We recognized St. Cloud State University as one of the Top 20 Best Schools Offering Applied Behavior Analyst Master’s Programs, adding them to our list of top recommendations for students in the area.
We were excited to hear from Benjamin N. Witts, Michele R. Traub, and Kimberly A. Schulze, faculty members at St. Cloud 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.
St. Cloud State University Programs:
- Masters of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis
- Benjamin N. Witts
- Michele R. Traub
- Kimberly A. Schulze
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?
BNW: Our campus program sees a lot of students coming from all over the country, typically straight out of an undergraduate program. Often these students have some experience with behavior analysis, either as a research assistant or through working at an autism treatment agency.
MRT: In our distance program we see quite a few special education teachers who are seeing the benefit in having a background in behavior analysis. We’re also seeing many students who studied general psychology or speech and language as undergraduates look to ABA in graduate school, as the career opportunities are so vast.
KAS: Many nontraditional students from around the world complete our distance program. They have typically been working for several years in agencies that serve individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities and wish to pursue a graduate degree in order to advance in their company and become a BCBA. The online format provides the flexibility they need to continue working full-time while working toward their degree in ABA.
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?
BNW: Our campus students are probably split between autism centers and school jobs. Most graduates stay local to Minnesota, but some return to their home state or use the opportunity to move across the country.
MRT: Most of our distance students are already employed at autism agencies or school districts, and they are able to advance up the ladder with their MS degree. Other graduates have gone into policy and advocacy work, using their knowledge of the science to make positive changes at a governmental level.
KAS: Some of the campus and distance students work with adults in supported employment or community support services. I see a tremendous need for Behavior Analysts to provide programming and leadership in these settings.
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?
BNW: Our program is completely student-focused. We work hard to support practical and research opportunities that help our students explore what they are passionate about. Some really neat opportunities have come from that. A distance student had an idea to approach voter turnout through a single-case experimental design lens, and that work led us to present our findings to the Canadian parliament! We’ve also done some work with physicians and dentists, and those students started a program to provide supports to area physicians and dentists who were working with special needs patients.
MRT: We work hard to push our students beyond simply learning procedures or the “how-to”; we train them to be analysts, not just technicians. That means we challenge them to think critically and write a lot: they don’t always love it in the moment, but graduates always tell us how well prepared they were once they moved into their current positions. We also encourage them to apply what they are learning to what they are most interested in, even if it isn’t our main interest as researchers, because the students can develop their skills in an area they are passionate about.
KAS: Campus and distance students go through the program as a cohort. This is easy for campus students who see each other often. But even online students get to know each other well during class discussion and projects, and will meet each other face-to-face at ABAI. We encourage several staff from an agency to go through our program as a group so that they can support each other. Often, there are former graduates of our program at an agency who mentor current staff enrolled in our program.
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?
BNW: Diversity in focus is one thing you read a lot about today in the journals—the need to expand to new areas of practice. We emphasize this quite a bit in our classes and when students select practical experiences and research topics. We also spend time in our classes studying other treatments outside of behavior analysis to better prepare students for interdisciplinary work, which is becoming more and more prevalent these days.
MRT: The field is growing very quickly, but we still can’t meet the need that is out there. The high demand has challenged our field to churn out practitioners quickly while maintaining high standards for training and experience. If any group of people can find a way to manage these “growing pains” it should be behavior analysts, so it’s an exciting time to be teaching students to not only be practitioners but also supervisors, mentors, and leaders.
KAS: We encourage participation in state, regional, and international behavioral organizations so that our graduates become aware of policy, certification and licensure issues that impact our field. Our students may participate in and take leadership positions in a local student-led organization (SOBA), as well as their state and local organizations, perhaps beginning in a student liaison role. Some have gone on to take leadership roles in their local and regional organizations and in advocating for licensure of Behavior Analysts in their states.
What kind of graduate assistantships are available through the MS in Applied Behavior Analysis program?
BNW: Campus students can apply for teaching, research, and advising assistantships through our program. In the near future, we anticipate funding through clinical opportunities on campus. These funds help pay for tuition and provide a stipend.
MRT: St. Cloud State is very supportive of its students, which means that there are a lot of research grants, awards, and travel stipends available for driven students who are looking to disseminate their work or gain new experiences.
KAS: Another source of scholarships is through the Autism Recovery Foundation. ARF is a nonprofit dedicated to providing scholarships for students working toward becoming Board Certified Behavior Analysts who plan to deliver ABA services to individuals with autism in Minnesota. Each year we award about 15 scholarships to ABA graduate students, many from our ABA program, for the amount of $1,000.
Beyond the coursework that centers around BACB curriculum recommendations (the VCS), how does the program at St. Cloud prepare students to become effective practitioners?
BNW: One thing we do that stands out is we emphasize a systems approach to practical work. I think the research upon which our interventions lean tends to omit an analysis of all the variables that come into play with a client. We look at culture, community, family, personal goals, and so on in helping students to recognize that each treatment must truly be individualized, and that often the “client” goes far beyond the individual you are working with.
MRT: We balance teaching the fundamentals of the science and how it is typically presented in the research, which is conducted under ideal conditions, with the real world they will encounter as practitioners. Things are not black-and-white in practice, and our students get to see that through practicum and internship experiences. They also conduct projects and research programs in those courses, meaning that they have to practice finding creative solutions to real-world problems.
KAS: Some students go on for doctoral work in Behavior Analysis after graduating from our program. Students report that they are well-prepared for doctoral work after our program. We have had the pleasure over the years to see these students start their own agencies, lead agencies, or have successful careers in academia.
At which regional, state, and national conferences have past ABA students presented research projects?
BNW: We’ve included a partial list of student presentations over the last few years to give readers a sense of what kinds of contribution our students are making to research (attached at the end of this interview).
MRT: The Minnesota Northland chapter of the Association of Behavior Analysis International puts on a conference each September; our students regularly present posters, and many of our graduates sit on panels and present invited talks. Last year, 3 of the 5 members of the MNABA executive board were alumni of our program. We typically have a handful of posters and/or symposium presentations by current students at the annual ABAI conference in May. Distance students have also presented their thesis or internship work at their local conferences (recent examples are British Columbia ABA, Ontario ABA, and Manitoba ABA).
Please feel free to add anything else you would like potential students to know about your program and that would be good for them to consider before choosing a program.
BNW: We’ve just added a new option for campus students: do your first year on campus and your second year at a distance. The first year is all on-campus intensive coursework, and the second year is dedicated to practical experiences, which can be done anywhere in the world. This adds flexibility for those students who want the campus experience but can’t afford to take two years away from family, work, etc.
MRT: It’s a really exciting time to be at SCSU! We are in the process of starting a campus autism clinic that will serve client in the community and provide training, research, and employment opportunities for our students. We are also fostering several international partnerships, which we hope will give US students the opportunity to travel and apply ABA in other communities and countries, and bring international students to our campus to study here.
KAS: SCSU has a long history in Behavior Analysis. The campus ABA program began in l980 with expansion to the online program in 2001. We have had students enroll from all states, all Canadian provinces and at least 18 countries. We have been an ABAI accredited program since 1999 and a VCS provider since 2002. Our passing rate on the BACB exam was 100% in 2018 and has been over 95% for the last three years. We are very proud of our program and the success of our students!
Anyone interested in the MS in ABA program at SCSU can visit our website (https://www.stcloudstate.edu/graduate/aba/default.aspx) or by contacting the program coordinator, Dr. Benjamin Witts, at email@example.com
Check out our full interview series here to see what other professors and faculty are saying about their ABA programs.