USC News

Menu Search

Five Scholars Join Faculty at Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy

by Alix Sleight
Five Scholars Join Faculty at Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
From left, Elizabeth Pyatak, Natalie Leland, Shawn Roll, Barbara Thompson and Olga Solomon

The USC Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy has appointed five new members to junior tenure-track faculty positions, bolstering its profile both in occupational science research and in occupational therapy clinical evidence expertise.

The new faculty members comprise one of the single largest faculty hires in the nearly 70-year history of USC occupational therapy. Each of the five faculty members hold the title of assistant professor, and they all bring to USC unique research expertise within the field.

Natalie Leland most recently was a postdoctoral fellow at Brown University’s Center for Gerontology and Health Care Research. She completed her Ph.D. and M.S. degrees in gerontology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and she holds a B.S. in cccupational therapy from the University of New Hampshire.

“Dr. Leland brings needed research expertise in gerontology and enhances the division’s research strengths in health policy, primarily through her expertise in secondary data analysis,” said Florence Clark, associate dean of the Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. Because Leland has a joint appointment at the USC Davis School of Gerontology, Clark said, “Dr. Leland’s work in fall prevention among elderly populations will also enhance occupational therapy’s current and future collaborations with USC Davis.”

A long-standing passion for gerontology led Leland to study rehabilitation utilization among Medicare recipients during her fellowship at Brown University.

“I just want to make sure we’re getting patients the best possible quality of care,” she said of her work with older adults. In addition to her research career, Leland is excited to be teaching occupational therapy courses in the division’s occupational therapy professional educational program. “It’s been great to be back in the O.T. world,” she said.

Already a longtime member of the Trojan Family, Elizabeth (Beth) Pyatak completed her Ph.D. in cccupational science, her M.A. in occupational therapy and her B.A. in psychology, all at USC. She also recently completed a USC postdoctoral fellowship on the NIH-funded trial Lifestyle Redesign® for Pressure Ulcer Prevention in Spinal Cord Injury in the Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy.

Pyatak recently was selected as a recipient of a KL2 Mentored Research Career Development Award through the Southern California Clinical and Translational Science Institute at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, which will support her research on the applications of lifestyle-based interventions for young adults managing diabetes within the context of their everyday lives.

“Beth Pyatak has demonstrated a commitment to translational research in this early stage
of her science career, marking her as a unique commodity within occupational science,” Clark said. “Not only is Dr. Pyatak’s work in diabetes management innovative, she has already developed strong collaborative ties with interdisciplinary researchers in this field.”

Shawn Roll currently researches the utility of sonography procedures for the diagnosis and clinical management of carpal tunnel syndrome and other musculoskeletal work-related injuries. Roll has extensive clinical experience in work programs focused on assessment, prevention and rehabilitation of work-related injuries. He received his Ph.D. in health and rehabilitation sciences, his M.S. in allied health professions and B.S. degree in allied health professions (occupational therapy), all from Ohio State University.

Roll’s research focus includes the evaluation, prevention and treatment of upper extremity work-related disorders; investigation of stress, psychosocial factors and personality traits as related to the development of work-related injury and how each mitigated or promoted successful prevention and rehabilitation efforts, and; investigation of tools and approaches for determining functional capacity in healthy and injured workers.

“Dr. Roll has already demonstrated impressive productivity in his scholarship and expands the division’s research portfolio to now include the occupational therapy practice area of work and industry,” Clark said.

Roll said he was attracted to USC based on “the availability of resources, forward thinking and opportunities to develop a new line of research in a well-established, respected and top-ranked department.”

Olga Solomon transitions into her new tenure-track position as assistant professor from her previous faculty position in the division as research assistant professor on the NIH-funded project “Boundary Crossings: Resituating Cultural Competence.”

Solomon holds a Ph.D. in applied linguistics from UCLA and an M.A. in clinical psychology from Antioch University. She has worked in the Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy since 2005.

Though she is an applied linguistic by training, her unique research strengths are an asset to the essential interdisciplinary nature of occupational science. “I found the occupational science and occupational therapy perspective conceptually rich and theoretically exciting because of my interest in the intersections of embodiment, experience, action and activity,” Solomon said.

Clark said that Solomon “provides a critical link in the division’s autism research programming” and “demonstrates continued potential to acquire National Institutes of Health funding.” And though she had already held a faculty position in the division for the past several years, Solomon said, “I do feel that this is a new adventure, and I am very excited about it.”

Barbara Thompson comes to the division from her prior position as research assistant professor in the Department of Cell and Neurobiology at the Keck School.

Thompson will contribute to the development of translational research for occupational therapy applications in areas such as autism by developing and testing conceptual models which link clinical problems in human populations to animal studies in the basic neurosciences. She holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Delaware and a B.S. in psychology from Florida State University.

“Dr. Thompson has already demonstrated particular skill in interdisciplinary research collaborations and will strengthen the division’s critical mass in autism and sensory integration, broaden our neuroscience research and facilitate further collaborations with USC’s Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute,” Clark said.

Thompson said her entry into occupational science has been “exciting.” She especially has enjoyed getting to know her colleagues.

“Not being a ‘traditional’ occupational therapist, it’s been wonderful to have been welcomed with open arms from the entire division. There’s a great sense of family, and it has made itself apparent even in the short time I’ve been a part of the division,” she said.

Five Scholars Join Faculty at Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy

Top stories on USC News