, two parts that open the door for this conversation, and those are “consideration” and “desired presentation.”
I have to admit that it took me some time to understand the nuances of what “desired presentation” really meant. To set the scene for you, I want to take you on my personal journey with the occupation of dressing. If a stranger looked at me in high school, they would probably describe my sense of style as “prep.” Without fail you could spot me in a neutral or plaid button-up shirt with sleeves cuffed to the forearm over a standard pair of khakis. I woke up every morning, donned a variation of this outfit, and walked out the door without a second thought. When I look back at that time, however, I think that by dressing in preppy I was actually prepping for a day that I thought would change everything; the day I came out as gay. I thought that if I made the way I looked more palatable and if I blended in more that when the day came, people wouldn’t be so quick to reject me. That they’d at least think twice about it. It turns out that every seemingly unconscious dressing decision I made considered that outcome and I so desperately wanted it to not be the case.
Things began to change my senior year when I realized that that time in my life was coming to an end. Graduation was on the horizon and I began to loosen my collar, wear some jeans every once in a while, and add some colour into the rotation. Then came the news that I was admitted to USC’s BS-MA program and, although it was months before the semester started, my mind was already in LA. What was I thinking about? That a new place meant a new me, and even more importantly, a new wardrobe. I started to go thrifting and over time, with the support of my lovely community, I decided to let the world know I was capital G-A-Y, GAY! When I got dressed in the morning, this was the desired presentation I coordinated everything around. USC just had to know. Talk about a complete 180°.
And All the Colours In-Between
As the years have passed, and as I’ve grown with my intersectional identities, the way I dress has grown with me and now lies somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. I think the single-driving force that informs how I dress is not what I want for others to see, but what I want for myself. On a cloudy day, I’ll bring my own sunshine by wearing my brightest outfit. As the leaves start to change colours, I’ll camouflage myself to match.
I’ve found that weather and time can only change so much, but what I feel when I wake up in the morning is always something new. It’s this uncertainty that makes dressing exciting to me. It’s how one day a shirt can convey one message, but the next day when paired with a different pair of pants it says something totally different. Although what I consider may seem to be more considerate of myself, I want to highlight, however, that High School Seth was just as authentic as First-Year Seth who is just as authentic as the Seth I present to the world now. The one thing that they all have in common, and the thing we all have in common regardless of our identities, is that in each stage there was an intention for a specific desired outcome. Although this blog shares my story, it by no means is meant to capture anyone else’s. That being said, we all get dressed and we all make decisions while doing so. I invite you to take a closer look at the dressing decisions you make, and who knows, you may even help a client do the same in your future practice! Here are some questions to help guide you as you embark the journey to making dressing one of your favourite occupations too:
- What is your intention for the day and what ways do you desire being perceived? How can you align the two?
- Do the clothes you chose match how you feel? Or do they reflect how you want to feel? How does the way you dress support your social and emotional health? Think style with a side of self-fulfilling prophecy!
- How does dressing interact with other occupations? Does it influence your social participation? What’s its relationship with hygiene and grooming occupations?
- I shared how I use dressing to express my identities, do you use dressing to express yours? If yes, which and how?
- Who says dressing can’t be leisure or play! If today was a costume party, what theme would you dress for?
And lastly, it’s a new day, what do you want to put out into the world?
Forget Fall Recess, this is a Fall Reset! >
October 19, 2021
Hello and howdy folks! Here at Chan, we are officially halfway through our semester and I think I could speak for most of my classmates and, dare I say, students everywhere that it’s time for a breather. From midterms to applying to graduate programs, or even just putting the pedal to the metal over the past eight weeks, now is a perfect time to renegotiate your time and reconnect with who you are in addition to being a student.
Before we dive in, I want to make something clear: the way you’re feeling, be it smelling the roses, being deep in the thorns, or somewhere in between, is valid. As rewarding as school is, it’s also hard work, and giving space for both of those things to coexist is important. It’s also easy to say that all of our stress is coming from school, but if I’ve learned anything about occupational therapy (and I sure hope I have!), it’s that we’re multifaceted people with unique roles, habits, and routines. Life does not go on pause because we’re enrolled in an academic program. My peers are parents and partners and more, oh my! No matter what those roles and routines are, I’m here to remind you that you are not alone. Check-in on each other, share support and resources, and sometimes make sure to give yourself a reset!
Here are some questions that I found valuable heading into, during, and after Fall Recess. I hope they can guide you through your reset too!
On the Horizon
- How are you? This everyday question, the one most people respond to with “I’m fine” or “I’m good” can really pack a punch when you give yourself the space to reflect on an honest answer. If you feel that punch, it’s time for a reset. This question is also a perfect launchpad for the rest of these questions.
