Demonstrating our commitment to making a lasting impact in the communities we serve, USAHS introduced the Force for Good Award in May. At each of our Spring 2021 commencement ceremonies, across our campuses and programs, we honored our alumni and community partners who exemplify the University’s B Corp® values and mission to be a “force for good.”
Faculty and administration chose ten people and one organization as recipients of the award. Each has demonstrated a commitment to serving the community, expanding access to healthcare education, and embracing innovations that improve patient lives. Each honoree delivered remarks at a commencement ceremony. Check out these brief profiles of our winners.
San Marcos Campus DPT Ceremony
Meredith Castin, a 2010 graduate of USAHS’ Doctor of Physical Therapy program, founded the website The Non-Clinical PT in 2017 as a resource for physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, and rehabilitative assistants who are looking to transition to non-clinical roles. The site features spotlights on rehabilitative practitioners with creative career paths, such as entrepreneurs, product managers, educators, bloggers, and more. Dr. Castin’s goal is to “advocate and collaborate whenever possible to create more opportunities for rehab professionals across the healthcare landscape.” The Non-Clinical PT now has more than 18,000 followers in its networking and jobs group.
San Marcos Campus MOT, OTD Ceremony
Interfaith Community Services
For the past 40 years, the Southern California not-for-profit organization Interfaith Community Services has empowered individuals and communities through a broad spectrum of programs, including supportive services, housing, clinical and behavioral health, recovery and wellness, and employment and economic development services.
Interfaith has been an outstanding clinical partner of USAHS, welcoming occupational therapy students from our San Marcos campus into their programs to provide community-based mental healthcare to their clients. Our students have built an OT presence as part of Interfaith’s wellness and recovery, recuperative care, transitional youth academy, and permanent supportive housing programs. Interfaith has also supported Doctor of Occupational Therapy students who are undertaking their capstone projects.
St. Augustine Campus DPT/Flex DPT Ceremony
Laura Bunso, MPT ’99, PT, MTC
After graduating with her Master of Physical Therapy degree from USAHS in 1999, Laura Bunso worked at St. Luke’s Hospital/Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, in outpatient orthopedics and led the rehabilitation department in women’s health. In 2004, she founded Smart Body Physical Therapy, which evolved to specialize in pelvic health. In fact, it has become one of the largest pelvic health practices in the nation, attracting patients from all over the world. Even before the pandemic, Smart Body rolled out telehealth services, and it extends internships to USAHS physical therapy students completing their degrees. Bunso lobbies healthcare providers and insurance groups to expand access to pelvic healthcare and has participated in legislative advocacy related to pelvic health.
St. Augustine Campus MOT/Flex MOT, OTD Ceremony
Kari Bates is the executive director of The Arc of Putnam County in Palatka, Florida. It’s a chapter of the nationwide organization The Arc, which promotes housing and employment independence among people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities. Under Bates’ guidance and leadership, our OT students work holistically with The Arc’s clients.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, and many students had lost their fieldwork opportunities, this longtime USAHS clinical partner enhanced student access and opened additional space for clinical placements for occupational therapy students from our St. Augustine campus. The Arc of Putnam County placed 20 Level I and Level II students across all campuses and hired a University graduate.
St. Augustine Campus Post-Professional Ceremony
Manuela Perales received her Master of Science in Nursing from USAHS in 2020. As the chief of quality management at the VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System in Harlingen, Texas, Perales develops plans and guides the organization to meet quality metrics that improve patient outcomes and access to care. Her work has also included coordinating community care services and specialty services for the veteran population. She helps prepare nurse leaders in interprofessional collaboration by serving as a preceptor for the USAHS School of Nursing, bridging the gap between the classroom and the clinic.
Miami Campus DPT Ceremony
Dr. Michael Chua is a physical therapist and certified Alzheimer’s disease and dementia care trainer based in Martin, Tennessee. He is also the Chief Inspiration Officer and site coordinator of clinical education at TN Therapy Outsource. “Dr. Mike,” as his students call him, serves as a clinical educator and instructor for category one placements, a role that has been exceedingly rare since the onset of the pandemic.
USAHS students completing their clinical placements have found Dr. Chua to go above and beyond with support and mentorship, such as providing meals for a job well done and securing access to affordable housing in the rural area. His student-first mindset has made placement during a global pandemic less stressful for USAHS students, while ensuring that CAPTE standards are met. Our academic clinical education coordinators have greatly appreciated his open and consistent line of communication. Working with Dr. Chua gives our students firsthand experience in compassionate care and changing lives—at all levels.
Miami Campus MOT/Flex MOT Ceremony
Arlenys Frias, MS, OTR/L
Arlenys Frias is the occupational therapy supervisor of Super Hero Speech in Miami. As an occupational therapy clinical partner, she is a strong supporter of the Master of Occupational Therapy program on the USAHS Miami campus. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Frias created an innovative telehealth model to enable students to continue their fieldwork experiences while providing a community service to Miami patients in need.
Austin Campus DPT Ceremony
Both Sarah Cumbie Conrad and Micah Gorena graduated from Austin’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program in 2015. As practicing PTs in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, Drs. Conrad and Gorena also started a DFW alumni group that gathered for campus and community events. These alumni offered input as the Dallas campus DPT program was getting up and running.
Although the group’s activities slowed during the pandemic, they hope to resume meeting soon. Their efforts are fostering long-lasting relationships with the entire University community and building connections between alumni and students through networking, recruitment, and mentoring. Dr. Gorena now works on the Dallas campus as a contributing faculty lab instructor for Gross Anatomy.
Austin Campus MOT, OTD Ceremony
Jim Foster directs the Occupational Therapist Assistant program at Harcum College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. During the pandemic, Foster created an innovative telehealth fieldwork program to provide patients in the local community with alternative services after their day programs were shut down. He was able to keep students virtually in the field despite lost in-person clinical placements.
When USAHS Austin campus OT program director Mary Zadnik, SCD, MED, OT, reached out to Foster to assist one of her students, he offered to partner with the University to create a collaborative telehealth treatment model so that OT students from our Austin and San Marcos campuses could complete their fieldwork virtually, and patients could continue to receive care.
Austin and Dallas Campuses MS-SLP Ceremony
Rachel Holmes is a speech-language pathologist with the Lancaster Unified School District in Lancaster, California. When the pandemic was in full swing in fall 2020, Holmes and her team found space for 11 USAHS Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology students to complete their fieldwork in a high-quality telehealth setting. As additional University students lost access to their clinical placements due to pandemic-related shutdowns, Holmes worked hard to open more positions. Under her leadership, the school district’s team of clinical educators are approachable, knowledgeable, and supportive of our students’ learning and growth.
At USAHS, we believe in the power of healthcare education to change lives and transform society. We’re proud of our alumni and alliances, and we’re glad to be part of a global movement of people working as a force for good.