Division gets first endowed faculty chair

A $1 million gift from an alumna will allow the USC Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy to establish its first endowed faculty chair, with a focus on pediatric care.

The Sykes Family Chair in Pediatric Physical Therapy, Health, and Development was established with a $1 million donation and a $250,000 matching pledge from Tracy Sykes, a USC graduate and member of the Division’s Board of Councilors, and her husband Gene Sykes, a managing director at Goldman Sachs.

The endowment will enable the division to expand its research through community programs and increase recognition of pediatric physical therapy.

“We want to increase our activity in pediatrics. This is a way for us to begin that process,” said James Gordon, associate dean of the Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy at the School of Dentistry. “It helps us establish a center of excellence in our department.”

Linda Fetters, a professor of physical therapy and director of the Developmental Motor Performance Laboratory, will be the inaugural holder of the chair.

“It’s really more about furthering the mission rather than furthering my work,” Fetters said. “The chair will allow us to promote research, education and community service with our USC neighbors.”

Fetters, who joined the division in 2007, was selected in September to hold the chair after deliberation by the dean, chair and provost of the division examining her extensive work in pediatrics.

She specializes in research focused on helping children and infants with developmental problems and has worked with the Sykes family in her lab for the past two years to help children with cerebral palsy.

“The real importance of the endowed chair is that we have made a lasting impact on pediatric care,” Fetters said. “I feel the additional responsibility to maintain the mission of the division in terms of education, research and service.”

Tracy Sykes has been an ardent supporter of pediatric research at the university, and has often brought her own children into classrooms to help students understand topics like pediatric strength evaluation and development assessment, Fetters said. The Sykes’ gift is an extension of her support for the school, she said.

“Tracy really wanted to give back to the division in a way to help it meet its goals. It’s a tribute to the education she received,” Fetters said.

The endowed faculty chair will also give students in the division more opportunities to engage with community programs, according to Barbara Sargent, a doctorate student in biokinesiology who has worked with Fetters for two years.

“[The endowment] will develop relationships between community programs that service children with disabilities or are at risk for disabilities and the division,” Sargent said. “It will give students the opportunity to participate in community relationships that are either going to be built or strengthened.”

The division plans to raise the total endowment of the chair to $1.5 million by soliciting funds from foundations and private donors.

“[The endowed faculty chair] is a milestone for us in terms of achieving prominence,” Gordon said. “We hope that this will help to establish some innovative approaches to treating children.”