University of Southern California
Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy

Meet Our Trojan Family

Heidi McHugh Pendleton, Ph.D., OTR/L, FAOTA

Ph.D.

Hometown: Palo Alto, California

What brought you to occupational therapy?

Dr. Marian Diamond, my Anatomy professor at the University of California Berkeley, said she thought I would make a good occupational therapist. Having never heard of OT and given my admiration for Dr. Diamond, I researched the profession, met with Doris Cutting, the Chair of OT at San Jose State University, and upon graduation from Cal, earned my Certificate in OT at SJSU.

Why did you decide to pursue your PhD in Occupational Science?

While working at Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center, I enrolled in the MA program in OT at USC, taking one evening class a semester until I completed my degree. I loved the faculty and the program and when Florence Clark called and asked if I wanted to be in the first group of PhD students in OS, I was thrilled! I was one of the original 7 students who began the program in the fall of 1989. The fact that I had moved back to the Bay Area and had just started teaching at SJSU did not deter me. The Chair at SJSU, Dr. Lela Llorens, scheduled me to teach all of my classes Monday through Wednesday and Dr. Clark arranged for all of the Ph.D classes to be on Thursdays and Fridays. I would fly to LA every Wednesday evening and fly back home on Fridays – I had an incredible support system to make all of this work and was able to complete my classes in 3 years. The dissertation took longer, but all of us in the original 7 were successful in earning our degrees.

What was the most rewarding part of being in the PhD program?

I received a fabulous education and an even deeper love and understanding for my profession from my studies in occupational science. My dissertation earned me the prestigious Yerxa Award, named for one of my most admired professors and occupational therapists: Elizabeth Yerxa.

What are you are doing now?

  • Enjoying a long (26 years+) and rewarding career in academia – teaching occupational therapy at San Jose State University.
  • Tenured full professor teaching classes in Physical Disabilities, Professional Development, History and Theory in OT, Independent Living Skills, Research and Assessments etc.
  • Former Chair of the Department having completed a 4-year term in Fall 2012.
  • Co-editor of a major OT textbook: Pedretti’s Occupational Therapy: Practice Skills for Physical Dysfunction, authored numerous publications, and presented at local, state and national conferences throughout the clinical and academic phases of my career trajectory.
  • Awarded Fellow of the American Occupational Therapy Association; received the Award of Excellence (2003); 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Occupational Therapy Association of California (OTAC). Named Honored Lecturer at the 1999 California Foundation for Occupational Therapy (CFOT) Annual Research Symposium.
  • Awarded Teacher Scholar 2000-2001 at SJSU; serving as Chair of the University Accommodations Review Board at SJSU.  Since 2000, on the Board of Directors for CFOT as Co-Chair of the Research Advisory Board.

Eliza Hart, MAII ‘15

Two-Year Master's

Hometown: Agoura Hills, California

What brought you to occupational therapy?

I was interested in a career change and wanted to pursue a helping profession. After doing some informational interviews with some OTs and shadowing a USC OT alumna in a pediatric outpatient setting, I was sold!

What are some of the occupations you engage in?

Playing tennis, cooking, hiking, and kayaking

Tell us about your favorite memory from the program so far.

I have made so many wonderful memories thus far, so it is hard to choose just one. My classmates and I planned a surprise baby shower for one of our professors, Dr. Rafeedie. We all worked together to contribute to the surprise and make it a special moment for her. She is a fantastic professor and we wanted her to know that we appreciated everything she did for us - she really made learning fun. The smile on her face when she walked into the room was amazing and she was so grateful. She hugged every single person in the class, personally saying thank you to everyone. It was a great moment that demonstrated mutual respect between students and professor and teamwork and collaboration between students in our cohort.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?

I would want to be able to travel places at the snap of my fingers. I commute from Orange County to campus, so this would be very helpful in eliminating my morning commute. I also love to travel, but do not enjoy long plane rides, so it would be amazing to be able travel across the world so quickly.

What are two truths and a lie about yourself?

I have an identical twin. I went bungee jumping with my mom on my 21st birthday. I once won a booty-shaking contest.

Ellen Wleklinski, BS-MA ‘15

Bachelor's to Master's

Hometown: Walnut Creek, CA

What brought you to occupational therapy?

I knew I wanted to be in a health profession, but I didn’t want to prescribe medicine. I wanted to help people lead healthy, meaningful lives.

What area of practice are you interested in?

I’m interested in adult rehabilitation and lifestyle redesign.

What are some of the occupations you engage in?

I play flute in the Trojan Marching Band; I love distance running and cooking!

If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?

If I could have one superpower, it would be always knowing the right question to ask! I would learn things I never would otherwise know, and I would be able to gain the most possible from the experience of others!

What Hogwarts house would you be in and why?

