California University of Pennsylvania Interview

We recognized California University of Pennsylvania for offering one of the 32 Best Master’s in Education Programs with an ABA Emphasis, adding them to our list of top recommendations for special education teachers.

We were excited to hear from Dr. Peter Heh, a faculty member at California University of Pennsylvania who took the time to answer a few questions about how the school works to create a great student experience that helps prepare graduates for a career in applied behavior analysis.

California University of Pennsylvania Program:

  • M.Ed. in Special Education, Applied Behavior Analysis (General or Autism Track)

Professor/Faculty Name:      Dr. Peter Heh

Tell us about the types of students you see come through your program. Are you seeing more non-traditional students and career changers coming from other fields?

Peter:  We seem to have two different groups of students enrolling in the program. It appears that the majority of the students are teachers (special education and regular education) who are seeking their master’s degree in education to obtain their level 2 certification. Since we have the courses set up that they can earn the master’s degree in special education while taking all the required courses for the BCBA-prep, they choose this path. The other group of students who we seem to get are undergraduate students from the communication disorders program who did not get accepted into that graduate program. Many of the students want to work with students who have been diagnosed with autism, so they can go through our program to take the BCBA-prep courses, take our autism track courses, and then apply for the Pennsylvania Behavioral License and work with students on the spectrum. A smaller number of students who are in the program have completed their master’s degree in one of the approved fields (education, psychology, or applied behavior analysis) and are looking for an opportunity to advance to a more supervisor role through taking the BCBA-prep courses.

What areas of practice are you seeing graduates going into? Do they tend to find jobs in the local school districts or more often join private practices?

Peter:  Many of our students are already teaching in the classrooms so they are staying with their current employers. Many seem to be hoping that that have the chance to do some more consulting in their schools after successfully completing their degree and passing the exam. Students who are doing more direct care work, like BTs or TSS, have moved into BSC roles with the companies they have been working in. We have a few students who leave their current position and take a new job as a supervisor or BSC of programming for behavioral students through wrap around services in Pennsylvania.

What are some of the things you love most about the ABA program at your university – the kind of things you’d like future students to know about as they consider their options?

Peter:  Although I believe that every program is proud of the work they are doing, I believe that we are giving the students the opportunity to earn their master’s degree while also helping them develop a better understanding of the applied behavior analysis. I have had many students make comments such as, “I have been doing these things for years, but I never had the vocabulary to really explain what I am doing.” Through our coursework we are giving the students to explore what it mean to be a behavioral consultant and get them to start thinking like a consultant. For example, we use a combination of case studies, and actual clients our students identify, to practice data collection, assessment, and the creation of programming. During many of these assignments, we are asking our students to not only complete the work, but to also provide the rationale for why they chose what they did. I believe this is the part that is going to help them develop into better consultants because they are being asked to think like a consultant while still in a structured environment.

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What do you feel are the most pressing issues in ABA today, and how does the program at your school prepare graduates to address these issues?

Peter: I am not too sure about the field overall, but I think that I can speak to some of the issues that I have seen during my time in this program. Since many of the students are current teachers, I see the need to help bring the use of ABA into the mainstream and getting teachers to think about the work that they are doing. For example, when asking our students to describe the interventions they are using and how they are evaluating the success of the intervention, they have difficulty describing the work they are doing. Many of the teacher do not see their teaching as the intervention and are not collecting sufficient data to properly evaluate performance. This problem is more evident when the teacher is not in a highly structured program such as a verbal behavior classroom. While working with these teachers, I try to get them to think more analytically about the work that they are doing to recognize that the teaching is the intervention and we should be monitoring if the programming needs to be changed or continue based on student performance.

The school offers an Online Masters of Education in Applied Behavior Analysis that boasts two tracks: general and autism. Are you noticing more students interested in the autism track as this field continues to grow?

Peter:  I think the interest really depends on the type of employment the student currently has or is looking to secure. For the regular education teachers in the program, they seem to go with the more general track because they are not interacting as much with the students diagnosed with autism. For the special education teachers in the program, they are interested in the autism track because they are looking to get the autism endorsement offered through the Pennsylvania Department of Education. I believe that many of these individuals are looking to make themselves more marketable when applying for positions within the public schools. Finally, there seems to be a mix of non-teachers who are looking to work in wraparound services or adult services. If the student is working mainly with the younger population of clients, they are looking at the autism track because they are more likely to have clients diagnosed with autism. For other students, like those working with the adult population, they seem to take the general track courses so they get a little more information about several different populations.

Does offering the M.Ed. as an online program help move students through the coursework at a quicker pace? How many semesters does it take the average full-time student to complete?

Peter:  I don’t know if it helps students move through the coursework at a quicker pace because we have students that may only take one or two courses per semester because of their current employment. Many of those students are worried that the course load may be too much as a full-time student so they make the choice to take two classes at the most per semester. For the most part though, I believe that being able to complete all of the coursework within one rotation of semester is a huge draw to the program. Since it is online, we have seen a growth in our enrollment and the students are finishing the coursework on time. On average the students take four semesters to complete the program if they are taking a full-time course load.

The ABA Online Post-Master’s Certificate program boasts an intensive practicum component. What are the practicum requirements for this program?

Peter:  Right now we expect our students to complete some type of field component as part of their degree requirements. We use this field component to observe the student doing work within the field and then help them prepare for being a consultant on their own. Many of the supervise work with the student to address specific needs within their programs by supporting the development of programs or providing feedback on the work they are currently doing. I believe the goal of the practicum is to get the student to take a step back from the day to day interactions with the clients and start to think more globally about the work he/she is doing and how the programming is impacting all of the clients and not just one client.

Most students can’t enroll in the field placement during their first semester at the university. We like to make sure they have a solid foundation with the vocabulary and a general understanding of applied behavior analysis before starting any type of field placement. In addition to the semester requirement, we require our students to demonstrate they are working within a program that is utilizing the principles of applied behavior analysis. Typically, if there is any question about the use of applied behavior analysis in their program, I have them identify the skills they are working on through the BACB task list.

With the changes coming with the 5th edition of the task list, we are looking to remove the requirement to take a field component for graduation requirements. Students will still be able to take the field component, but it will be arranged through individualized instruction and not a required course. The new foundational course will be replacing the field component so we don’t add additional courses to the program and students can still meet the requirements for the general or autism track courses and the BCBA-prep courses with that four semester rotation.

Check out our full interview series here to see what other professors and faculty are saying about their ABA programs.

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