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

Brianna reading to a young child

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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