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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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Getting Involved

Taking a leap of faith: transitioning from SOTI participant to a full-time OTD student >

by Global Initiatives Team

Diversity Getting Involved International

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By Serg Lam, Doctoral Candidate, SOTI alumni (2019)

Editors Michelle Plevack and Abraham Ramirez
Entry-Level Professional Master’s students

Visit to Keck Medicine of USC’s hand therapy clinic with SOTI.

I always feel privileged to participate in my patients’ recovery journey. Having the opportunity to empower and restore patients back to their daily routine is definitely a joyful experience. Since I am an integral part of my patients’ recovery journey, I strive to learn different intervention strategies, and this is how my SOTI (USC’s Summer Occupational Therapy Immersion) story began.

During the SOTI program, my classmates and I visited many advanced occupational therapy practices. Out of these, ocean therapy was definitely a highlight for me. Ocean therapy utilizes surfing as a meaningful occupation to help individuals with PTSD and/or depression to overcome barriers and enhance their confidence. For example, maintaining good posture in big waves and swimming in the current provides an adverse scenario for individuals to safely “fight for their lives,” and enables them to develop healthy coping skills in adverse situations. The life skills they developed in therapy sessions could eventually transfer into their daily lives and allow them to manage challenges and stressors in real life. Upon reflection, Ocean therapy gave me the insight to develop my career goals. Besides being an occupational therapist in a psychiatric setting, I am also a Muay Thai coach/fighter. It has always been my dream to promote health and wellness for younger adults utilizing the sport I am fond of. Through training and coaching, I have seen positive transformations in many athletes. Overcoming barriers in training not only improves physical conditions in athletes, but it also empowers them to promote psychological resilience and to adapt to difficult situations in adulthood.

Hong Kong Muay Thai Championship 2021 at Southorn Stadium, Wan Chai.

Besides enriching therapists with advanced clinical knowledge in various settings, SOTI also promotes friendship and brings people with different nationalities together. Though we are therapists from other countries, with diverse backgrounds and age ranges, there was never a dull moment in class. My roommates Naoya and Andy have always supported me in the program. Trust and intimacy were formed as classmates had given me the nickname “Uncle Serg”, as I had been assigned a senior leader in class. The bond of friendship grew as we studied and explored beautiful California together.

SOTI class visit to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA).

“Uncle Serg” had a wonderful time in the SOTI program, and I realized it was never too late to start chasing my dreams. Before starting my OTD program, I worked in both in-patient and community psychiatric settings in Hong Kong. OT input is crucial in a psychiatric patient’s journey. Yet, I feel like there are limitations in my practice, and patients’ needs are not always met in the psychiatric unit, especially individuals with behavioral issues and sensory issues. So, I have decided to take a leap of faith and pursue further education for the above reasons. I have just started my OTD in Spring 2022 and am doing my residency in the Insp!re (Innovations in Neurodevelopmental Sensory Processing Research) lab for Dr. Baranek. Time to fight on!

Beach day with my SOTI buddies in sunny California.

Friendtorship Circles 2021-2022 >

by Global Initiatives Team

Diversity Getting Involved

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By Brendan La Scala, OTR, Global Initiatives Doctoral Candidate

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

Danny Park, OTD, OTR/L (pictured on the right) and Brendan LaScala, OTD student (pictured on the left) at the ice cream social/Friendtorship mixer in November 2021

This semester, Global Initiatives hosted our first in-person Friendtorship (friendship + mentorship) Circles event for the USC Chan community. Friendtorship Circles were intentionally created with students in our Post-Professional Master’s, Entry-Level Master’s (first and second years), OTD, PhD, Bachelor’s to Master’s, and Bachelor’s to Doctorate programs. Meetings were held one time per month, with each event including large and small group discussions and activities for students to get to know each other.

The Friendtorship Circles were started in the summer of 2020 as a product of the Chan Community Commission, a student initiative that aims to help cultivate connections between incoming Master’s students. Second-year Professional Master’s students formed this commission, recognizing the importance of social connection, having received a significant portion of their education experience remotely. At the end of the summer, Global Initiatives decided to add the Friendtorship Circles to their programming with a focus on the international student population.

First virtual Friendtorship Event.

Students took the time out of their busy schedules to share moments with other students, some whom they had never met before; this represents the nature of the occupational therapy community. Our very own Josh Digao (MA-1) stated that, “Friendtorship was a way for me to connect with people I would have never met otherwise and I am grateful that Global Initiatives provided this amazing opportunity to us.” The Friendtorship Circles served our community by providing an avenue for international students to get to know local students from other cohorts in the Chan Division. Below are some pictures from our time together during the Fall semester. I am personally excited to continue this effort as a member of the Friendtorship planning committee and plan to help expand the program this Spring semester!


