THE WAY SHAY MCATEE 75, MA 88 tells it, her father a prominent Los Angeles orthopedic surgeon tricked her into studying OT at USC. Back in 1972, he casually invited her on a tour of the USC-affiliated Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Downey, Calif. now one of the nations top 10 rehab hospitals and then-headquarters of USCs occupational therapy program. I didnt know that was actually my entry interview, McAtee laughs, but 30 years later, she applauds the wisdom of dear-old-interfering dad. Every time Ive come back to USC for something, its made me even prouder and feel gladder about being an OT, says the Torrance-based pediatric practitioner and occasional USC clinical instructor.
The universitys preeminence in OT is rooted in its history: Over the past half-century, most of the professions leading lights were faculty or students here, and very often both.
TOPPING THE LIST is retired Captain Mary Reilly 51, a distinguished USC professor who gained international renown in the late 1960s for her groundbreaking insights into occupational behavior. Reilly is considered by many to have been the voice of democracy for her profession, broadening its focus to make it truly responsive to the occupational needs of the American people.
During World War II, shiploads of maimed soldiers arrived in rehab hospitals across the country, and occupational therapists helped them get back to a meaningful life. After the war, OT became more and more medicalized, recounts associate professor Diane Parham. The rise of science in the medical model, she notes, also drove sister disciplines like nursing toward measurement of physical details and observable behavior.
It was Mary Reilly who said: Hey everybody, wake up. We have to get back to the idea of why our profession exists, Parham says. She moved the whole profession of OT away from simply looking at physical details about an individual client, and back to the idea of using time to be engaged in meaningful activity. And it was Reilly, now retired and living in Fairfield, Calif., who boldly declared occupational therapy to be one of the great ideas of the 20th century.
Play as spontaneous joyous risk-taking in a safe space, and games as means of learning rules, values and traditions, will become humanitys antidote to the alienating effects of technique, predicted former OT chair Elizabeth Yerxa 52, MA 53 another leading light in the evolution of OT. Yerxa is considered the founder of occupational science, an academic discipline that concerns itself with building knowledge about occupation using qualitative as well as quantitative research to advance OT practice. In 1989, USC became the first school to offer a doctoral degree in occupational science.
The late Margaret Rood was USCs very first star, credited with almost single-handedly building USCs OT program from scratch in 1942, and setting the program on the fast track to greatness. Just three years later, largely through the implementation of war emergency courses, the program had 90 students.
The honor roll wouldnt be complete without the late A. Jean Ayres MA 54, PhD 61, the pioneer who first identified and described sensory integration dysfunction, previously thought to be a broad spectrum of unrelated and unexplained cognitive and perceptual-motor problems. An educational psychologist and post-doctoral scholar at UCLAs Brain Research Institute as well as an OT professor at USC, Ayres understood that a host of disparate symptoms from an aversion to certain textures or sounds to clumsiness, lethargy or fear of unexpected movement were signs of inefficient neurological processing. With her husband Franklin Baker, an engineering photographer skilled in wood- and metal-working, Ayres went on not only to develop the sensory integration model of treatment, but to design and build the scooterboard ramps, trapeze rigging and other specialized gym equipment now used the world over to treat children with SI problems.
WE CONTRIBUTED three of the major theorists in the early years of research in our discipline Reilly, Ayres and Rood a proud record unmatched by any other program, said retired professor Florence Cromwell MA 52 at the departments Heritage Dinner in October 2000. USC has had a profound influence on the development of occupational therapy in the U.S. in education, research, clinical practice and professional role development.