The USC Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy recently announced the appointment of Grace Baranek, PhD, as associate dean and chair of the division.
Baranek comes to USC from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she has been a faculty member for 20 years. She currently is the associate chair for research in UNC’s Department of Allied Health Sciences, a professor in the division of occupational science and occupational therapy and has a dual appointment with the department of psychology and neuroscience.
“There is no one better among those in the occupational science and occupational therapy community to lead our program into its next phase of excellence,” said Florence Clark, PhD, the division’s outgoing chair and associate dean who has served as its administrative leader since 1989. “I am excited to see what Dr. Baranek will create as we enter into the 100th anniversary of the occupational therapy profession and the 75th anniversary of occupational therapy at the University of Southern California. There is no doubt that her leadership will give USC Chan a very special luster and take it to new heights through its exceptional educational programs, innovative practice and scientific discovery.”
The announcement comes after an extensive nationwide search, led by Avishai Sadan, DMD, MBA, dean of the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC, after Clark announced last fall her intention to step down from administrative duties to focus on research and teaching.
“It has been an incredible honor to work shoulder to shoulder with Florence,” Sadan said. “She’s a force of nature, and I can confidently say the occupational science discipline and occupational therapy profession have taken quantum leaps because of Clark’s hard work and scholarship.”
Baranek assumes the chair and associate dean position on February 1, 2017. Clark will take a year-long sabbatical before returning to focus on teaching, research and continuing to expand USC Chan’s global presence throughout Asia and the Pacific Rim.
The USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, like the USC Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy, is a division within USC’s dental school.
Baranek received a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy from the University of Illinois at the Medical Center before pursuing her master’s and PhD degrees in psychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Her body of research is heavily geared toward autism and related development disorders — a key area of study for USC Chan.
Baranek is a nationally and internationally recognized expert in the field of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Her research concentrations include early identification and intervention for children with ASD and related developmental disorders as well as understanding the impact of sensory features on the lives of individuals with ASD, according to her UNC biography.
In addition to publishing numerous research articles on autism — including one that won the American Occupational Therapy Association’s Cordelia Myers AJOT Best Article Award and another that earned her the American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology 2013 Editor’s Award — Baranek has added to the science behind autism by conducting interdisciplinary research.
She is co-director of the Program for Early Autism: Research, Leadership and Service, an interdisciplinary project at UNC Chapel Hill aiming to develop early assessment and intervention tools for ASD. She also served as the principal investigator of the Sensory Experiences Project, a 10-year research grant studying sensory features among children with autism spectrum disorder.
Baranek has been an AOTA fellow since 2005, an AOTF Academy of Research member since 2008 and maintains active memberships with the North Carolina Occupational Therapy Association, the International Society for Autism Research and the International Society for Occupational Science.
— John Hobbs