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USC’s Occupational Therapy Department Unveils New Center

by Paul Dingsdale

The $2.2 million renovation of Cockins House will create 6,000 square feet of classroom, research and lab space. The three-story Victorian is at Hoover and 27th streets in the North University Park neighborhood.

Photo bt Zsa Zsa Gershick

USC’s department of occupational science and occupational therapy – ranked by U.S. News and World Report as the nation’s No. 1 graduate program in the field – has broken new ground once again.

The department’s trailblazing research on the use of occupational therapy among senior citizens was the first occupational therapy study ever to be published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Now the department, which established the discipline of occupational science in 1989, has dedicated the world’s first center for the study of how everyday activities, or “occupations,” shape human health and well-being.

To house the new Center for Occupation and Lifestyle Redesign, the department has undertaken a $2.2 million fund-raising campaign to renovate Cockins House, a three-story Victorian structure at Hoover and 27th streets, just north of the University Park Campus.

THE RENOVATION will create 6,000 square feet of classroom, research and laboratory space for the center’s activities, which will combine education and research with the provision of occupational therapy services to the local community.

“An integral part of the center’s mission will be ‘lifestyle redesign’ – the process of customizing an individual’s routines, or daily activities, to maximize health and satisfaction,” said Florence Clark, professor and chair of occupational science and therapy in USC’s Division of Independent Health Professions.

“To live productively, all people must develop and use a variety of strategies to deal effectively and efficiently with everyday challenges and stresses,” she noted. “For many, these processes are complicated by disease, aging, disability, illness or trauma. Occupational therapists based at the new center will help people learn to organize their daily occupations so that they can overcome disability and enjoy greater independence, better health and increased life satisfaction.”

THE CENTER for Occupation and Lifestyle Redesign will bring together researchers from schools throughout USC’s two campuses – in disciplines such as psychology, education, social work, medicine, gerontology and anthropology – who can be expected to build new links and create new knowledge.

“Our new center will analyze occupation from the age of craft to the computer era,” said Clark, “and how these occupational changes affect us physically, psychologically and spiritually. Our researchers, representing many disciplines, will examine all aspects of how we work, rest and spend our leisure hours – with the goal of achieving optimal balance in our lives.

“Our scientists will study different occupations and lifestyles from around the world to see how cultural, religious and ethnic influences shape overall health. We will examine the power of positive doing, harkening back to the age of craft for alternatives to improve daily living. We will examine how arts and crafts, or simple labors of the heart such as gardening, can enhance both our physical and emotional well-being. And we will examine how harnessing the potential of technology can improve functioning and promote health.”

In addition to providing facilities for research and clinical practice, the center will house a small museum tracing the history of the occupational therapy profession – from its early endeavors of helping World War I amputees learn new ways of completing everyday tasks to its position today as one of the nation’s 10 fastest-growing professions.

THE CENTER ALSO WILL support the community-involvement mission of Occupational Therapy House (OT House), the department’s special-interest housing program, which gives students an opportunity to study and practice in the neighborhood in which they live. OT House supports numerous volunteer projects, including a horticultural therapy garden for a local women’s shelter and arts and crafts programming for low-income neighbors.

Clark and USC President Steven B. Sample officiated Friday, Dec. 3, at dedication ceremonies for the new facility.

“USC has a proud tradition of volunteerism,” Sample said, “and with the renovation of Cockins House, the university once again demonstrates its commitment to helping students, faculty, staff and alumni volunteers identify community-service opportunities, as well as to generating ever more positive partnerships with local residents, organizations and institutions.

“This new research, teaching and community-practice facility is a fitting addition to the nation’s pre-eminent occupational therapy program,” he said.


• It was the first occupational therapy program established in California and the first in the nation to award a master’s degree in the field.

• It established the world’s first program in occupational science and conferred the first doctoral degree in the discipline.

• It conducted the largest research study in the history of occupational therapy and the first to be published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“The occupational therapy department has been and continues to be a key contributor to USC’s community outreach program – receiving seven Neighborhood Outreach Grants, more than any other program or department at USC,” Sample said.

“And five projects led by the occupational therapy department are helping more than 1,000 at-risk children and adolescents in neighborhoods around the USC Health Sciences Campus,” he said.

“The occupational therapy department represents the best of USC.”

USC’s Occupational Therapy Department Unveils New Center

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