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What are OS/OT?

Reconnecting with my Filipino Roots at USC Chan >

by Global Initiatives Team

International What are OS/OT?

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By Abby Khou, Entry-Level Professional Master’s student and Global Initiatives volunteer

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

Abby's visit to Palawan, Philippines

Abby’s visit to Palawan, Philippines

When I first came to the United States as a Filipino immigrant in 1999, I didn’t realize that one of the questions I would be asked the most is “are you a nurse?” While it is one of the popular Filipina stereotypes, it does hold some grain of truth — many Filipino men and women come to the US and either study nursing or work as nurses. In Filipino culture, healthcare workers are held in high regard. I would hear some of my family members boast of their children who work in the medical field or are the pride of their families because of their line of work. Why do Filipinos make such good healthcare workers? I may sound a tad bit biased — my mom is a nurse in Pennsylvania and my dad is a doctor in the Philippines! 😊 I believe that Filipinos are intuitively compassionate, caring, and selfless. They go out of their way to make other people feel comfortable, even when they’re sacrificing their own comfort.

It seems almost inevitable that I would end up pursuing a healthcare career, but I never thought it would be Occupational Therapy. I didn’t see myself as a nurse because I was always a bit anxious when I would get blood drawn. I only found out about OT 4 years ago because of my son’s Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis. Being a big proponent of Early Intervention, I learned about OT as a parent sitting in on his OT sessions and conversing with his OTs in his Early Intervention program and outpatient pediatric clinic. His OTs made such a big impact in his growth and development that I decided I wanted to do for others what my son’s OTs had done for him. I had been working in public relations and marketing since 2007. In Manila, I was working at a TV network in 2001 and had no idea OT even existed. OT in the Philippines was at its infancy in 1917 when the Philippines’ government enacted the Revised Administrative code, which ensured that those who were injured while serving the government were compensated for ensuing disability and/or injury while serving. OT was introduced to the Philippine Civil Administration Unit I (PCAU I) General Hospital by Andre Roche, an OT of French origin. Similar to in the U.S., OT in the Philippines had its roots in the World War — the purpose of PCAU I was to care for Filipinos and Americans who were impacted by WWII.

Palawan, Philippines

Palawan, Philippines

Now in 2021, as a Filipino-American and non-traditional OT student who is pursuing the profession as a second career, I am grateful for the opportunity to connect with my Filipino roots at USC Chan. OT is quickly becoming a sought-after career in the Philippines, and I have met quite a number of Filipino international students pursuing their Post-Professional MA degrees in OT. Two kababayans (fellow Filipinos) were my instructors as OTD residents in the summer and fall. One great interaction I had was with Jerzl Awit, who is the OTD resident for our Quantitative Research class. I attended her workshop for my Literature Search paper and connected with her during the session because we both speak Tagalog (the primary Filipino language). I also met Nicole Parcon, an MA-1 student from the 2021 SOTI Program and exchanged emails with her after we met on Zoom. Now, she is a friendly face that I often bump into and chat with on campus. The sound of Tagalog in the hallways of USC Chan always brings me back home, and the connections I have already made feel like the comfort of warm sabaw (soup) on a cold, rainy day. I am proud of my Filipino colleagues who passionately pursue their OT degrees at USC Chan as part of their journey to becoming an OT practitioner.

Abby's visit to Palawan, Philippines

Abby’s visit to Palawan, Philippines


A Love Letter to the OS Minor >

by Alyssa

1 comment

Classes What are OS/OT?

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With USC course registration coming up, let’s chat about the occupational science (OS) minor and why it’s the best dang minor ever (Let’s be real — it’s part of my job to promote our programs… but I promise this is my honest opinion and I’d say all of this for free).

