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Silvia

Silvia

The USC U don’t C >

by Silvia

Admissions Community Diversity First-Gen Getting Involved

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No todo es color de rosa. Like my friend Rolly says, “There is a USC that you don’t see.”

Holistic admissions? I love it. I am all in for decreasing barriers and increasing access for students to enter spaces of higher education. Do you know the percentage of Latinx individuals in higher education? There is not many of us, but that is changing. We are changing it.

As the new director of admissions, Dr. Anvarizadeh and her team pushed for a holistic process that would view applicants as whole individuals—considering their core values, thoughts about equity, diversity, and inclusion, etc.—and not just as a set of test scores or GPAs. Let me tell you why this has been a game changer, but more importantly, why the work can not stop only with holistic admissions.

———

In 2018, I graduated from Cal Poly SLO with my first collegiate degree. The time that I had to rejoice in that feeling of being the first in my family to graduate college was short lived as my dad would be losing his job shortly after. I was quickly reminded of my role and my identity as a Mexican daughter, the eldest child in a family of eight. My educational and career goals were put on pause because as I was raised, in my Mexican culture, family comes before and is above everything. Naturally embracing that role, I texted my brothers to figure out how we were going to pull through, like we always do.

Dad and I at CHP

Mi papá y yo at CHP

three young men

My 4Lifers, mis hermanos

For the next year or so, I worked Monday-Sunday and gave my dad more than half of my paycheck. When I began considering the possibility of furthering my education and applying to graduate school, I felt guilty. I felt selfish. How could I be thinking about myself and what I wanted when my dad was still not 100% back on his feet? It is ironic because even the decision of going back to school was based on helping my parents. I needed this degree to be able to get a job in my field of interest and so that I could earn more money to give back to my family. That is how collectivist cultures like mine work.

The thought of resuming my role and identity as a student was great, but with what money and what time? What money was I able to save for grad school? What money did I have to spare to take the GRE more than once or to spend on study materials, for that matter? What time did I have to sit for a 4-hour exam more than once? I didn’t. Talk about the barriers that USC Chan’s holistic admissions addressed for me. In my application video I stated the occupations that got me through the difficult time my family faced: work and prayer.

That is my story, but I write this blog to highlight the fact that there are stories behind the BIPOC students being admitted into the program that you do not see. Holistic admissions have opened the door for us to be able to step into higher spaces, but to quote my friend Miriam De La Torre, “don’t invite us into the room if there is not a seat at the table open for us.” You see the faces and numbers that represent diversity but are ignorant to the adversity attached to them. If the work is not to be performative, we cannot continue to casually disregard that the “E” in the new JEDI curriculum stands for equity vs. equality. You can’t allow us into the room to watch us stand. Students need to be supported beyond admission.

Se tenía que decir y se dijo.

All this to say that many of us BIPOC student and allies are here to keep the momentum going to make sure we continue to do the work past holistic admissions. Like Dr. Anvarizadeh said at COTAD’s “Springing into Action” virtual event, we cannot do this in silo—we have to lock arms to see it through. I hope y’all are ready for what is to come as we continue to collaborate, work together, and build community.

Picture of a group of students

Showing up for each other: Students attend an event at Plaza de La Raza for which Dr. Diaz was a panelist

Students taking a mirror selfie

Mis amig@s y yo at one of our AHTO social events: Abraham Ramirez, Daniela Flores-Madriaga, Denisse Mendoza

Silvia

AOTA: 10/10 Would Recommend >

by Silvia

Community Getting Involved

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Back in February, Dr. Rafeedie sent me an email with the subject “Free AOTA Registration,” —which was weird because I never win anything—apparently, I had won a free registration for the AOTA Inspire 2022 Annual Conference & Expo. As I was entertaining the idea of buying a flight ticket to Texas for this conference, Bianca and Dr. McNulty did the most to convince me: they told me about the USC Trojan Reception. And although they had me at party—I mean reception—I still had to con$ider other factor$. In her email, Dr. Rafeedie added, “Not sure if you would plan a trip to San Antonio around this….but virtual is also an option.”

Planning a trip meant I would spend money on my flight, hotel, and food, which I hadn’t necessarily budgeted for, and because I am working on not making impulsive decisions, I slept on it before accepting. The smart, financial friendly, option would have been to attend the event virtually. Did I do that? No—but listen, the hotel was discounted because I split it with friends, AND the experience was priceless. I should say that the only reason I’ve been able to remain cool, calm, and collected despite the hefty price tag attached to graduate school/USC is because I continuously tell myself that this is an investment I am making. Repeat after me: I am investing in myself and my future. So, truly, in the name of professional development and networking, I decided to book my flight and attend the conference in-person in Texas.

