First Cohort Completes Online Master’s in Applied Behavior Analysis Degree Program

When Laura Stroud, a special education teacher at Puxico R-VIII School District, learned about the new online Master of Arts in applied behavior analysis (ABA) program at Southeast Missouri State University, she knew it would be an opportunity for her to provide ABA services to her rural community. “I already see a lot of students, but it seems we’re getting more and more each year who need help,” Stroud said. “I knew how well ABA services worked and wanted to provide that intervention to our area.” On Saturday, she will be among the first group of students to graduate from this program. Southeast’s online master’s degree in applied behavior analysis prepares students to become practitioners of applied behavior analysis (ABA) who work with individuals with autism spectrum disorder and other neurodevelopmental disabilities. Thirteen students will graduate and add this new credential to their skill set, according to Dr. Jamie Severtson, assistant professor of elementary, early and special education. “This first cohort of students have been very successful, and we are so proud of their accomplishments,” said Severtson. “It can be risky being a part of the first group in a new program, but they took the initiative and sought support from University faculty and one another. They’ve become professional, independent leaders in their field.” Under the supervision of Severtson, Stroud developed a successful ABA intervention program for four early childhood special education Puxico students. “She was able to demonstrate that her interventions were successful with all the students she worked with even though they were at a lower intensity,” said Severtson. “Because she was implementing them so well, she had great outcomes.” Those great outcomes have led the district to hire Stroud to lead the district’s development and revision of their early children special education program and add ABA assessment and intervention services throughout the classroom. “Adding these services for all preschool and early childhood classes will allow me to see more kids and prepare them for their future,” Stroud said. “More students will benefit from her expertise and now she will be able to dedicate more time and intensity to the program which means she should provide even better outcomes for those students,” Severtson added. With the closest facility that provides ABA services with board certified behavior analysts (BCBA) over 50 miles away, Stroud will be an valuable asset to the area. “What is so unique about her program is it’s free to students and their families,” Severtson said. “That will have a major impact on the students and relieve the burden on the school and parents to find financial support for those services outside the school.” Her remote location also impacted her own decision for continuing her education, Stroud said. By having her classroom content and fieldwork practicum requirements provided completely online by Southeast allowed her to pursue her master’s degree. “It was easier and more convenient because everything was online,” she said. “I really like how Southeast offered the supervision for my practicum as part of the curriculum. It has better prepared me to take the state exam.” Providing consistent supervision and support throughout the two-year program is a main objective for the Southeast faculty and staff, Severtson said. The students also contributed to that positive environment and were very supportive of one another and created tight-knit relationships even though they are scattered across the state. In addition, Southeast was able to create new connections and relationships with public schools and districts across Missouri, Illinois and Louisiana. “It has been exciting to create that collaboration and to expand our program and the ABA services to students and districts across multiple states,” Severtson said. “All of our students’ practicum sites were so open and appreciative of the students who were able to provide better and enhanced services to these areas.” Like Stroud, many of the students have found employment opportunities in the areas they’ve been studying, said Severtson. Additionally, many of these sites have turned to Southeast for future opportunities. “Because of Laura's success, Puxico has invited more ABA practicum students to join them this fall,” she said. “This is personal dream come true for me. I'm so proud of Laura and excited about the future in Puxico.” Stroud and Severtson hope to take that success to a national level. In the upcoming months, they’ll write a research paper about Puxico’s new program and present their findings on the impact of behavior analysts partnering with educators. “If we can disseminate the success Laura’s had with Puxico to other districts and institutions, we can reach more families and children who need and want help,” Severtson said. For Stroud, graduation and her new job represent an exciting milestone. “When you get a job you want to do, it’s even more fulfilling for me,” she said. “I enjoy doing it. It’s stressful and frustrating at times, but I know I’ve done something worthwhile.” The second cohort of students in Southeast’s online master’s degree in applied behavior analysis will graduate in August 2018, Severtson said. The third cohort of students has been admitted for this coming fall semester and will graduate in August 2019.