Undergrad was a very stressful time for me. My major courses involved many overlapping creatively-demanding projects, and I spent plenty of late nights glued to my computer to keep up with it all. For me, and for many others, the OS minor was a refuge. Beyond their obvious application to OT school and life in general, I thought they were all really fun and often were a stress-free few hours of my week. AND I actually remember what I learned in them. Here’s what I took & my favorite project from each class:

OT 250 (4 units): Introduction to Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
  • What is it? The only class required for the minor. It was like a sampler of everything OT has to offer — we learned about healthy habits and routines, flow, motivational interviewing, lifestyle redesign, OS research, neuroscience, stress management, sleep hygiene, creativity, exercise, sensory systems, and (still somehow) more!
  • My favorite project: We wrote a paper to reflect on occupations that bring us into a flow state — I wrote mine about Zumba. 💃
OT 251 (4 units): Across the Lifespan: Occupations, Health and Disability*
  • What is it? The OT department’s lifespan development class. This class was great preparation for the Team-Based Learning format used in several of the OT graduate classes. *(Bonus: it covers a prerequisite for the graduate program so it’s like a 2-for-1 deal)
  • My favorite project: Individually, our final assignment was to read a memoir by a person with a disability and relate it to the course — I applied the person-environment-occupation model to Tara Westover’s Educated and it was the first time I got to practice this kind of analysis.
OT 330 (4 units): Perspectives on the Daily Life of Families
  • What is it? A class dedicated to the roles within and occupational impact of family life.
  • My favorite project: A family tree diagram to identify occupational connections within our families. We could make it as extensive as we wanted, and I had a blast. My final tree was 23 pages wide 😮
OT 350 (4 units): Disability, Occupation, and the Health Care System
  • What is it? Amazing guest speakers and meaningful discussions surrounding the varied experiences of living with a disability and navigating the health care system.
  • My favorite project: We had weekly journals to reflect on our developing understanding of disability — my favorite journal activity was an accessibility scavenger hunt around USC’s main campus.
OT 370 (4 units): Understanding Autism: Participation Across the Lifespan
  • What is it? This class was so different from psychology classes I had taken that included content about ASD. We focused on neurodiversity, lived experiences, and advocacy.
  • My favorite project: My ‘media representation of ASD’ group project. I got to illustrate a children’s book and explore ways to help typically developing children understand their peers with ASD.

If I could have fit more in my schedule, I would have. Specifically, the human-animal interaction class. A few weeks ago, my friend’s dog was a guest speaker in that class — he was excellent.

Dr. Ashley Uyeshiro Simon and Guest Speakers Samantha Kosai (human) and Oliver Kosai (small dog)

Dr. Ashley Uyeshiro Simon and guest speakers Samantha Kosai (human) and Oliver Kosai (small dog). The start of Ollie’s long career in academia, I’m sure.

As a student ambassador, I recently got to go back and give brief presentations to some of this semester’s OS minor courses, and it made me really nostalgic. When I feel nostalgic, I get emotional. When I get emotional, I write letters and never send them (usually because they are addressed to real people. Since this one is addressed to a non-sentient academic program, I’m ok with publishing it on the internet. So, here we go).

To my beloved OS minor,

I wish we could have spent more time together. I miss a lot about being an undergrad at USC, and your classes are no exception.

Thank you for classes that brightened my afternoons when I’d usually be needing a nap. Thank you for faculty mentors who have supported me through ups and downs both academically and personally (shout-outs to Linsey, Kate, & Kristy). Thank you for literally assigning some of my closest friends, Leah and Dakotah, to me as part of my group for OT 251 — they’ve stuck with me all the way til the MA-II program, and now they’re stuck with me for life.

Thank you for guiding me into the best career in the world.



The Giving T(e)ree(sa) >

by Teresa

Classes Life Hacks What are OS/OT?

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Heyyy, besties! So the moment we enter Q4 on October 1, I start thinking about giving season because not to brag, buuut… I take a lot of pride in that (I believe) I give fantastic gifts. Whether big or small, I always try to make sure my gifts show people I was really listening to them when they shared with me that they’ve been wanting “X” or are really into “Y.” My top love languages are “quality time” and “physical touch” so you can imagine how much ya’ girl struggled throughout the pandemic, I’m not going to lie. But “gifts” became a welcome… well, gift.

In OT 405: “Foundations of Occupation” last summer with Dr. Halle, we learned that occupational therapy is rooted in the Arts and Crafts Movement but that our OT-founding queen pointed out that “handiwork alone was insufficient” (Slagle, 1930, p. 271). Then in the 1961 Eleanor Clarke Slagle Lecture, Dr. Mary Reilly shared the famous quote, “[Wo]Man through the use of [her] hands as they are energized by mind and will, can influence the state of [her] own health” (Reilly, 1963, p. 2). I know, I know — what is this, another lecture? But these things really stuck with me because it gave a definition to the calmness and serenity I had felt my entire life when crafting.