I would be in Gryffindor, because I’m courageous, skillful, scholarly, ambitious, and faithful!

David Park, MAII ‘14

Two-Year Master's

Hometown: Seoul, South Korea

What brought you to occupational therapy?

Lot of researching & volunteering

What area of practice are you interested in?

I’m really interested in working with adults and elder adults (adult rehabilitation) and forensic and at-risk youth population (mental health).

What are some of the occupations you engage in?

I like to stay active, grab late-night donuts with friends, watch movies, listen to music, and laundry.

Tell us about your favorite memory from the program so far.

One of my favorite memories from the program is when I got to dip Rob Russow at the Boat Party.

What Hogwarts house would you be in and why?

Hufflepuff: hard work, patience, justice, and loyalty.

If you could choose anyone (living or dead) to be your mentor, who would you pick?

Jane Baumgarten. She is the most amazing OT I’ve ever had the privilege to study under. She has so much clinical knowledge and experience. She never ceases to amaze me with her skills.

What are two truths and a lie about yourself?

I lived in Poland before coming to America. I almost lost my sight at age seven. I love the Los Angeles Lakers.

Megan Ruth Atkinson, MAII ‘14

Two-Year Master's

Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

What brought you to occupational therapy?

I lived and worked in New York City for nine years, and for part of that time I was a practice manager for a behavioral optometrist in Brooklyn. I found out about OT there, since many OTs referred kids to him, and after some research I decided it was the perfect follow-on to my psychology studies.

Describe your background before coming to occupational therapy.

In high school, my mom encouraged me to teach dance classes to kiddos in Head Start programs outside of Pittsburgh.  Mom is amazing with children and incredible with older adults.  She taught special-needs pre-school and is now a home aid for people with Alzheimer’s who have additional serious medical conditions.  I feel like I learned a lot about OT from her, even though she was unfamiliar with the profession before I applied to school. 

What are some of the occupations you engage in?

Boogying on down the road; finding hikes for me and my best friend who is a schnauzer-dachsund named Oliver; apparently watching lots of “Foreign Steamy Romances” and “British Biographical 20th Century Period Pieces” on Netflix.

If we opened your fridge, what would we see?

Delicious dips.  I basically live off hummus and salsa and dip-delivery methods such as delicious chips.

What are two truths and a lie about yourself?

I’ve lived in 3 of 5 boroughs of NYC; I’ve worked at fish markets in both NJ and CA; I’m a clog dancer.

Louise Farnworth, PhD ‘98

Ph.D.

Hometown: Melbourne, Australia.

After working as an OT in a prison with forensic psychiatry patients, Dr. Farnworth became interested in issues related to marginalization and social justice. She was inspired to study Occupational Science at USC after hearing a presentation by Ann Wilcock.

Having been involved in research, teaching as well as curriculum development at La Trobe University since 1982, Dr. Farnworth moved to Monash University as the inaugural head of the Department of Occupational Therapy in 2005 to set up a new occupational therapy department and degree that is strongly influenced by occupational science.  Through Monash, she is now also involved in setting up a new Bachelor of Occupational Therapy at Princess Nora University in Saudi Arabia.

Dr. Farnworth was awarded the Sylvia Docker Lecture in 2003 in recognition by the professional association of her significant contribution to occupational therapy in Australia.

Susanne Elkrief, MAII ‘14

Two-Year Master's

Hometown: Encino, California

What brought you to occupational therapy?

Witnessing the impact occupational therapy had on my grandfather when he was in the hospital, encouraged me to research OT as a potential career option. After shadowing a clinical school psychologist and a school based occupational therapist, the incomparable amount of progress pediatric OTs were able to facilitate and maintain in children helped me determine that OT would be the most personally rewarding field for me.

What area of practice are you interested in?

The areas of practice I am interested in are pediatric mental health and school-based occupational therapy. I feel both areas play such a vital factor in childhood development and I would love to play a role in facilitating health-promoting interventions to encourage healthy growth and development.

Describe your background before coming to occupational therapy.

Before coming to OT, I was a psychology – pre-med student at University of California, San Diego.  I had a strong passion for psychology and found myself gravitating towards neuropsychology research and autism. I worked as a research assistant in three different labs throughout my undergraduate experience: a language and development lab, a memory lab, and a research on autism and development lab. After researching several career paths, I found OT would provide me with the most opportunity to interact with children on a personal basis and really cater my skills towards targeting their individual difficulties and goals.

If we opened your fridge, what would we see?

Starbucks double shot coffee cans and hummus!

If you could choose anyone (living or dead) to be your mentor, who would you pick?

I would pick Dr. Jean Ayres, a true leader in the discovery and development of treatment methods for children with neurodevelopmental disabilities and sensory integration dysfunction.

