Above average: MA-ABA program graduates first cohort

November 8, 2018

The first cohort of graduates from the M.A. in Applied Behavior Analysis (MA-ABA) program at Michigan State University are rising above national averages and making an impact in the field.

“We’re training a new generation of active science-practitioners,” said Assistant Professor Matthew Brodhead of the seven scholars who graduated in spring 2018.

Photo of Erickson Hall

With extensive experience working with individuals with autism and intellectual disability across the lifespan, six of the seven students have taken the national examination to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst® and have passed. An impressive 83 percent passed this rigorous exam with their first attempt, far exceeding the national average first-time pass rate of 67 percent.

“The BCBA® credential is in extremely high demand, making our alumni very marketable for leadership positions across the state of Michigan and beyond,” Brodhead said. He noted all seven graduates had also accepted positions in the field or were accepted to a Ph.D. program prior to graduating. “For our first cohort to be above average in this way shows students who come here can get high quality education, meaningful experiences and be successful.”

Moving the field forward

Two of the students’ theses were also published in acclaimed academic journals.

Marisa FisherIn March 2018, Behavior Analysis in Practice published a study led by then-students Richard Price and Abbie J. Marsh and accompanied by Assistant Professor Marisa Fisher. The study focused on helping individuals with autism and intellectual disability navigate their community. All participants were Spartan Project SEARCH interns at the time, and utilized a community-based training developed by Price on how to use Google Maps to navigate the bus system (and, later, to follow walking directions) to learn to travel to/from MSU and to/from other locations.

“It increased the participants’ independence and their involvement in the community and leisure activities,” said Fisher.

Fisher, Brodhead, Associate Professor Connie Sung and Douglas Gage, MSU’s Assistant Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies, will continue the project. They recently received $75,000 in funding from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to develop a community-based independent transportation training manual, and to provide training to other transition teachers and programs in Michigan.

Matthew BrodheadAnother article is aimed at developing and testing a standardized way for teachers of children with autism to evaluate intervention (teaching) success. The study—”Training front-line employees to conduct visual analysis using a clinical decision-making model,” from lead author Kailie Kipfmiller’s thesis—was accepted for publication in the Journal of Behavioral Education, expected to be available in print and online in 2019. Several other students and scholars from MSU contributed to the project including Fisher and Brodhead.

Brodhead served as Kipfmiller’s advisor in the MA-ABA program. “This study is important because it increases objectivity in decision-making and reduces the length of time to make decisions about autism treatment, which frees up resources in other areas,” he said. “These publications help serve as a testament to the mentorship and infrastructure of the program. Our graduates are using their meaningful experiences in the program to publish content that will move the field forward.”