Over the past year, one of my favorite occupations has quickly become making things with my Cricut and I just feel the need to clear the air because whenever I say this, people are like “...🦗???” Okay, NO — it’s a machine that can make intricate cuts on paper, cardstock, vinyl, etc. and allows you to make your own personalized crafts.

It just so happens that in OT 405 last summer, I was placed in the same group with Alyssa Matlosz, who’d become my fellow student ambassador and more importantly, one of my closest friends in the program. She was the first facilitator for our group and in relation to her week’s topic of Progressive Era Influences on the founding of occupational therapy, she ended with “I’m just like my country — I’m young, scrappy, and hungry — and I’m not throwin’ away my shot” and I thought… Did we just become best friends?

So it only made sense that on her birthday this year, after a year’s worth of iconic Zoom moments…

Screenshot of Alyssa and her two stuffed animal koalas on Zoom from last year during remote learning. They are each wearing a birthday party hat

I truly do not even know how to begin to explain this, so please take it for what it is

...That I’d circle back to OT 405 and our shared love of “Hamilton: An American Musical” — a nod to the foundations of our friendship.

Screenshot of Teresa's design on the Cricut Design Space app, which includes the silhouette of a koala hanging onto a tree branch, the logo for Hamilton which is the silhouette of Alexander Hamilton pointing toward the sky as he stands atop a star, Alyssa's name in cursive font, and the words 'My Shot,' with the letters O.T. larger to signify occupational therapy

The designs I created on the Cricut Design Space app

Teresa selected the gold glittered vinyl she wanted to use, applied it to the green cutting mat, and inserted it into her mint-colored Cricut.

I selected the vinyl material I wanted to use, I arranged it to the cutting mat, I arranged it into the Cricut. (I arranged the menu, the venue, the seating!)

Two images of the weeding process following the cut. In the image on the left side, Teresa is using a sharp tool to extract the cut of the koala by removing the excess vinyl. In the image on the right side, all four designs have been weeded and are ready to transfer onto a surface.

Left: This process is called “weeding,” where you extract the cut by removing the excess vinyl. Right: The finished vinyl cuts ready to be transferred onto the surface I choose using transfer tape!

Two images of the final products after Teresa applied the vinyl cuts onto glassware. In the image on the left side, a shot glass reads 'My ShOT,' which is superimposed on top of the Hamilton logo. In the image on the right side, a wine glass reads 'Alyssa,' with the silhouette of a koala hanging onto a tree branch at the bottom of the glass.

Left: Honestly, I’m pretty proud of this. Please, no one ever throw away their (sh)OT. Right: Lights are overrated, there should be a koala at the end of every tunnel.

I made these gifts during a week that, truthfully, I did not have time for. In between assignments, exams, deadlines, and applications, I was feeling overwhelmed and to be completely honest, I couldn’t remember the last time I had done something unrelated to school. So instead, I took a break and powered up the old ‘Cut. Something I really enjoy about the therapeutic process of crafting is that not too long ago, you just had a concept you were brainstorming in your head and now it’s a tangible, real thing you brought to life. I’m not just talking about physical items you create with your hands, either. You can “craft” anything — an essay you wrote last week that you’re really proud of, a flyer you made online to promote an event, a photo you captured to add to your carefully curated Instagram post, a blog you’re writing about what everyone initially thought was your love for insects. You took an abstract idea and introduced it into the world and if your mind can do that, think of all the things you’re going to do in the future. What a wonderful gift for this world to look forward to — the promise and hope of the products of your creativity and ingenuity that are yet to come.

There is also something beautiful to be said about an item you make with your hands. I spent hours on this gift, but each moment was such a mindful experience. How could you not say crafting falls under OT? From the fine motor skills it takes to handle tools and delicate material, to the executive functioning required to sequence tasks, to the visuoperceptive skills needed to locate and work with everything, to the social connectedness you feel in making the activity personalized… the list goes on and on. And then being able to give the end product to another person and in doing so, indirectly saying, “I made this for you because I care about you. But in making it, I was able to sit down and take time away from my stress, so even though I care about you… I care about me, too.”

