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Getting Involved


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

Everything I know about life, I learned from OT >

by Global Initiatives Team

Getting Involved International What are OS/OT?

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By Josh Digao, Post-Professional Master’s Student

Editor Alison Chang and Vanessa ElShamy
Entry-Level Professional Master’s students

I am from a country that still has, at its very core, patriarchal values. Not to say that the Philippines is a backwards country, but I and a lot of the pre-social media generation Filipinos were raised to believe that men were supposed to act a certain way. When you are raised in such an environment, it becomes what you believe to be right and wrong. Growing up, I felt trapped in a box that dictated how I should think, act, and speak in order to be accepted as a tunay na lalaki (real man). “Don’t care too much”, “Don’t show your emotions”, “Never let others tell you you’re wrong.” In my mind, being this arrogant, unfeeling, uncaring person was what being a man meant. But I struggled with that belief; I did not want to align myself with that archaic idea of a “real man.” It was not until I took up OT that I learned I did not have to.

It was in OT school, the pontifical and royal University of Santo Tomas, that I met some of the strongest and most wonderful people who helped me unlearn my ideas of toxic masculinity and made me the person I am today. The first of which was a professor that tried her best to instill in her students the value of being kind. A Mabuting OT (kind OT) - that is what she wanted us to be. For her, it did not matter as much that you knew all the therapeutic techniques in the book, or that you could name every muscle, bone, or nerve in the human body. What mattered was that when faced with a client, you would treat them with the utmost respect and compassion, regardless of status, age, or ability. “It’s better to be the kindest therapist than the smartest therapist” is what she would always tell us. It was not until I encountered my first few clients that I realized just how right she was. Clients, and even their family members, responded best to therapy when they felt that their autonomy and personhood was respected and cared for. 

The second lesson was that of empathy. This one I attribute to the remarkable group of humans I call my friends. I have been lucky enough to be around people who are deeply loving, sensitive, and emotionally mature. Through them, I learned that in order to truly understand the emotions of others, we need to be attuned to our own. However, before I could learn to comprehend my emotions, I had to allow myself to first feel them. This realization would come to not only help me in my personal growth, but in my professional growth as well. In clinics and hospitals, I would often encounter people at their lowest points. During those moments, I realized more than ever the importance of being empathetic to other people’s struggles.

The last lesson came from my clinical instructors during my internship. Being new to the field, I was largely unconfident in my skills and abilities. I had no experience, and on top of that, the knowledge I was heavily relying on was purely theoretical. But when my clinical instructors (all of whom were amazing OTs) gave me feedback, they would focus on what it was that I did well. They recognized my strengths first, and that gave me the foundation that I needed to develop my own professional identity. I learned not only to accept the person I was, flaws and all, but to also be confident in what I bring to the table.

I believe that OTs are some of the most incredible people out there. The kindness and wisdom that I have seen from every single OT I have met continues to amaze me. Though I consider myself to be a deeply flawed person, they have taught me that the person I am is enough. I have learned that the only way to be a “real man” is to be true to yourself. As I am currently in the process of unlearning outdated values from my childhood, I know that perfection is not my goal; kindness, understanding, and acceptance are. If we extend these values toward ourselves, we will realize that at the end of the day what really matters is we are all trying our best - and we can already be proud of that.

Josh and his friends back at UST

Josh and his friends back at UST


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:


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


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.


Are You New Here? >

by Teresa

Getting Involved School/Life Balance

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Yeah? Thinking about what you want your time here to look like? Then this one’s for you.

Growing up, I was that kid–the ASB, class president, honor society, involved in anything and everything type of kid. In undergrad, I took the complete opposite approach: focused my efforts on academics and dedicated any remaining time to a select few organizations I felt truly passionate about. Going into this program, I knew I wanted to maximize my two years here but was still figuring out what that meant and how it would be affected by… well, let’s just call them unprecedented times for old time’s sake.