OT Dance Party >

by Alyssa

Classes Getting Involved

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I’ve been teaching Zumba at the USC Village Gym since Fall 2018. As an extrovert who struggles to prioritize exercising, it has been a win-win. I am obligated to get myself to the gym and energized from both the exercise and the social time. Especially with how challenging graduate classes can be, it is a much needed reset to my week every Tuesday.

So, what does this have to do with OT?

This week in OT 534 Health Promotion & Wellness we had a “wellness workshop” day where students got to facilitate and attend different occupation-based activity groups to promote personal wellness. When we got the sign-ups to facilitate a group, I signed up right away. Bringing Zumba to OT school!

My fellow students submitted their preferences and were assigned to different workshops to attend during class time (some of the other options were cookie baking, songwriting, and vision boarding 😮).

Given that dancing in classrooms filled with tables and chairs would not be ideal, we had to improvise for the space. We were out facing the elements on the lawn (muddy uneven grass, an unexpectedly hot November day) with a small speaker and a lot of funny looks from people walking by. But still, I had a blast, and based on all the laughing at/with me & each other, I think the participants did too. It was such a fun chance to share one of my favorite occupations with my friends, especially those who have never done it before. Dr. Cox stopped by during the workshop and thought I was putting up a “fight on ✌️” while dancing… truthfully I was just indicating that the move should be done twice, but hey — two birds one stone.

OT students dancing on the lawn

2nd year Entry-Level MA students participating in the Zumba workshop. Photo by Silvia Hernandez Cuellar

Even though I did not get to participate in the other activities, I loved how Wellness Workshop day highlighted how seemingly random skills could be an asset for OT’s role in health promotion. What other career path has a place for backgrounds in dance and martial arts and songwriting and cooking and crafting? I mean, OTD Resident John J. Lee even facilitated a Squid Games competition. Opportunities for wellness are everywhere — you never know what skills your colleagues will bring to the table!


Better Late Than Never: The MA ’22 White Coat Ceremony >

by Alyssa

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The White Coat Ceremony for the entry-level-MA class of 2022 felt like a long time coming. With everything moving to Zoom, many of us were concerned that our ceremony scheduled for August 2020 would also end up in the virtual void. Luckily, my class voted to postpone the ceremony instead.

Speaking honestly, I had not been looking forward to the white coat ceremony. You can’t look forward to something you didn’t know about. So at first, missing the experience did not feel like a big deal. Upon learning more about the meaning behind the ceremony as the uncertainty loomed, I felt more and more disappointed. The White Coat Ceremony is a tradition to induct and welcome occupational therapy students into the profession — what a sad thing to miss out on.

We were sent our white coats in the mail. Since we could not try on samples in person, the division had a few students from the class of 2021 virtually show us their different sizes of coats so we could make our best guesses for our sizes (as you can imagine, the accuracy of our guesses were mixed). Opening the white coat package felt like it should have been a big moment, but honestly, it felt kind of empty. I wished I was receiving it with my classmates, most of whom I had only ever seen shoulders-up in a Zoom screen box.

The limbo of if/when the ceremony was going to happen felt endless. A whole year later, in July 2021, we received the save-the-date email — it was finally happening! On a very warm late August day, under a huge tent on the lawn outside of CHP, the excitement was palpable. Dr. Rafeedie stepped on the stage 5 minutes before the ceremony even started to set up water bottles and everyone started cheering. After a hard year of online/hybrid classes and fieldwork, the class of 2022 got our in-person ceremony surrounded by our friends, family, and faculty. My voice felt croaky afterward from cheering my friends on.

I can’t speak for the rest of my class, but I think the ceremony would have felt really different if we did it at the beginning of the program. Doing it in the middle of the program was an opportunity to look back, look ahead, and look around at all of the friends and colleagues I have come to appreciate so much over the last year. It was definitely worth the wait.

5 M.A. OT Students at the White Coat Ceremony

MA ‘22 friends left to right: Elizabeth “Lizzo” Bowers, Maggie Young, Alyssa Matlosz, Mariamme Ibrahim, Daniela Flores

3 M.A. OT Students at the White Coat Ceremony

With my fellow Chan student ambassador friends Silvia Hernandez Cuellar and Teresa Pham


Lessons from Smash Mouth: My Time at SSO >

by Seth

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“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.”

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