- What is contributing to these feelings? and What do you need? Together, these questions are the first step to time management. Identifying our hierarchy of needs with our responsibilities can help address our stressors while also providing the opportunity to get back in touch with ourselves. Addressing what needs to happen paves the way for the wants. That may mean studying for the next midterm, but it may also mean sleeping in. It may even be a meal you didn’t prepare yourself or a skateboarding adventure around LA. Don’t be afraid to challenge your definition of “need” and explore what nourishes you because that is just as valuable to your well-being as being productive with your work.
Into the Thick of It
- What is something that you’ve missed? Is there something you’ve put off or even forgotten that you’ve enjoyed because things kept piling up? That’s a reset moment. These are the sort of things you can return to time and time again. Maybe it’s the book that’s sat untouched on your nightstand for the past eight weeks. Or the embroidery project of Judy Garland that you only dedicate 12 minutes a week to between classes (Just me? Good to know). No matter what it is, find what brings you joy and make it happen! The world is your oyster, it’s time to look for your pearl.
- When did you last have an enjoyable experience? What was it? What can you do to capture that feeling again? This is more of a one-and-done sort of moment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go out and find it again. Sometimes the moments and experiences that are fleeting are all the more impressionable.
The Weeks Ahead
- What will you take with you for the rest of the semester? Although it’s easier to have a reset moment when you’re given the time to do so, the little things go a long way too! Think about how you will integrate your reflections into your schedule (or just commit to spontaneity) and be the change.
- What will you leave behind? Just as important as adding meaningful activities into your days is letting go of those that aren’t serving you as well anymore. There are only so many hours in the day so this time to explore reorganizing yours.
- What have you learned? The questions above may be best answered by this one. Maybe your reset experience was much more abstract and you’re taking away lessons and reflections, or maybe you’re leaving behind an attitude or perspective.
How you go about your reset is up to you, but it may be helpful to journal, talk with someone, or just think to yourself. If I could leave you with anything, it’s that first and foremost, you’re a human being and it’s okay to reconnect with your humanity. Otherwise, if I see you in the halls, if you engage with Chan on social media, or if you want to comment below let me/us know how you’ve spent your Fall Recess, we’d love to hear about what brings you joy!
Lessons from Smash Mouth: My Time at SSO >
October 4, 2021
“The years start coming and they don’t stop coming”
It’s like they, “they” being notorious rock band Smash Mouth in their hit single “Allstar”, always say, “the years start coming and they don’t stop coming.” For example, take my time at the Chan Division. I entered USC’s BS-MA program five years ago and in the blink of an eye, I’m almost at the finish line. If we’re being honest, it’s actually 31 weeks away from the finish line, but really, who’s counting? 31 weeks to go doesn’t just mean graduation, it also means the future (AKA: the time to get my life together by and FAST)! As my next life stage looms in the distance, I did the one thing anyone else in my position would do: I stressed about it for a couple days until the universe sent me a sign (well, an Instagram DM).
“You’ll never know if you don’t go”
As it turned out, a mentor who knew I was looking for my next big break decided to pass along the information for an upcoming event, the Society for the Study of Occupation’s (SSO) “Occupation and Gender” virtual conference. For those of you who don’t know, I was an LGBTQ+ studies minor in undergrad. When I wasn’t doing OT, I was doing gender studies. Even when I’m doing OT now, I’m usually doing gender studies at the same time. With the future looming, I was starting to realize that I wanted to explore the socio-cultural aspects of OT more explicitly in the future and with that being said, this conference was made for me. When I needed it most, it simply appeared in front of me on a silver platter! Talk about serendipitous timing, right? Now that I knew it was out there, it was time to get to work, after all, “you’ll never know if you don’t go!”
“I ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed”
Later that week, I emailed the Chan Student Leadership Awards Committee to make a case for my attendance (including, but not limited to, bringing and sharing the information back to my fellow OTs for OuTreach members) and I secured the funding. From there, I just had to wait two weeks until the conference went live. What that really meant, however, is that I had a whole two weeks to think about how nervous and unprepared I was! This was going to be my first conference, my first foray into the world of OT outside of my five-year ivory tower residency (albeit a conference is basically within that tower’s property) and with each passing day I was worried that I wasn’t going to belong. Remember when I said the conference was made for me? Yeah, you can forget about that! All I could think about was how “I ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed!”
