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Like a good neighbor, residential faculty members are there (for freshmen)

Myka Winder brings occupational therapy expertise to Pardee Tower, helping first-year college students lead healthy, balanced lives

Pardee Tower residents visit with faculty member Myka Winder
South Residential College residents Seth Mitchell and Natalia Wurst visit with residential faculty member Myka Winder (back center) and her toddler. (Photo/Christina Gandolfo)

Residential faculty members play a key role in the lives of USC freshmen adapting to the demands of campus life.

Myka Winder ’07, MA ’10, OTD ’11 is one of those who are shaping lives.

Winder, an assistant professor of clinical occupational therapy at the USC Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, has been living in the South Residential College in Pardee Tower since the program started. These days, her “roommates” include her husband, Shiloh, and 1-year-old daughter, Amelia. Winder even lived in that very tower during her own time as a USC undergrad.

“I have tons of memories from living here. Now I have my own bathroom, which makes a big difference,” she said with a laugh.

While her residence is (sort of) the same, her role is very different now.

“I would say I serve primarily as a neighbor, mentor and community leader, who is a faculty member and occupational therapist by profession,” Winder said.

Winder’s OT background lends itself well to her residential faculty role. She believes that Lifestyle Redesign — an occupational therapy approach to promoting wellness by helping people build, enact and sustain healthier lifestyles — has direct applications for students who are living away from home for the first time.

“Occupational therapy faculty members are an ideal fit for faculty-in-residence work to engage in meaningful occupations outside the classroom with students and support students in healthy behaviors,” Winder said.

Dorm sweet dorm

Because of her training and positioning, Winder can provide a lot of value to on-campus residents.

“I live among students and engage in my daily occupations in the residence halls and on campus,” Winder said. “Research has shown that faculty engagement with students outside of the classroom promotes student satisfaction and positive academic outcomes, and can positively affect psychological health.”

Myka Winder reads to her daughter Amelia

Myka Winder graduated from USC in 2007 but moved back to Pardee Tower with her husband and young daughter. As a residential faculty member, Winder uses her occupational therapy expertise to help students live healthier lives. (Photo/Christina Gandolfo)

While the weekly commitment can vary, Winder regularly hosts events focusing on time and stress management and serves as a day-to-day role model to promote healthy behavior. She also coordinates activities such as hiking, stand-up paddle boarding and tours of the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens in San Marino. Winder and other faculty residents host dinners and invite alumni to join in order to share their career journeys with students.

“I remember the first time I was invited to someone’s home during my undergrad. I felt like I had not been in a ‘home’ for so long, in my temporary dorm room. I wanted to help make a home-like atmosphere for current residents by welcoming them into my home and engaging in activities with them, such as hiking and being in nature.”

Model (campus) citizen

For students, the activities can serve as an outlet to detach from studies and the pressures of day-to-day life.

“I can say without a doubt that these events and activities have nothing but positive effects during this turbulent stage in many people’s lives, including my own,” said Pardee Tower resident Seth Mitchell, who is an occupational therapy major.

“After being stuck inside studying all day, activities like going on hikes and making smoothies not only are healthy ways to take a break, but they are enjoyable. Having these events and activities organized for you provides that convenience and yields something that is much more beneficial to the mind and body.”

For others, a faculty resident can serve as a trusting safe haven while away from the comfort of their own homes and families.

“Having a faculty resident live in my same building is a unique and definitely important aspect of my residential experience,” said Natalia Wurst, a pre-law student living in Pardee Tower. “Being away from the familiarity of my home, it’s comforting to know that I have a mentor available to me to help with the sometimes-overwhelming transition.”

Winder said she wants to represent USC residential faculty beyond the South Residential College. She hopes to serve as a healthy role model to students across the university, whether that’s at the Lyon Center gym where she works out and swims, in dining halls discussing healthy meal options or at the on-campus pharmacy where she runs errands and picks up prescriptions for her family.

As an occupational therapist with a special interest in working with college students, Winder said it’s an amazing opportunity to be in a sort of living-learning laboratory.

“I get to engage in daily occupations alongside students,” she said. “Working with college students is my professional passion.”

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Like a good neighbor, residential faculty members are there (for freshmen)

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