Western Michigan University Interview

We recognized Western Michigan University among the 57 Best Schools Offering ABA Bachelor’s and BCaBA Courses, and for offering one of the 35 Best ABA Graduate Programs (Master’s and Doctorate), adding them to our list of top recommendations for ABA undergraduates and grad students.

We were excited to hear from Stephanie Peterson, Ph.D., BCBA-D; Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology at Western Michigan University. Dr. Peterson took the time to answer a few questions about how Western Michigan works to create a great student experience that helps prepare graduates for a career in applied behavior analysis.

Western Michigan University Programs:

  • B.S. in Psychology – Behavioral Science Major
  • M.A. in Behavior Analysis
  • Ph.D. in Behavior Analysis
  • Interdisciplinary Preparation in Autism (IPA) (available to Master’s level Psychology and Special Education majors)

Professor/Faculty Name:      Stephanie Peterson, Ph.D., BCBA-D; Professor and Chair, Department of Psychology

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?

Stephanie:  We have a behavioral science undergraduate major, two master’s programs (one on campus and one in Metro Detroit), and a Ph.D. program. We are seeing more non-traditional students coming through our programs. However, we remain largely a traditional program. All of our graduate programs are full-time graduate programs, meaning they require the students to be enrolled full-time as students. Our Metro Detroit program is designed, however, for individuals already employed and working in a setting that serves children with disabilities. These individuals typically work half time and attend our classes online, with required once-a-month, face-to-face meetings with faculty.

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?

Stephanie:  Our ABA master’s students typically find jobs in autism centers all over the country. They find jobs quickly, and most of them are hired before they even graduate. Having said that, we also train folks who are not entering ABA fields, but other fields within behavior analysis as well. Many of those, along with several ABA folks, go on to further studies and earn Ph.D.s. Our graduates who earn Ph.D.s in behavior analysis work in a variety of areas. Some are leaders in clinics and companies that serve individuals with developmental disabilities, individuals who have brain injuries, and more recently, companies that serve the elderly. Many of our students also go on to faculty positions at other universities, and some become researchers at universities.

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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?

Stephanie:  One of the things I love most about our program is the strength of our faculty. We have many world renowned and esteemed faculty, who are doing incredible and interesting research. It is a wonderful opportunity for students to explore a variety of areas within behavior analysis. I also love that our faculty care deeply about our students and the development of their skills. We require students to engage in applied practicum to get their supervised experience hours as part of our program. I believe that adds strength to our program, because there is a strong connection between practicum and our curriculum. We also use a mentorship model of advising here, so students closely interact with faculty throughout their training. As a result, our students exit our program with both strong behavior analytic knowledge as well as excellent clinical skills.

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?

Stephanie: I believe one of the most pressing issues in ABA today is the rapid growth of the field. The number of ABA practitioners out there is growing exponentially. This creates challenges in the field. For example, the there is such a density of newly-minted Board Certified Behavior Analysts that practitioners are often relatively inexperienced. This places challenges on those who supervise these individuals. There is a need for folks in the field with very strong supervision and organizational systems skills to manage this rapidly-growing workforce. Because we also have a very strong Industrial Organizational Behavior Management program in our department, our students are able to take courses in systems development, instructional design, and supervision. We also have a strong Clinical Psychology program, from which students can take courses in motivational interviewing, cognitive processes, etc. We also have faculty with expertise in behavioral gerontology, from whom students can take courses and conduct research. This prepares students to work with populations other than children with autism. I believe this makes our graduates uniquely qualified assets to the field.

What kind of research facilities are open to students enrolled in behavior analysis programs at Western Michigan?

Stephanie:  First, we have rat lab courses and active nonhuman animal research that goes on here at WMU. Students all have the opportunity to take a rat lab course and to conduct nonhuman animal research, if they choose. Beyond that, our laboratory is really our surrounding community. We have several generous and supportive community partners, such as Kalamazoo Community Mental Health, Van Buren Intermediate School District, Summit Pointe, Kalamazoo Regional Education Service Area (KRESA), and Residential Opportunities, Incorporated, just to name a few. These partners allow our students to gain applied experience and conduct research in their settings. This allows our students to have opportunities to engage in research with our faculty and also results in the betterment of our local community—by providing opportunities to implement evidence-based practices as part of ongoing community practice.

How much past ABA work experience is required to apply for the MA in Behavior Analysis program?

Stephanie:  Past ABA work experience is beneficial for applicants, but it is not always required. Some of our students come from our own undergraduate program, where they have had several opportunities to participate in applied practice. Most of our students have at least a little applied practice with individuals who would benefit from applications of behavioral principles (e.g., children with disabilities, typically-developing children, working in a group home, working as a behavior tech, working as a child-care provider, having a sibling with autism).

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.

Western Michigan University’s Department of Psychology has one of the most enduring programs in behavior analysis anywhere in the world. The department has had a behavioral orientation for well over 50 years now. Many of our faculty are considered “founding members” of the field. Graduates from Western Michigan University have become incredible leaders in the field, helping continue to shape behavior analysis as it currently looks today. We are incredibly proud of our history, our graduates, and our faculty.

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

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