Here’s a little glimpse into the experience:


Sessions

The conference started on Thursday and went until Sunday. Some friends arrived Wednesday to attend sessions that were happening on the first day of the conference, while others arrived on Thursday night. We downloaded the AOTA app which allowed us to view the different session topics and times, making it easier to create our “AOTA session lineup” (Plevack, 2022). My lineup included “conversations that matter” and “short courses” on topics such as collaboration between OTs and behavior analyst, meeting the mental and behavioral needs of children, moving into mental health practice, and sexuality as a meaningful occupation, to name a few. We also attended the Eleanor Clarke Slagle Lecture as a group. In case you missed it, Dr. Mary Lawlor became the “16th USC-affiliated recipient of the [AOTA Eleanor Clarke Slagle Lectureship] award, and will deliver her Slagle Lecture during the 2023 AOTA conference in Kansas City.”

Girlfriends in front of AOTA backdrop

Friends at AOTA: Silvia Hernandez-Cuellar, Daniela Flores-Madriaga, Michelle Plevack, Monica Martinez

Slagle Lecture award

A proud moment: Dr. Mary Lawlor winning the Eleanor Clarke Slagle Lectureship award

AOTA selfie with friends

AOTA day 3, but first #SELFIE


EXPO: USC Booth

I was taking my first sip of coffee, sitting in an NBCOT session, when I received a text that read: “Hi! Just confirming you’re working the booth this morning…” Woops. So yes, I might’ve forgot that I was supposed to be working a shift and arrived 15 minutes late, but everything worked out. I talked to many OT peeps—students, faculty, staff, alumni, fieldwork educators, vendors, the list goes on. I also I put my networking skills to work and felt the power of being part of the #TrojanFamily. Good things await and it is exciting!

Sitting at the USC booth

Me at the USC both; working hard or hardly working?


Trojan Family Reception

I can’t say much because what happens in Texas, stays in Texas. However, I will say that even if you don’t win one of the raffled prizes (remember I said I never win anything), you will still have a night to remember.

A picture with Bianca

Bianca, I, and the view from the balcony of the Trojan Family Reception

A picture of some Latinx students with Dr. Diaz

Una foto con el Dr. Diaz

Students with Dr. Rafeedie

MA2 students with Dr. Rafeedie

___

If you ask me, I would 10/10 recommend that you attend an AOTA conference.

Silvia

You’re Welcome >

by Silvia

Admissions Diversity First-Gen

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I say that in the most humble way.

Here’s the thing about being first-gen—or maybe just about me—we’ve been conditioned to feel and express nothing but thankfulness when we’re given anything (an opportunity, admissions acceptance, a scholarship, etc.), rather than saying what we truly know.

“That’s right, I EARNED that, and I DESERVE it. You didn’t just HAND it to me…and if we’re being honest, you kinda need me.” Try saying that with your chest next time…maybe after you say thank you—but you get what I mean.

As I write this blog, I find myself deleting and rephrasing because I think to myself, “other college students feel that way too,” and that’s the problem. We minimize and sometimes dismiss our feelings trying to be considerate of others. All the typical college student feelz are valid, I am not trying to take that away. What I am saying is that they are compounded by being first-gen—that’s the power of intersectionality.

I don’t just exist as a student. I exist as the first-born and female daughter of Mexican parents—parents who brought me with them when they immigrated so that I could be “first-generation,” though I don’t think that’s what they intended. Mi mamá me dice, “Yo nunca imaginé que ibas a llegar hasta aquí,” and it’s not because she didn’t believe in me, she believes in me more than I believe in myself, it’s because we come from having nothing and knowing nothing. This matters because while many of my peers were enrolled in extracurriculars, sports, being tutored, etc., in the years preceding college applications, I was cleaning houses with my mom. The moment I learned to write and speak English, which was in 3rd grade, I was making my mom’s business cards on a 3x5 piece of paper and answering the phone when people called to inquire about her services. I cleaned houses with my mom from elementary to high school, up until I left for college.

Silvia in white coat holding hands with mom

My mother’s daughter, a proud moment.