Nicté Sobrino, BS-MA ‘14

Bachelor's to Master's

Hometown: Whittier, California

What brought you to occupational therapy?

I was originally a psychology major at USC. I took a Developmental Psych class my first semester, and OT ambassadors came into class and told us that if we liked what we were learning, that maybe we would be interested in something called occupational therapy. I took a flier and was interested, but didn’t act on it. The very next semester, I took an Abnormal Psych class and the very same people came in and did another presentation. By then, I figured it was fate and that I should look into what this field was that kept trying to pull me in. I took two Intro to OT courses (one with Kim Morris-Eggleston, the other with Kate Crowley), and I was hooked. I took the steps to apply to the program and signed up for every one of the prerequisite courses that I hadn’t already completed. I don’t remember wanting something so badly in my entire life than to get accepted to the program. And here I am today!

What area of practice are you interested in?

All of them. I’m having a really difficult time narrowing down exactly what I want to do because everything is so interesting and I could see myself in any of the fields. But that’s what I love about OT - I can move from field to field if I ever feel like it!

What are some of the occupations you engage in?

My two favorite occupations are making art and playing quidditch! I was the captain of our club quidditch team for two years, but I recently stepped down so I could focus more on my final year of grad school. I will try almost anything in art that I can get my hands on—painting, drawing, clay, wire, anything. My favorite is oil painting, though.

If we opened your fridge, what would we see?

Bacon. And leftovers. I really need to go to the grocery store.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?

To fly. That’s something I’ve wanted since I was a kid. I’d choose flight over pretty much any other power. There’s just something so wonderful about not being confined to the ground.

Korey Brent, MAII ‘14

Two-Year Master's

Hometown: Simi Valley, California

What brought you to occupational therapy?

The mother of a baby I nannied in undergrad who was an autism specialist heard that I was looking into various health professions and she said that I HAD to be an OT.  All it took was a google search to realize that OT was for me!

What area of practice are you interested in?

Currently I am split between adult rehab and pediatrics

Tell us about your favorite memory from the program so far:

My favorite memory from the program so far was when we were at our Level II fieldwork for the summer and I met two of my classmates for dinner one weekend and we all shared our stories (both positive and negative). We just all realized that we know so much more than we thought we did, and that we couldn’t be more excited about choosing OT for a profession.  Also, hearing my Level II clinical instructor say that she believed I was going to make a great OT was definitely a high point.

What Hogwarts house would you be in and why?

Gryffindor, because I would definitely have been the fourth wheel to Harry, Ron, and Hermione (or at least I would’ve tried to be)!

If you could choose anyone (living or dead) to be your mentor, who would you pick?

Kobe Bryant is the most dedicated person I can think of.  He is 110% dedicated to his field and being the best that he can be at it, and has an overwhelming amount of passion for what he does.  He is constantly working to be better and to refine his skills, works harder than most, and still maintains a sense of humor; these are all traits that I am working on!

Doris Pierce, Ph.D., OTR/L, FAOTA

Ph.D.

Hometown: Richmond, Kentucky

What brought you to occupational therapy?

I got into occupational therapy through two forces.  I was an older sister of a brother with disabilities, so I wanted to make a difference for those kids.  Also, I grew up in a creative family of artists and teachers, where doing was learning and all of it was fun.

Why did you decide to pursue your PhD in Occupational Science?

I pursued my Ph.D. because I wanted to serve my field.  Also, I love developing theory and the creativity of doing research.  They satisfy my curiosity.

What was the most rewarding part of being in the PhD program?

My experience of the Ph.D. in Occupational Science was one of rapid intellectual growth.  I was challenged and transformed.  I began publishing in my master’s program at USC and just continued from there.  Opportunities for collaboration and exciting research and grant projects were limited only by the time in the day.  I received a Dissertation Grant Award form AOTA/AOTF and the Elizabeth June Yerxa Award at graduation.

What are you are doing now?

Since 2000, I have been the Endowed Chair in Occupational Therapy at Eastern Kentucky University.  In this unique legislatively-created position, I work primarily with Ph.D. students in our Rehabilitation Sciences program, do research, and help younger scholars in my department to plan and develop their own work.

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USC Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
1540 Alcazar Street, CHP 133
Los Angeles, CA 90089-9003
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Phone: (323) 442-2850 · Toll free: (866) 385-4250
Fax: (323) 442-1540
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The USC entry-level master's degree program is fully accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education® (ACOTE). ACOTE c/o Accreditation Department, American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc.®, 4720 Montgomery Lane, Suite 200, Bethesda, MD 20814-3449, (301) 652-6611 x2914, acoteonline.org

Professional program graduates are eligible to apply for certification by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy, Inc.® www.nbcot.org

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