I’ve held several roles in several student organizations and programs here, including this one as student ambassador. I came into all of them during these infamous times and with that came a unique set of challenges, as I’m sure many of my fellow student leaders can relate to. So as I step out of my formal roles, here are some questions I’ve frequently gotten…

  1. How do I know what to get involved with? Obviously, the answer to this varies person to person. For me, I chose to get involved with things I felt aligned with my personal values, experiences, and goals which include advocacy, working with underserved communities, and mentorship. Identifying these are important because 1) no one can ever take their importance away from you and 2) they can be used to ground yourself if you ever lose sight of why you started the work in the first place. Working toward things you care about is always going to be a stronger motivator than doing things only because it’s what you think you’re supposed to be doing. This is not to say that you can only get involved with something you have a personal stake in. You can still be a strong ally, leader, and resource as long as you’re committed to putting in the work to understand and uplift larger causes.
  2. When should I get involved? With how short this program is, it may feel tempting to hit the ground running and take on everything all at once. Take the entire first semester to focus on school and establish a strong foundation so that you’re better able to gauge how much more you can take on. Take on more slowly over time if you are willing and able, but recognize your limitations. Becoming a leader is realizing that you are but a small, yet mighty, cog in a much larger machine. If you are no longer working, the entire system doesn’t work and the cause you serve pays the price. That being said, being proactive and reaching out to student organizations early doesn’t hurt! However, they will certainly provide you with more information to get involved when the time comes.
  3. What about the things I struggle with? They are inevitable growing pains, which hopefully subside as you progress and develop into your role(s). Be committed to receiving and applying feedback and getting out of your comfort zone. For me, this was role delegation and for several reasons: being hesitant to add more onto someone else’s plate, unlearning perfectionism, and learning to ask for help. I believe the hallmark feature of a great leader is the ability to empower others to become leaders themselves. This doesn’t happen when one person takes on everything, alone, operating in a silo. It happens when the dissemination of roles provides opportunities for emerging leaders to learn and grow.
  4. How do you stay organized? Definitely not without trial-and-error. In this age of technology and coupled with the pandemic, doing everything digitized became the new norm. While it works for some, I can say with confidence that it doesn’t work for me. Setting reminders, alarms, and notifications is sometimes effective but other times, I will simply swipe away or have my phone silenced and forget about tasks altogether. Out of sight, out of mind. I opt for paper-and-pencil because there’s just something so gratifying about physically crossing items off a list! This way, I am also setting spatial boundaries in addition to the temporal boundaries I will describe in #5. My phone is associated with leisure and social participation while my computer and planner are associated with work and productivity. Every person is different, try out various things and find what works for you!
  5. How do you balance involvement, academics, and your personal life? At the start of this program, I was determined to make the most out of an unfortunate situation so I did hit the ground running and poured myself into involvement and academics. During a presentation from the USC Kortschak Center for Learning and Creativity, we completed a Balance Wheel activity and mine was largely dominated by one color (work) and minimally by another color (sleep). Seeing this visual representation of myself as a two-dimensional occupational being forced me to assess whether I wanted my life to be a never-ending cycle of work, sleep, work, work, work, sleep, work. I did not, so I put boundaries in place. This included making a list of prioritized work instead of always tackling an endless and ever-growing “to do list.” This was followed by dedicating regular and reasonable hours toward these priorities and once these hours elapsed for the day, I would stop even if the work wasn’t finished. It’s fine–the work can wait. Stop and take the time to engage in your meaningful occupations–the ones which will re-energize you and keep you going.

To end this penultimate narrative, I emphasize how important mentorship is based on that which I’ve received and wished I’d received. My mentors have been both formal, through positions I’ve held and those who have guided me, as well as informal, through people I admire and who inspire me through their own work. There aren’t any hard and fast rules to what mentorship has to look like but being positioned to influence young minds is both power and responsibility and is not to be taken lightly. While it may require more effort and time on your part to invest in future generations, it is the hope that this kindness continues to be paid forward and improved upon year after year so that even once your time in the halls of CHP comes to an end, the causes you worked towards persist onward.

