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Department ofHistory


Graduation picture of Michaela Scanlon on a beach at sunset

Graduation picture of Michaela Scanlon on a beach at sunset

Michaela Scanlon '16

From History to Occupational Therapy

Michaela Scanlon, SCU class of 2016:

Most Broncos end their time at SCU their senior year with a myriad of celebratory events, leading up to commencement and grad picnic. My final weeks as a Bronco looked very different: I was admitted to the psychiatric ward on a 5150 and was unable to participate in these festivities due to ongoing mental health treatment. However, this experience served a great purpose for me. My hospitalization introduced me to occupational therapy (OT)— and now, 6 years later, I have just received my doctorate in OT from the nation’s top program with the University of Southern California. 

Throughout both my Master’s and Doctoral programs at USC, my History major served me well. Under the guidance of incredible professors in SCU’s History Department, I learned to write concisely with purpose, collect meaningful research, and synthesize evidence effectively. My senior thesis, "Unfulfilled Promises: The Resettlement of Bosnian Refugees in the United States," won the History Department's Mehl Prize for best senior thesis. My thesis honed in on the Bosnian refugee crisis following the country’s genocide in the early 1990s and the shortcomings of the United States in welcoming them to a supposedly secure safe haven. It concludes with a connection to present day refugee crises and a call for policy reform in the way we support refugees once they have reached the United States that promotes them leading meaningful lives after the trauma they have endured. The skills I learned as a History major contributed to academic success in my graduate studies. They will undoubtedly also serve me as I move into my professional career: occupational therapists must document their sessions, write evaluation and discharge reports, create program development proposals, and conduct research and outcome studies. Even though I have entered the world of healthcare, I still am able to utilize the skills I developed during my time with SCU’s History Department. As I join the small but mighty 2% of occupational therapists in the mental health field, I know the importance of looking to the past and where we have come from in order to inform where we are now and where we are going. I look forward to contributing the lens of a trained Historian to the occupational therapy profession in the context of mental healthcare. I also hope to one day return to my program as a professor to impact and inspire students in the way that my History professors did for me in my time at Santa Clara. Go Broncos and Fight On!

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