Is there any gift greater than that?

I have the honor to be…
Your obedient servant,
T dot Pham


Reilly, M. (1963). The Eleanor Clarke Slagle: Occupational Therapy Can Be One of the Great Ideas of 20th Century Medicine. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 30(1), 5–19. https://doi.org/10.1177/000841746303000102

Slagle, E. C. (1930). Address to graduates. Occupational Therapy and Rehabilitation, 9, 271–276.

A Turning Point of My Life: From PKUHSC to USC >

by Global Initiatives Team

Classes Fieldwork International What are OS/OT?

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By Chen Gong, OTD

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

What made you interested in occupational therapy?

My story with occupational therapy began in 2018 when I was an intern therapist in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at The Sixth Affiliated Hospital of Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou. As a beginner in OT, I attached importance to function-oriented treatment. However, my instructor encouraged me that I should pay more attention to the patient’s real life. Once, on a whim, I used a guitar to engage a patient with dementia in a music activity. The patient was relieved from the tiredness and boredom of previous therapy sessions. I could see tears in her eyes that this activity was meaningful to her. This incident has completely changed my opinion about OT, and let me really understand the meaning of occupation. Later, because of my love for OT, I came to the dual-degree OT program between Peking University Health Science Center (PKUHSC) and USC to continue my studies as an OTD student.

Why did you choose to continue your education with the OTD?

During my two years at PKUHSC, I gained a more systematic understanding of OT theoretical knowledge and gradually found the current situation of OT promotion in China. In many general hospitals, OTs have not found their own optimal practice area. OTs are unable to establish their professional identity and carry out meaningful acts of therapy. I deeply feel the inadequacy of my own ability. I look forward to further improving my professional level and leadership, exploring the OT market, and leading the development of OT in China in the future. I believe that studying at USC Chan will help me to achieve my goals.

Master’s degree ceremony: Peking University, Beijing, China, Summer 2021

Master’s degree ceremony: Peking University, Beijing, China, Summer 2021

How has the transition from MSc in PKUHSC to OTD been?

China and the United States have very different cultural backgrounds. This ranges from the perspective of OT education, the way of communication between people, the atmosphere of class and work, and the pace of life here are all different from before. It has basically been like learning how to grow up and live again. Fortunately, I quickly adapted to the lifestyle and study context here. For the first semester, I am working with Dr. Emily Sopkin and Dr. Shawn Roll separately for pedagogy and research. Now I can actively act as a mentee.

Chen’s First photo with USC Chan Division, Fall 2021

Chen’s First photo with USC Chan Division, Fall 2021

Describe your experience of OT school at PKUHSC vs USC.

Studying OT in PKUHSC for two years was really a very good experience. We completed the Master’s courses required by USC, and the way of teaching at PKUHSC was similar to USC Chan’s classes. In addition to the courses, we all completed a certain research project and published a paper in Chinese core journals. Through this, I have special appreciation for my mentor, Professor Ninghua Wang and her support for my research work. I also really appreciate my instructors Dr. Jane Liu, Dr. Liguo Qian, Dr. Hui Wang, Dr. Lily Xu and Dr. Buwen Yao, who were all students of USC Chan, and their efforts to localize these OT courses. Studying OT at USC is exciting. I can feel leadership everywhere. This immersion allowed me to think about how to develop my leadership. The Chan Division has its own unique experience in pedagogy, research, and clinical practice. I am sure I can learn something different from what I learned in PKUHSC, especially in clinical practice.

Unforgettable lunch with Dr. Emily Sopkin, Fall 2021

Unforgettable lunch with Dr. Emily Sopkin, Fall 2021

What do you think about your OTD residency so far?

It’s great! My residency for the first semester is mainly about pedagogy and research.

For my pedagogy residency I am a teaching assistant for OT 440: Kinesiology, which was also my favorite class when I was a Master’s student at PKUHSC. I enjoy this job. I developed a good mentoring relationship with Dr. Sopkin. I try to be creative by sharing knowledge related to the course with my students to help them learn from different perspectives.