It appears I love leaving you with a quote of sorts, so we’re just going to go with it…

“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
-Ruth Bader Ginsburg


Welcome to the Trojan Family! But first, maybe Trojan Friendship? >

by Seth

Getting Involved

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I have, once again, been thinking about the future and as we all prepare to transition into new chapters, my mind keeps coming back to one part of the experience: making friends.

Much like everything else in life, graduate school is a rollercoaster of experience! There are peaks and valleys, and while you’re slowly ticking your way to the top or racing down the hill, it can be hard to remember there are other people on the ride too. It can be a lonely experience, after all. You may be moving across the country, your friends may now be employed full-time, and said plainly adult relationships can be hard! I have been a graduate student for two years now and I still feel these things sometimes. I’m sure these feelings will continue as I move into my next chapter too, but there are ways that we can put ourselves out there and meet other people! I’ve compiled a list of strategies that I have been tinkering with lately and I hope that in advance of your transition, whatever and wherever it may be, something sticks. The one thing they do have in common, however, is putting yourself out there. The frameworks in place are just that, foundations, and it is up to you to build them up!

Schedule and Protect Your Time
I want to start off with some sage advice my lifestyle redesign course received from Dr. Camille Dieterle this semester. She encouraged us to look at our calendars and see when we were having fun versus our responsibilities. It is so obvious that you never think twice about it before someone points it out. Suddenly, it was like a lightbulb had turned on, “Of course I’m lonely! I go to class, I go to work, I go to sleep and repeat.” Where in that mix am I living my twenties? You may be tempted to acknowledge this and commit to making a change, but you must remember that whatever you schedule for you, make sure to protect it! If you’re going to a museum on Friday, don’t agree to a meeting at that same time. I am two weeks out from living this advice and I have already done more things with my friends within that time than I have all last semester.

Take Advantage of the Structures in Place
This suggestion covers a lot of ground. This could mean joining the social media groups for your academic class, a club meeting, a post-final get-together, or it could be a university-wide event; the campus is your oyster! All of these avenues contain a safety net if you’re finding yourself flying solo. What I mean by this is if you are nervous about showing up alone or you’re more of a wallflower, you’ll always have something to start a conversation about: USC! We often laugh at orientation-style ice breakers, but they exist for a reason. My advice is to start with a compliment (“I love your overalls”), introduce yourself (“I’m Seth, it’s nice to meet you!”), and roll right into the “What’s your major?” conversation (“I’m studying occupational therapy, let me explain what that means…” (IYKYK). Did I use this exact conversation just this weekend? Yes. Did I walk away with four new friend phone numbers? Yes! All I have to say is if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

Find Your People
I’m not just talking about those with similar hobbies or people you just *vibe* with; I’m talking about dropping your hairpins and stopping the code-switching, I’m talking about finding your People with a capital “P”. I highly encourage you to seek out your cultural student organizations and your communities beyond the campus boundaries. Find the people who lift the weight of your shoulders and nourish your soul in a way that only people who get it, and get you can. They’re out there, I promise!

Keep Your Roots
It may go without saying, but I think it is important to reiterate. You still have all of the friendships you had before graduate school! They may look a little different, but that doesn’t mean they are gone. Don’t be afraid to schedule a weekly check-in phone call or a tri-monthly zoom call (and make sure to protect it!). Keep sending each other those memes, let them crash on your couch when they’re in town, and visit them when you go home. Whatever your transition may bring, know that you’ll still have someone to turn to and that you’ll navigate it together.

After all of these tips I do want to add a caveat: I’m not saying you have to make the bestest of friends. Graduate school may feel long in the moment, but it goes by in the blink of an eye. Do not feel pressured to walk away from the experience with the friendship equivalent of a soulmate (If you do, I love that for you). What I am saying, though, is that it helps to have a shoulder to lean on and someone to celebrate with. It helps to have a friend, no adjective is needed. With that said, to those entering the E-OTD next year, to our incoming BS-OTD students, and to anyone who is going through a transition soon, welcome to the Trojan Friendship and thank you for being a friend.

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