I, like many of my fellow Latinx and first-gen brothers and sisters, had romanticized going to college and couldn’t wait to experience it. The truth is, experiencing college as a first-gen student is rewarding, but it’s even more exhausting. There’s pride and there’s guilt. We’re not just navigating academics and figuring out financial aid, we’re also simultaneously carrying out roles as our family’s’ primary interpreters, therapists, mediators, advocates, coparents (IYKYK) and so much more. There’s pride in knowing my siblings get to wear sweaters with the names of universities they actually know about and have visited. The pride in knowing that when teachers ask if said university is where they plan to attend, they get to say, “No. My sister went there for undergrad. She’s at USC getting her masters now,” is one of the many things being first-gen is all about. That, and the guilt that comes with it as we realize that this is only possible because our parents sacrificed their own dreams for ours.

I believe this is where the internalized superlative feelings of thankfulness stem from. Looking back to where we started, we can’t help but feel thankful for where we are now. But we’re not here because we paid our way in. I will always be thankful for every opportunity I have been given, but I will also acknowledge that it’s not a favor that is being done. Just as I remind myself that I worked for this, and I deserve it, I hope you do too.

A text message from dad

A reminder from my dad: “Congratulations mija for all of the hard work you put in each day. You, by yourself, with all of your effort have won your scholarship. I am very proud. I love you.”

So, to our alma matters (and future ones too, including USC), you’re welcome for choosing you. You’re welcome for our diversity, authenticity, and everything we have brought to the table.

___

I want to leave you with something that I was told and that I hold onto as I reflect on my journey through higher education:
“You had nothing, but at the same time you had it all.” – Dr. Rafeedie

Silvia

Self Care is Health and Health is Wealth >

by Silvia

Life Hacks Living in LA

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Listen, I know it is admission szn and I will get back to talking more about being first gen, but today is not the day.

Today we’re talking self-care because it is my birthday and I am self-caring all day. I turn twenty-something and normally I would be traveling for my birthday, but birthdays have looked different the last couple of years because #COVID and #GradSchool. It’s hard and stressful to keep up with both. Since starting the master’s program I have been on the “go-go-go” mindset, rarely taking time for myself, but this year I am manifesting better mental health, well-being, and happiness. I am making an effort to invest more time in myself to reset and refill my cup before hitting burnout.

So with that said, let me share with you my top self-care activities.

Watching The Beach Sunrise
This one is probably my favorite one—exceptforthewakingupearlypart—because it truly helps me ground and recenter myself. Sitting in the sand, waiting for the sun to come up, and listening to the waves gives me a sense of peace and fills me with so much gratitude.

I am very future oriented, constantly thinking about tomorrow, and TBH I hate it because it takes away from appreciating where I am at right now. You know the “I’ll be happy when” syndrome. That’s exactly what I’m referring to: I’ll be happy when ______ (I get into the master/OTD program; I pass the comp/NBCOT exam; I graduate; I get my first job…). We forget that the moment we are living in right now was once the blank we filled in. So today, I chose to be happy and embrace the fact that I am exactly where I should be.

Malibu Sunrise

A Malibu Sunrise

Beach Sunset

If you don’t make it to sunrise, there’s always sunset:)

Tips for this self-care activity:

  • Go to bed early so you actually wake up to make it to the beach for sunrise
  • Bring a book to read or do some mindful coloring
  • Grab a hot cup of coffee or tea on the way + dress cozy

Working out
Ok I love this one too—excepttheworkingoutpart—because when you look good, you feel good. I like to start and end my day with a workout. My AM workout is equivalent to a coffee lover’s first sip of coffee in the morning, it wakes my body up and gets me in a good mood. My PM workout helps wind me down after my long days. And in case you were dying to know, I am a big fan of the Apple Fitness HIIT and cycling workouts.

P.S. If you have a workout playlist, please share it.

SoulCycle

Working out is funner (yes, I know that isn’t a word) with friends; we did a cycling class at SoulCycle. Pictured: Teresa Pham, Me, Mariamme Ibrahim, Alyssa Matlosz, and Vanessa Elshamy

Tips for this self-care activity:

  • Try something new/switch it up (let me tell you, I never thought I’d love cycling)
  • Put a picture of JLO on your vision board
  • Checkout Alyssa’s Zumba class

Treating Myself
Also love this one—exceptthespendingmoneypart—because who doesn’t like to treat themselves?

