University of Southern California
Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy

Meet the Doctor of Philosopy in Occupational Science (PhD) Alumni

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

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.

Louise Farnworth, PhD ‘98

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.

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

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.

Sook-Lei Liew, PhD ‘12, MAII ‘08

Hometown: Plano, Texas

What brought you to occupational therapy?

My junior year of college, I didn’t know what I would do with my English and Kinesiology double major. So I took a career test, which suggested I become a farmer or an occupational therapist. I started looking into occupational therapy. I loved that it was a creative, dynamic helping profession with a lot of different applications (pediatrics, adult rehabilitation, etc).

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

The first course of my MA program at USC was Neuroscience, taught by Dr. Nancy Bagatell. It was my first real exposure to neuroscience, and I loved learning from Dr. Bagatell, because she taught both the intricacies of the brain and nervous system and how these things affect people’s everyday lives. I started volunteering as a research assistant in Dr. Lisa Aziz-Zadeh’s lab, doing brain imaging to understand social cognition, which was fascinating. I also completed my second Level II Fieldwork at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in the acute neuro/spinal cord floor and loved working with the patients. However, I realized there was so much left to understand in terms of recovery after brain injury. Thus, I started a PhD in OS to understand how the brain affects our ability to engage in daily occupations better, with a long-term goal of developing more effective strategies and therapies for neurorehabilitation.

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

My PhD experience was a challenging but very rewarding 4 years. During this time, I learned to design, conduct and analyze neuroimaging data, and how to write and present results in publications and presentations. I was fortunate to receive a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRFP) and a USC Provost’s PhD fellowship, which helped tremendously in supporting my research efforts, in addition to the generous support of the USC OS/OT division. By the end of my 4 years, I had 9 publications (6 first-author), and had given over 20 conference presentations and invited talks for both science-based and general public audiences. I also had the opportunity to conduct a productive research collaboration with Peking University in China, under a research grant from the National Science Foundation, and the opportunity to attend several neuroimaging training programs, such as at the Riken Brain Science Institute (Tokyo, Japan) and with the Federation of European Neurosciences and International Brain Research Organization (Lausanne/Geneva, Switzerland).

What are you are doing now?

I am currently a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). I am working with Dr. Leonardo Cohen in the Human Cortical Physiology and Neurorehabilitation Section on identifying biomarkers associated with recovery after stroke and on using novel brain-computer interface technology to help individuals learn to control their own brain activity after stroke.

JoAnne Wright, PhD, OTR/L, CLVT, FAOTA

Hometown: Salt Lake City, Utah

What brought you to occupational therapy?

I was born with an OT brain - it was great to find a field of practice where I could use this gift.

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

It was new and exciting and made sense to me.

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

The greatest thing I got out of my PhD program was an ability to think in a more dynamic and complex way about the world around me and how humans interact. I was awarded the Outstanding Professional Enrichment through the Creative Use of Theory Award and was in the first cohort of doctoral students in occupational science.

What are you are doing now?

Dean of School of Health Sciences; Salt Lake Community College.

U.S. News Ranks USC #1 Program in the Nation

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,

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



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