We recognized Wayne State University as one of the Top 57 Best Schools Offering ABA Bachelor’s and BCaBA Courses, adding them to our list of top recommendations for ABA undergraduates.
We were excited to hear from Krista Clancy, a faculty member at Wayne 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.
Wayne State University Programs: Undergraduate Certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis
Professor/Faculty Name: Krista Clancy
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?
Krista: Most of our students are working through school. Many of our students have a position in the field of ABA as a behavior technician. They often come from psychology or pre-med, but also come from a variety of other fields such as speech and language, anthropology, social work, etc.
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?
Krista: Most of our students leave the program and enter a job in the private sector or work for companies that provide Community Mental Health services. We are seeing a greater number of students begin to find field experience in the school setting and stay in the education sector following graduation, but it is still a small percentage of the cohort each year.
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?
Krista: What I love most about our program is students in our program are required to complete their field experience at a local agency of their choice while they are completing their coursework. We work very hard to help students find a community placement or work with them to find supervision at the site where they are currently working when they enter our program. We focus on blending the clinical and classroom experiences to make sure students can pass the exam and also perform all the duties of a behavior analyst before leaving our program. We have students complete guided performance tasks at their community field experience setting as part of their graded coursework. This ensures our students are getting a good experience in the field. Students leave our program with all or most of their field experience hours completed and have a richer understanding of what the course content means from a practical stand point. All of our previous students have left our program with a job offer or current job placement following graduation at the place where they have completed their field experience hours because of our community partnership with local service providers.
The other thing that I think is a benefit about our program is the cohort model of training that is used. Our students enter our program with a cohort of students who complete all of their classes together in sequence. They learn together and build relationships that will follow them into the community. With our growing field and constantly changing expectations as professionals and treatment providers, it is nice to have a ready-made group who you can contact for support and bounce ideas off of. Our students create study groups, discuss difficult situations they run into at their different placements and help each other problem solve a variety of conflicts as part of their work in class and outside of class. Students have reported in their exit interviews that this is one of the most valuable parts of the program at WSU and they really appreciate the learning experience that comes with a cohort model of training.
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?
Krista: One of the most important issues students and professionals in the field encounter have to do with engaging professionally with the larger treatment community. The WSU master’s program has recently been approved for a MS in ABA and we have expanded our curriculum to focus more on these issues. We have field experience courses where students must interact with the other students in class discussions focusing on some of the professional issues that they will encounter when they enter a practice environment. These classes have historically focused on common issues and issues related to working with families and other professionals in the area of early intensive behavior intervention, improving communication and organization to improve therapeutic relationships with families and other members of the treatment team, and training and supervision of others in the field. We have expanded these courses to focus on additional areas including more work on treatment planning and working with populations with a variety of mental health issues.
Another issue of importance in the field right now is dealing with challenging client behavior more effectively. Students need to have exposure to clients, assessment, and treatment focused on improving services related to severe and challenging behaviors so that they are prepared for this population of clientele when they enter the workforce. We have improved our curriculum by adding an additional treatment planning course focused on treatment of challenging behavior and treatment of clients that have more significant impairment so that students can provide treatment with more effective outcomes for this population and feel comfortable accepting clients with more challenging problems on their caseload.
The school intentionally designed the ABA graduate certificate and MEd ABA degree as on-campus only programs. What are the advantages of the traditional classroom-based learning model for ABA students?
Krista: The advantage to having students in class and face to face for each lecture is that it allows for the instructor to add activities that increase participation with the course content, monitor professional behavior with the students during classroom activities and interactions with other students, and shape effective communication styles for our future professionals that will represent our field when they exit our program. Instructors teaching in our programs focus on a behavior skills training model of instruction for all performance tasks that come up in the curriculum. Students experience many hands-on activities that they have to work in groups to practice class content using the lecture and reading material studied for that week. This allows for a greater understanding of how and why the material it is taught, as well as, better preparing students to actively engage in these activities in their field experience with less support.
Which of the two ABA programs offer the BACB VCS needed to qualify for certification?
Krista: Both our undergraduate and graduate programs in Applied Behavior Analysis are Verified Course Sequences under task list 4. We are in the process of updating our curriculum and gaining approval from ABAI for our programs to also meet criteria for task list 5. We plan to have students in the next two cohorts in both our BCBA and BCaBA preparation programs have the option of taking the exam before or after 2022, so we are working to maintain approval for both task lists for this transition period.
What kind of applied practical training is offered in the MEd—ABA program?
Krista: As mentioned above there is a large focus on coordinating learning between the practical and classroom settings. We offer students many options for training. They are often interested in staying at the agency that they currently work, as many of our students who enter our program are already working as a behavior technician in a field setting. However, for those students who are not currently working in the field or are looking to move to another site for their field work we offer placement opportunities at our affiliated agencies and work with students to obtain placement before or during the first semester of the program. Students also have graded performance activities that they complete during their field experience hours with their site supervisor that we use to ensure that students get a basic exposure to tasks that are important for them to learn before they enter the workforce. Students at their exit interviews have expressed appreciation for the structure and oversight of the field experience that is offered though our program and the performance measures that are in place. It has allowed for them to have more choice and opportunity for job placement following graduation with enough structure and support to ensure that they are getting a valuable learning experience even when they are out in the community working with supervisors at a variety of settings.
Check out our full interview series here to see what other professors and faculty are saying about their ABA programs.