For research, I’m working in the Musculoskeletal Sonography and Occupational Performance (MSOP) laboratory. Now I am gradually getting involved in existing research in the lab, which makes me feel fulfilled. As Dr. Roll said, “I don’t think it’s that important for you to learn a particular skill. It’s more important to immerse yourself in the research environment and see how research works.” I couldn’t agree more.

What kind of OT do you want to be in the future? Your plans/goals after OTD graduation? Or how will you promote OT services in China?

Actually, I want to be an active OT, who is purposeful, has great leadership skills and knows how to promote OT effectively. I also hope that I will be good at several clinical skills, which will help me establish my professional identity.

I plan to work in the OT department of a general hospital, mainly engaged in the occupational therapy of musculoskeletal and neurological disorders of the upper limbs and hands, and also undertake part of the teaching work, e.g. combining what I learned here with China’s clinical context and then trying to establish a practical framework of occupation-based hand therapy education. As for research, I will try to design and lead research projects and apply for national funding.


Dancing In the Rain >

by Teresa

Fieldwork What are OS/OT?

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In the Vietnamese language, there is a phrase to offer your condolences to someone when a loved one passes — “chia buồn” — which roughly translates to, “I share in your sadness.” I’ve always found it poignant and have yet to find a phrase in English which can succinctly convey the same sentiment; that if the weight feels too much for one person to bear, please allow me to help you carry it.

This past summer, my grandpa passed away, peacefully and surrounded by loved ones after many years of suffering many strokes. Recounting his life, I realized I had known him as ill for more years of my life than I had not. Growing up, most of my interactions with him existed within the confines of a skilled nursing facility. This past summer, I was also completing my first Level II fieldwork experience in a skilled nursing facility.

During his celebration of life, my family went around the room sharing stories about grandpa. After my dad retired, he took upon the role as an informal caregiver to my grandpa and shared how much grandpa hated my dad’s visits to the nursing facility because he knew that meant it was time for a bath. My mind went, “OT!” but everyone took the light-hearted story for what it was and laughed, including myself. A few weeks later during fieldwork, I was notified that a family member wanted my patient to work on bathing during OT that day.

My patient did not want to work on bathing during OT that day.

They were protesting against the task, bargaining with me, and apologizing for how their disability was inconveniencing my work. I thought of my grandpa and how I would want a therapist to approach the situation if it was him. In places like skilled nursing facilities, there is so much loss of control. People have little to no control in their routine, what and when to eat, what medications they take, and how quickly (or slowly) their body is changing. So when a bright-eyed young OT student comes knocking on their door, asking if they want to take a bath, they say “no” — and you let them, because it returns just a tiny sliver of control to their life.

On several occasions, concerned family members entered the rehab gym with questions about their loved one’s progress during therapy. While others avoided eye contact so as not to get flagged down with questions, I’d approach them and provide updates as best I could. Afterwards, therapists would say to me, “You’re a student — you didn’t have to do that” to which I would reply, “I wanted to.” Just as much as I want to share in victories with patients and their families, I want to share in their sadness with them as well because it’s how I would want my own loved ones to be treated by providers.

Dr. Rafeedie often says how “occupational therapists teach people how to dance” but I’d like to add a stipulation - that sometimes, we teach people how to dance in the rain. That sometimes, in even the bleakest of places, you can teach people how to flip their outlook on life, flip the way they move and feel, and flip the way the system works because as occupational therapists, you’re well-equipped to. OTs possess the impeccable ability to take an unfortunate situation and turn it into something wonderful.

I lost my grandpa this summer yet somehow, I still saw him a lot. I saw him through my patients and the cheesy jokes they’d crack during our sessions. When they encouraged me to work hard in school and finish strong, I heard my grandpa cheering me on. On their families’ faces, I saw my own family’s faces — the looks of desperation, of encouragement, of sorrow, of hopefulness. To whoever is reading this with a heavy heart: I share in your sadness with you, whatever it may be. The rain is clearing and the sunshine is coming, I can feel it. Let’s dance.

Black and white photo of Teresa's grandpa’s side profile while seated and smiling

In loving memory of Thomas Dương Đức Thanh

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