MBU’s College of Education plans to address one of the most significant and growing needs in education by providing undergraduate students with a path toward a BA in Autism Studies and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

The new undergraduate major will be the first of its kind in Virginia.

Dean Rachel Potter

College of Education Dean Rachel Potter

This program aims to primarily help fill the need of schools and in-home service-providers of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The popularity of coursework and programs in ABA (the leading scientifically based intervention for Autism) has risen as autism diagnosis rates have increased.

After completing her undergraduate degree in psychology at MBU, Tatiana Bryant ’17 started her career as a behavior support clinician at Compass Counseling Services and has also enrolled in the MEd program for ABA.

“The courses that I have taken so far have challenged me to think critically and apply the material that I have learned to my everyday work,” Bryant said. “This program has been exceptionally helpful in preparing me to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, and I have gained knowledge and confidence that will not only help me in the field but also in life.”

Faculty voted to approve the new undergraduate program Dec. 1. The new major will be available starting fall 2018, but students will not begin taking ABA-specific coursework until fall 2019 (MBU currently has a Verified Course Sequence (VCS) approved by the Behavior Analysis Certification Board).

Once the new major is up and running, all courses will be open to both online-only students and residential students on the main campus in Staunton.

Rachel Potter, dean of the College of Education and mother of a son with autism, is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA).

“My own interest in becoming a BCBA was partially driven by my experience as a special education teacher, and further enhanced by my experience parenting a child on the autism spectrum,” Potter said. “Obtaining the credential has allowed me to share my passion for this discipline through teaching about ABA, knowing that I am furthering the interest of students in this high-demand field. Mary Baldwin students are very service-driven, wanting to be advocates, helpers, and change-makers in the world; this new major offers a tangible path to making a difference.”

Holding a credential from the Behavior Analysis Certification Board is highly valuable for graduates entering the job market in this field. A VCS provides coursework that will prepare them for taking the Board Certification Exam to be a Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst. For those interested in graduate studies, earning a master’s degree will set them up for eligibility for taking the Board Certification Exam to be a BCBA.

Employment opportunities are abundant in this field. Behavior analysts provide direct ABA therapy to children with autism and other developmental disorders, and they can also use their skills working with adult clients. They conduct assessments, provide parent and teacher training, and work to develop and help implement treatment plans. Most are home-based services, but practitioners also work in schools, nursing homes, treatment centers, and juvenile justice facilities. The field of ABA is not limited to working with individuals with autism and other disabilities, though this major includes additional specialized training related to this population.

As part of the major, students also receive the Comprehensive Certificate in Autism Spectrum Disorders, which has been approved by the Virginia Autism Council. In addition, they have the option to package their BA with earning a master’s degree at Mary Baldwin University by extending their studies by an additional year through online coursework.

Between the College of Education and the Psychology Department, MBU has several faculty with academic interest in the area of ABA, which is unusual for a university of its size. In addition to Potter, Professor of Psychology Louise Freeman and Associate Professor of Psychology Jenna Holt have expertise in this area. Through ongoing collaboration, these faculty will support a strong ABA program that prepares students for excellent employment outcomes.