“You’ll never shine if you don’t glow”
Fast forward to the day of the conference and not much had changed except for the fact that I was now very aware that I was just a student amidst the leaders of contemporary occupational science. The conference was laid out so that I could asynchronously review poster sessions (AKA things I could prepare myself for beforehand) throughout the week and then tune in live for synchronous paper presentations and their joint discussion sessions (AKA being thrown in the deep end). I started off breezing through the poster sessions and then tuning in to the theme speaker to build some confidence. From there, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and joined the conference mixer, got thrown into a breakout room, and became a face others would recognize throughout the conference. Objectively that was a good thing, but subjectively it meant I couldn’t get by turning my camera off and staying on mute. You win some, you lose some. Regardless my day was off!
I scheduled myself for eight sessions that day and halfway through disaster struck. Someone directly asked me if I had any thoughts on the topic at hand. I shook my head, laughed a bit, and typed in the chat, “I’m just a wallflower at the moment!” and the conversation carried on as if nothing had happened. But, spoiler alert, I actually understood what they were talking about and at times even thought before them what to say! It was almost as if the past five years weren’t just for fun. After I finally caught on that I could be a competent conference attendee, I decided it was time for that wallflower to bloom. I missed my opportunity, but I wasn’t going to miss it again. “You’ll never shine if you don’t glow” right, Smash Mouth?
“So much to do, so much to see”
With renewed vigour, I was on a mission to be heard! There was “so much to do, so much to see” and I was no longer content to watch it go by. During the next session, I shared a some insights on incorporating gender theories into occupational therapy curricula. I followed that up by asking four whole questions in a session on the environmental impacts on gender identity (and, I might add, stayed after the session to talk with the authors). The cherry on top of the day was when I gave a suggestion for additional research that the author actually wrote down!
“Hey now, you’re an all-star”
I won’t bore you with the rest of the details, but I will say that I carried that energy with me until the end of the conference. Although I am taking everything I learned from the conference back into the classroom and future practice, the most valuable thing that I took from that weekend was that I belonged in that space. It was the first time I ventured into the world of occupational therapy unsupervised and it showed me that I was ready for whatever is in store for me 31 weeks from now. Although we all live different lives with different experiences, know that you’re also ready for what is to come 31 weeks from now. You are prepared, you belong, and if you ever doubt it just remember, “Hey now, you’re an all-star.”
Into the Unknown: From Outer Space to OT >
August 29, 2021
I wanted to see the stars.
As a kid I went through all of the answers to the question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and I thought I had it all figured out. To be fair, it wasn’t always so clear. There was the time I wanted to be an archaeologist and then an architect, but eventually as I grew and matured I settled on something a bit more nuanced; not an astronaut, but an aeronautical engineer! And I was determined to make it happen. From that moment on, I decided to commit myself and dive right into my high school’s engineering program. Maybe if I had looked further down the alphabet, and by that I mean, anything past the letter “A,” I could’ve saved some time and some sleepless nights. You live and you learn.
But at this point you must be confused, right? You’re on the Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy student ambassador blog page and I’m here talking about space and high school. So what gives? What changed? To be honest, it was just by coincidence (followed by a lot of research). At that point in my life, I was so focused on building trebuchets and cardboard boats that I had light heartedly decided to interview for a week-long mock-government program for my U.S. History course. Everyone told me it would look good on an application so I applied and, you guessed it, I was waitlisted. Fortunately for me the event was being hosted at a local university so if anyone did not accept (and they didn’t) I was in!
I spent the week running for the mock-position of Ohio Attorney General. I ran my campaign, I took the Bar exam three times (and failed three times), and at the end of it all I ended up at the unemployment fair because I had lost the election. I ended up being appointed as the medical director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services where I spent the remaining days writing legislation, devising programming, and discovering what my passions really were.
I came back from the week not just to my house, but to the drawing board. I had a vague idea of what I was looking for (you know, the standard “helping others” umbrella) so I hit the ground running. I ended up on the CollegeBoard’s major database, selected the “helping others’’ filter, and went digging … through all 1,800 different majors … one by one. Then I made a list of twenty, did some more research, and settled on two: Speech and Language Pathology and Occupational Therapy. At that point, the choice became obvious. I just couldn’t go into S/LP after not doing the home exercise program a S/LP gave me so many years ago, I’d be a hypocrite! So OT it was.
From there, I applied to USC’s BS-MA program (now the BS-OTD) and I haven’t looked back. I fell head over heels with the idea that we are what we do, how we do it, and why. That these meaningful activities can impact our health and our quality of life. But most importantly, as I’ve continued along on my journey through OT, I’ve come to realize that the real stars weren’t in the sky, they are the people we work with, each of them glowing brightly with the possibility of their future and I am so appreciative that I can help them find their shine all while finding my own at the same time.