I must say though, this one can be tricky because it’s really easy to get caught up in the “I deserve it” mindset. And don’t get me wrong, you absolutely do deserve it; however, treating yourself to things only every now-and-then makes them that much more satisfying. OK FINE, this is what I keep telling myself so that I stick to my 2022 budgeting goal— but is it working? Yes. At least January is off to a good start. Now, instead of getting my Vietnamese sweet coffee 3x a week, I save it for the weekend, and in stead of buying a smoothie or acai bowl after my workouts, I make one at home. #GROWTH.

(Obviously except today because it’s my birthday and I’m treating myself).

coffee treat

Teresa treating me to a true Vietnamese sweet coffee

Tips for this self-care activity:

  • Make a “treat yo self” budget
  • Remind yourself you have food/coffee at home during the week
  • We’re here for a good time not a long time; if you need to treat yourself, please do

___
So in conclusion, whether it’s your birthday or not, remember to practice self-care because… self-care is health and health is wealth.

Silvia

MA-2, Year 2 >

by Silvia

Classes Living in LA What are OS/OT?

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2022 is around the corner and so is the end of my time as a student in the Entry-level Master’s program. It is bittersweet to think that just in a couple of months I will be graduating with a master’s degree in occupational therapy and on my way to my second level-2 fieldwork, before prepping for/taking the NBCOT exam and hopefully becoming an *official* OT.

—Woah. Woah. Woah—

Let’s take it back because that still feels very much unreal. Time truly flies by when you’re having fun…and when you’re not, tbh. But anyway, I would like this blog to focus on the now, and that is entering my second semester of year 2 of grad school. Like many of us often do with a new year though, I first want to reflect on what last semester was like before sharing what I hope for and look forward to in the upcoming one.

Year 2, Semester 1 (Fall 2021):
Last semester tried me, and it almost won. But it didn’t.

You know when you start a new routine and things feel off, but you tell yourself you just have to get into the swing of things, and eventually, you’ll get your mojo back? Well, that’s exactly what the entire Fall 2021 semester felt like, except I never got into the swing of things, nor did I get my mojo back. Was it the classes or the switch to being fully in-person? Idk, but we pulled through and in the process realizations and reevaluations were made. Here are the 2 that stand out to me:

  1. A marker of last semester was applying to the OTD program. This was an interesting time because as I was completing the application, which meant staying one more year for another degree, I was complaining about how I had no more school left in me. So, why was I doing that to myself? I came to the realization that I was on “student autopilot” mode and needed to turn it off to figure out what it was that I truly wanted. I am not sure that I completely know yet, but I realize that I don’t have to keep going to prove myself to anyone (including myself).
  2. Priorities—I spent a lot of time reevaluating these. Before even starting this program, I remember telling my boyfriend that when I’m in school, school is my #1 priority and everything else comes after, but that is definitely not true today. Understanding the importance of meaningful occupations and their impact on my mental health has helped me shift my priorities around. Last semester I spent less time worrying about school and more time loving on my family, spending quality time with friends, and focusing on my physical health.

Though I felt lost most of last semester, I think I actually found myself.

Year 2, Semester 2 (Spring 2022):
We’re ringing in the new year and new semester with a remote start. Back to Zoom we go, but I am not mad about it. Fingers crossed that it is only temporary! I have a good feeling about the Spring 2022 semester, and I am looking forward to 2 things in particular: electives and spending more time with friends before we part our ways after graduation.

  1. Did you know that the electives are graded CREDIT/NO CREDIT? I didn’t. But now that I do, it is a game-changer. The semester hasn’t even started, but I am already not stressed. *Knock on wood and fingers crossed this stays the same* Also, this semester we are no longer taking classes as cohorts, which means I get to mingle with the rest of our class :’). I am most excited about the pediatric-based courses that I will be taking because that is the area of practice that I am interested in. I’ll be taking OT 567 (Contemporary Issues: Occupational Therapy in Early Intervention), OT 575 (Dysphasia Across the Lifespan: Pediatrics Through Geriatrics), and OT 578 (Therapeutic Communication: Facilitating Change in Clients)—I will let you all know how it goes!
  2. One of my meaningful occupations is spending time with friends. From study dates to Friendsgiving dinners, I cherish all the memories made. This upcoming semester it is important for me to spend quality time with friends because before we know it, we will be taking different paths—we’ll be at different fieldwork sites, some will be going onto the doctoral program, others will be moving back home, etc. The point is, I want to make the most of next semester with my friends and future colleagues. ❤️

And like that, in the blink of an eye, two years will have flown by.

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