ABA Student’s Senior-Year Diagnosis Made Graduation a Steep Climb

Melissa Courtney seating and smiling next to a child who is playing with dough

With just one semester left to finish her online bachelor’s degree in applied behavior analysis, Melissa Courtney’s steps to graduation turned steeply upward when she was diagnosed with pulmonary embolism. Her doctor told her that this life-threatening blood clot was damaging her lungs and she might want to sit out for a semester.

“I had worked so hard to get to where I was,” she says. “Waiting even another semester to graduate made me upset. Along with migraines, nose bleeds, and fatigue came depression, anxiety, and anger.”

Melissa questioned whether she could keep up with her studies or if hospital stays might interrupt her classes.

Disability Services Listens

So she turned to her advisor Amy Chamberlain, student success specialist for online students. Amy, who had successfully helped Melissa transfer into the ABA program as a junior with nearly 65 credits, introduced her to Ball State’s office of disability services.

Melissa says disability services staff listened to her concerns about the upcoming semester. “They helped me determine what accommodations would be best for me based on my concerns,” she says. “Once we came up with the accommodations, they sent them to my instructors.”

Disability services requires that students meet with professors one on one to talk about leniencies needed for particular assignments.

She Explained Medical Needs

“I explained to my instructors my needs and made sure they were aware that this was not something I wanted to abuse,” says Melissa, noting that disability services checked in with her several times throughout the semester.

Melissa had transferred from a community college after earning an associate degree in human services.

“I transferred to Ball State because I knew the ABA program there was amazing, and I needed a school that was going to be affordable,” she says.

Better in all Categories

According to Melissa, compared to her previous school, Ball State was more equipped for larger classes, professors responded sooner, classes felt more organized, and she seldom waited for grades to be posted.

“I feel that I learned something from every single one of my classes, especially my ABA-related classes,” she says. She enjoyed multiple classes with Kacyn Tucker-Ramer, Ball State lecturer of applied behavior analysis.

“She made the lessons fun and always told me what I did well or where I could improve,” says Melissa. “I genuinely felt that she cared about my education.”

Advisor Amy Went Above and Beyond

Since graduating with her bachelor’s in December 2020, Melissa has worked as a registered behavioral technician (RBT) at Hopebridge Autism Therapy Center in Terre Haute, Ind.

Her goal is to earn a master’s degree at Ball State and eventually work with autistic children.

Melissa says advisor Amy was with her every step of the way, from application to graduation.

“She went above and beyond as an advisor, and I do not know what I would have done without her,” says Melissa. “She was my own personal cheerleader when I was sick. She motivated me to continue and made it a simple process to do so. I cannot thank her enough.”

Angela Bricker: “Still in Awe of the Differences ABA Can Make”

In her first year as an elementary teacher, Angela Bricker (BCBA-D), was surprised that so many of her young students were diagnosed with autism.

So she joined an applied behavior analysis center to learn ABA principles and techniques. While at the ABA center she began taking evening classes to learn more about ABA, while using the principles with clients during the day.

“I started working in the ABA field due to my interest in helping students that I didn’t think were getting what they truly needed in the general education classroom,” says Angela, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst-Doctorate (BCBA-D) and Ball State assistant teaching professor of special education.

Has Love for the Science

“I fell in love with the science of ABA,” says Angela, who completed Ball State’s MA in special education in 2008. “I have now been in the field for over 25 years, and I am still in awe of the differences ABA can make in the lives of others.”

During her 25-year career, she has worked in clinical, home, educational, and residential settings, and has established multiple school-based programs for children with autism.

She began teaching in the Ball State master’s in ABA with an emphasis in autism program in 2009, and today she teaches and mentors adjunct faculty as a content specialist.

ABA Master’s is Largest in the Nation

Ball State was the first university in the state to offer such a master’s program. The master’s in ABA with an emphasis in autism has grown to be the largest in the nation.

Angela thinks she knows why.

“Reputation! Students who enjoy the program and become successful share their experience with others,” she says. “We truly have an amazing set of courses, and they are set up to help students with lots of different backgrounds.”

Program Gives Students World Perspective

The master’s in ABA with an emphasis in autism enrolls students worldwide, which only broadens the classroom perspective.

“Sometimes I will have a zoom meeting with a student at 8 a.m. Eastern Standard Time,” says Angela, “and then another at 11 p.m. Eastern Standard Time in order to accommodate students from around the globe.”

One uniqueness of the program is having students collaborate with international peers on class projects.

