Ohio State University Interview

We recognized Ohio State University on three different lists featuring top recommended programs for ABA grad students:

We were excited to hear from Sheila Alber-Morgan, Professor, PhD, BCBA-D, a faculty member at Ohio State University 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.

Ohio State University Offers Two ABAI-accredited Programs:

    • Master of Arts in Special Education
    • PhD in Special Education

Professor/Faculty Name:      Sheila Alber-Morgan, Professor, PhD, BCBA-D

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?


MA program: We have both part time and full time students in our MA program. Most of our part time students are either special education teachers in our local public schools or interventionists working for ABA service providers or hospitals. In order to be admitted into our MA ABA program, applicants must have background education and experience working with individuals with disabilities. Some enter the program after gaining a few years of applied experience and some have entered the program much later in their teaching careers. Most the students enter the MA ABA program are able expand their career options after they graduate.

PhD program: The PhD students in our programrepresent a wide range of cultures from the around the United States and around the world. We currently have international students from China, Taiwan, Nigeria, India, and Saudi Arabia. Our PhD students have a range of educational backgrounds and applied experiences as intervention specialists, behavioral therapists, and school psychologists.

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?


MA program: Most of the part time students in the MA program have jobs in local school districts, hospitals, or in private practices. Many stay in their current jobs and expand their opportunities for leadership and promotion after earning the MA degree and the BCBA credential. After they graduate, most of the full time students have been getting jobs in local private schools (serving children with autism), private practices, or ABA companies. Additionally, several of our program graduates pursue PhD programs.

PhD program: Most of our PhD program graduates get jobs in higher education as university faculty in special education or psychology programs. Additionally, many of our program graduates have started their own schools or businesses that provide in-home or center-based services of children with disabilities.

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?


Both MA and PhD programs

Mentoring Students. Our program faculty work closely with our students and mentor them as they develop, implement, and disseminate their applied research projects. Most advisors have weekly meetings with their graduate students to identify and work toward individual goals related to their program of study and their research.

Teleconference seminar. Duringautumn semestersince 1988, the work of prominent researchers in special education and applied behavior analysis has been featured in a weekly teleconference seminar called Contemporary Issues in Special Education. Researchers at other universities serve as distinguished guest faculty and provide the seminar’s content and interact with our students through videoconferencing and many distinguished guest faculty visit OSU in person.

Thesis co-advisement.Thesis co-advisement is beneficial for both the MA and PhD students. PhD students receive valuable practice with mentoring and providing advice and feedback to MA students as they work on their thesis research. MA students receive extra support as they design, implement, and write their thesis. 

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Strong cohort model.Both our MA and PhD programs foster a strong cohort which has proven to be a major source of support for our students. Each student’s program of study and research becomes increasingly individualized as they progress through their programs, reflecting the particular area(s) of application in which the student wishes to develop special expertise. Students also participate in a variety of social activities such as the I-Survived-My-First-Semester party hosted by the first year doctoral students, sporting events, and the OSU reunion each year at ABAI.

Integrated Special Education and ABA backgrounds.The graduate students who attend our program tend to come from either a special education background or an ABA therapy background or both. The graduate students from each of these backgrounds have opportunities to work together and learn from each other. All of our students have opportunities to gain school-based experiences, and most our PhD students’ primary focus is on training teachers. Additionally, general education teachers who are admitted to our program have an opportunity to get both a special education interventionist license and the BCBA credential.

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?


MA Program. The need for certified behavior analysts who are well-trained continues to grow exponentially locally, nationally, and internationally. We address this pressing issue by providing a quality program with close supervision and frequent applied opportunities to learn about and implement evidence-based practices.

PhD Program. There is a pressing need for qualified leaders in the field of ABA who are contributing to the science of ABA by researching and disseminating evidence-based practices designed to improve the quality of life for individuals with disabilities. The Ph.D. program places major emphasis on training future leaders and helping them learn to conceptualize, plan, conduct, and disseminate applied research in special education under the close guidance and assistance of a faculty mentor.

The MA in Special Education—Applied Behavioral Analysis Specialization program is designed for educators. What kind of teaching experiences do prospective students need to apply to this program?


MA Program. Some of our MA students graduate and apply to our PhD program. The MA program prepares the students to be successful in the PhD program primarily by requiring a master’s thesis. The MA thesis requires students to experimentally address research questions and methods based on a behavior analytic approach to changing behavior to ultimately improve the quality of life for individuals with disabilities. The MA thesis can focus on academic, social, functional, or daily living skills. A PhD student serves as co-advisor for the master’s student. This relationship provides opportunities for the MA student to learn about the PhD program from a mentor currently in the program. Additionally, this relationship provides opportunities for both the MA and PhD student to disseminate research through presentations at professional conferences and publications in peer reviewed journals.

Please feel free to add anything else you would like potential students to know about your program; things that make your school stand out in the field that are worth considering before choosing a program. 

Both MA and PhD programs

The Ohio State University’s graduate programs in special education have been advancing the study of ABA for more than four decades. Emeritus Professors John O. Cooper, Timothy Heron, and William Heward founded our special education program in the 1970s. In 1995, OSU’s Ph.D. program in special education was the first doctoral program to receive ABAI accreditation. This program prepares leadership personnel for special education whose research, teaching, and professional practice are grounded in the philosophy of behaviorism and the methodological and technological principles of applied behavior analysis. The MA program, also first accredited in 1995, emphasizes the design, implementation, and evaluation of curricular and instructional interventions to improve academic, social, self-care, and vocational skills for individuals with disabilities. In 2011, our special education graduate programs were the recipients of the SABA Award for Enduring Programmatic Contributions in Behavior Analysis. The contributions we continue to make include hundreds of published peer-reviewed journal articles co-authored with students and dozens of books, including Applied Behavior Analysis by Cooper, Heron, and Heward. The greatest contributions of OSU’s special education program are the program graduates whose work has brought evidence-based practices to practitioners and students around the world.

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

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