“Having the ability to collaborate this way is so important within ABA, and I think most students find this to be a positive experience,” says Angela. “It allows them to become more comfortable with different formats of technology for communication.”

On the Forefront of Training Professionals

Another advantage is its history. The department has been on the forefront of training professionals to help special populations with best-practice methods for decades.

After teaching in the ABA program for more than a decade, she believes her faculty colleagues are passionate about the science for the benefit of students.

“As a department we have biweekly meetings to stay in touch and brainstorm ways to keep the program successful,” says Angela. “Each course is also set up with a content specialist who will reach out to all instructors teaching that specific course several times throughout the semester.”

If you have ever watched what ABA can do, she says, then “you would understand the thirst we have for more knowledge in this field.”

Online Grad Drives 24 Hours From Connecticut to Celebrate Her Achievement

Kaitlynn Holmes had already bought her cap and gown.

Having graduated with a master’s degree in applied behavior analysis through Ball State Online, the Connecticut woman had already planned on driving from the East Coast to the heart of the Midwest for Spring Commencement. So, when the emerging COVID-19 pandemic forced University administrators to cancel the event, Kaitlynn didn’t let it get in her way.

This July, she made the 24-hour round trip anyways.

Plenty of people questioned why. But Holmes had come too far in her education not to mark the occasion. And her experience with Ball State had been so satisfying, she felt like she had to see the campus in real life.

Sure, she couldn’t exactly paint the town Cardinal red once she got here, but it would still be an adventure.

“This is the final year of schooling in my entire life. I wanted to celebrate that moment. I thought that I could at least parade around in my cap and gown and see the university that I attended. So, I did it.”

Making life better for kids

After graduating from Ball State this May, Holmes then passed the Connecticut board exam on July 27 and earned state licensure. She can now proudly say she is a board certified and licensed behavior analyst.

Holmes’ experience with Ball State had been so satisfying, she felt like she had to see the campus in real life.

Behavior analysts develop plans to help children who are having behavioral issues and often train parents, teachers, and others how to implement the plan.

“It’s about making that child’s quality of life better as a whole,” she said.

Behavior analysts can work in a variety of settings, but Kaitlynn hopes to work in a school district, preferably with elementary or middle-school children.

Holmes first heard of Ball State about three years ago. At the time, she was a registered behavior technician in a public school in Connecticut, working under the supervision of a certified and licensed behavior analyst.

A satisfied student

Holmes wanted to move up and become a behavior analyst herself.

“I literally searched on Google for universities that had high passing rates for the behavior analysis exam,” she said.

She found a website that ranked Ball State near the very top. She did some more investigating and realized that the University offered online instruction that would allow her to work and attend school at the same time. Finally, she asked around about Ball State in a Facebook group for behavior analysts and her colleagues gave the program rave reviews.

“I ended up loving the program. It was convenient for me to work full time while also attending grad school.”

She was equally satisfied with her road trip.

Campus was beautiful, and so was the Midwestern countryside, she said. The farms and fields that Hoosiers take for granted were new to Kaitlynn and represented an almost idyllic landscape.

“It was just a really pretty drive. No complaints.”

Graham Finds Purpose in ABA Therapy When She Sees Its Impact

After finishing her bachelor’s degree, Melissa Johnson Graham was, in her own words, “looking for a path and a purpose.” That path brought her back to her hometown of Muncie, Indiana, and she found purpose when she began working at a local applied behavior analysis (ABA) clinic as a behavioral therapist.

“It was there I fell in love with ABA therapy after seeing the significant impact it had on behavior and how drastically it improved the quality of life for the kiddos and their families,” says Graham, who today is executive director of Muncie’s Engaging Minds Autism Services.

“Communities are struggling to keep up with the demand because so many families are in need,” she says. “[As of 2018], Delaware County [where Engaging Minds is based] has 1,952 individuals living with autism and 310 school-age children living with autism.”

In 2012, Graham met the parents of two boys with autism living in Kokomo, about 60 miles northeast of Muncie. Because of the lack of quality ABA therapy in their city, the family was driving four hours each day to find the intensive treatment they needed. After identifying the extensive need in their county, the parents founded Engaging Minds with Graham’s assistance in Kokomo.

Graham worked in that clinic as an ABA therapist for two years before returning to Muncie in 2014 to launch a second Engaging Minds as executive director and begin her master’s in applied behavior analysis.

“My primary goal is to support the people who make this happen,” says Graham. “That includes the staff, the clients and their families. We consider each person family, and we strive to treat them as we would our own families.”

When she first became aware of this need and the fact that ABA therapy is the only scientifically proven, research-based effective treatment for autism, Graham enrolled in Ball State University’s master’s degree in applied behavior analysis with an emphasis in autism. The program is offered fully online.

Studying online meant she could continue working full time in the field and get hands-on experience.

“I would not have been able to manage both work and on-campus courses at the same time,” she says.

Graham liked the idea that Ball State faculty worked in the Muncie area.

“Most of my professors were local and worked right here in the community,” she says. “I was able to learn ABA from those individuals impacting the families right here in my own hometown.”

The master’s degree that Graham earned gave her the course work requirements to become eligible for the Board Certified Behavior Analyst Examination (BCBA) and graduate-level certification in behavior analysis. BCBAs are independent practitioners who supervise BCaBAs. Ball State has one of the largest master’s degree programs in ABA in the country.

Despite distance, online master of Applied Behavior Analysis student finds hands-on experience

Even eight hours away from Muncie, Brianna Meyer found hands-on opportunities to apply her degree.

Meyer, an Altoona, Iowa resident who is working on a master of arts in applied behavior analysis online, joined 13 other Ball State students for the 2017 Alternative Spring Break in St. Louis. There, the group spent a week volunteering for Kingdom House, a nonprofit that helps the economically disadvantaged in its immediate neighborhoods. The students helped with everything from weeding a community garden to teaching a cooking class for teens.

The trip put Meyer in close contact with the families Kingdom House serves, which gave her the real-world experience she wanted for her degree. “It’s about people working together in order to make sure that their child has the best life that they can have,” she said.

Distance Not a Deterrent

The week began with a 3 a.m. wakeup and a trip of more than 500 miles from Altoona to Muncie before Meyer got in a van for another 300 miles to St. Louis, only to repeat the distance returning home a few days later.

“I know a lot of bonding takes place on road trips,” she said. “I didn’t want to not know the people I was going to be living with for a week.” The fact she studies online didn’t set her apart from the rest of the group.

“It’s exciting to get to hang out with a group of people who are so prideful and get to live it every day. And they immediately accepted me in to the group,” she said. “It wasn’t ‘Hey, you’re a stranger and come from far away,’ it was ‘Hey, you go to Ball State like us.’”

Real-World Experience

Meyer sees herself participating in more opportunities like Alternative Spring Break—regardless of distance. It was part of a package her degree offered that she described as “just the right fit.”

Already working in the field as an applied behavior analysis specialist, her master’s degree, once complete, will elevate her to a board-certified behavior analyst.

“I particularly like applied behavior analysis because it is an evidence-based practice, so it has been researched time and time again,” she said. “It has been shown to be effective in behavior change.”

Start Now with Ball State Online

Do you want to work or grow in the field of applied behavior analysis while, like Brianna, still having access to hands-on experience?

‘Perfect Program’ for Studying Behavior

Carly Shappard wanted a credential that would prepare her to counsel families concerning their child’s development issues. Her career goals led her to Ball State’s online master’s in applied behavior analysis.

I enjoy watching the progress of the clients when they start doing things independently.


As a preschool teacher, Carly Shappard enjoyed parent-teacher conferences as much as any of her teaching tasks.

But she didn’t always feel prepared to talk to parents about their children’s developmental issues.

That’s when she enrolled in Ball State’s master’s in applied behavior analysis (ABA) with an emphasis in autism. She was ready for a career change and the credentials to counsel families regarding interventions, if necessary.

“The ABA program gave me a different view on the functions of each child’s behaviors,” says Shappard, who is an ABA therapist in Indianapolis. “I was able to understand why certain behaviors occurred and think of proactive ways to decrease the chances they would happen.”


A 2014 graduate of the master’s in ABA, Shappard was eligible to take the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) exam to become a board certified practitioner when she finishes the 1,500 field experience hours required of all ABA students.

In her current role as a therapist, Shappard works with three clients in their school and home settings, helping them develop daily living skills, appropriate peer and adult interaction, and for younger clients, appropriate toy play.

“I enjoy watching the progress of the clients when they start doing things independently,” she says. “I also enjoy watching a child start imitating another peer.”


Because the program was offered completely online, Shappard could balance roles as a student, wife, mother, and full-time teacher. “I could do most of my schoolwork after my son went to sleep,” says Shappard, who also earned graduate certificates in applied behavior analysis and autism.

She admits she was nervous at the beginning of the program because of her test anxieties. What helped, says Shappard, was how online classes gave studetns a block of days during which they can take quizzes and tests.

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