University Series 003 | Loyola Marymount University

Join Operant Innovations as they speak with Loyola Marymount University's Dr. Melinda Docter.

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Dr. Melinda Docter -

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Shauna Costello (00:01):

You're listening to operant innovations, a podcast from ABA technologies. So we've spent the last couple of weeks of our university series in Michigan, and now we are taking a trip across the country to the West coast to visit Loyola Marymount university. This is our first fully online program, and I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Melinda Docter. And before we go into the interview, I wanted to give you a little bit more history about dr. Docter. She joined Loyola Marymount university as the director of the behavior analysis program and clinical assistant professor in September, 2017. Dr. Docter has 30 years of combined experience in teaching and administration for both general education and special education. She holds a doctorate in education, organizational leadership and masters in education, both awarded by Pepperdine university and Cal state. Credentials in general education, special education and moderate to severe disabilities and administration.

Shauna Costello (01:07):

She is also a board certified behavior analyst. Dr. Docter was previously the education director at Westmoreland Academy, nonpublic school for children with autism spectrum disorder and related disabilities, and was also an adjunct professor at Pacific Oaks college. She held the position of vice president of curriculum at TeachTown in 2010, a company that created behavior analytic products for children with autism and other developmental delays and was responsible for all curriculum development and California state standards alignment. She served as the principal at junior blind of America, special education school that provided educational and therapy services to children with multiple severe to profound disabilities, blindness and autism from 2008 to 2010. Dr. Docter was also the principal at the help groups village, Glen school specialists in education and therapy services for children with autism spectrum disorder. In addition, dr. Docter was a staff research associate at UCLA neuropsychiatric Institute and hospital. Dr. Docter has coauthored Asperger's syndrome, a guide to helping your child thrive at home and at school with the director of pediatric psychopharmacology at Cedar Sinai hospital in Los Angeles, dr. Docter was recently offered a Fulbright scholarship and will be traveling to Ukraine in the spring of 2020 to teach applied behavior analysis at Petro Mohyla Black Sea National University and various local special education programs. So it is with great excitement that I now introduce you to LMU and my interview with dr. Docter.

Shauna Costello (03:11):

We are here with Dr. Melinda Docter from Loyola Marymount, and this is actually our very first, fully online university or verified course sequence that we are talking to. So welcome. And thank you for talking with me today about the program.

Dr. Melinda Docter (03:30):

Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.

Shauna Costello (03:32):

Yeah. So can you, since, you know, you are fully online program compared to a couple of the others that we have talked to already tell us about the program and what students can expect and, you know, kind of what they're getting themselves into going into an online.

Dr. Melinda Docter (03:51):

Well, we promote ourselves as an asynchronous fully online program, meaning that you don't have to attend class at any particular time. Um, we know that many of our potential students are already working as behavior technicians or in a related field. And often can't go to school during the day. So what we've set up is, again, an asynchronous fully online program. However, I do meet with my students every week. Um, I just a little background, I actually was hired, um, from LMU to create the program and write the courses. And so at the beginning, obviously there was no program. And so I've written all the courses and, um, put them all online and I teach all the courses right now. And so what I do is I meet with my students every Monday night from five to seven. I have some students that come every week. I have some students who come sometimes and I have some students who never come at all. And then while we are meeting, we meet via zoom and I record the entire meeting. And then I post it on the announcements, um, in, uh, Brightspace, which is the, um, learning system that we use. And so students, you know, who really like that week to week contact with the professor usually come every week. And those that don't have the time or have other family or school obligations. They don't, um, they don't come and they just listen to the video. And so it's worked out really nicely.

Shauna Costello (05:25):

No, that sounds great, working with making sure that you are available to your students every single week. We have kind of chitchatted before. Um, and you know, this is a newer program. And so how are, what are some of the feedback that you're getting from the students? What are they saying about the program?

Dr. Melinda Docter (05:43):

We had about 11 students go through the program already. Um, again, we are very, very new, so our students are actually studying for the BCBA exam. Now, as we speak, we actually haven't had anybody take the exam yet. Um, but the feedback has been very, very good. Um, I spent a lot of time working with an instructional design team to make sure that the online program was much more than just an independent study. So, um, not only is it a physically appealing program, but the content that's written and the resources that are provided online are very comprehensive. In fact, just out of curiosity, I wanted to see how many pages of online content I wrote and how many resources I use. So I just get a quick count and there's about 400 pages of online content over the seven courses, and we've used about 300 references. So it is a very well thought out research program. Um, I think one of the things that makes it very unique is that we don't use, or I don't use any PowerPoint presentations. Um, I'm working with my students directly every single week.

Dr. Melinda Docter (06:56):

Um, and we spend a lot of time talking about, um, how we apply ABA concepts, theoretically and clinically, and also practically. Um, and I think that's what makes our program really unique. Also the assignments are very, uh, very focused on real life application. Um, in addition to, you know, exam prep for the BCBA exam. I mean, it's really, gratned we want all of our students to pass the BCBA exam because you can't become a BCBA unless you do. So of course that's important, but I think more important, and this is one of the things that we really promote is I want to make sure that our students are well-rounded clinicians, that they feel comfortable applying ABA, uh, concepts and interventions, um, in a variety of environments. So, you know, whether they're in the school system, whether they're in home or hospital setting or residential placement or, or clinics that they're going to feel comfortable applying these concepts. Um, so we spend a lot of time talking about how these strategies work in different environments. And I think that that's really, really important. Um, I want to make sure that we have well-rounded clinicians and that's a lot of what our focus is.

Shauna Costello (08:15):

And I know that you kind of mentioned a few sites or locations that your students may be going to, or maybe they are at. So where are some of the locations that your current students, or even, you know, your incoming students, where are they located in getting some of their experience at?

Dr. Melinda Docter (08:35):

So I have students that are already currently working for ABA or behavior agencies, um, and providing services in the school setting. Some of them are providing home services. I have students who already have their PhDs and are working as school psychologists. Um, I have, uh, student that is a resource teacher. So they come from all walks of life. You know, um, I have a student who, you know, was in the, um, in the, in the police force, you know, so they, they really come from all over. It's really looking at the experiences they bring to the table, teaching them how ABA worked in their original or their current setting, and then how we apply it to students who are struggling with behavioral challenges. Um, and I think the more we can make that link between how they're using it in real life without maybe even knowing it and how they've used it in the past, and didn't even know they were using it and how they're going to formally implement it in the future really creates that link and helps them to understand the, um, the, you know, the philosophical assumptions and the concepts and principles behind ABA.

Shauna Costello (09:52):

And I can imagine that having all of these students from these different walks of life in these different experiences and fields really creates a well rounded and some really good discussions in the, in the course sequence.

Dr. Melinda Docter (10:08):

Yeah, it really does because if you've only ever worked in a clinic setting, um, where oftentimes the environment is very, is very controlled. And then you have a colleague in your class that is working, you know, as a school psychologist on a large high school campus and is getting their BCBA, you know, the, the situations that come up are very different. And so it's nice for each of them to hear how the concepts are being applied in different settings and how sometimes those barriers to learning come up and what you can do to work around those, to implement your most effective treatment.

Shauna Costello (10:47):

And I know right now, so I've pulled up the course sequence, um, very easy to find. Um, and I have the website right in the description for everybody listening, but, you know, there's right now, there are seven course sequences. Um, and I know that, you know, there, we might be, we're switching to the fifth edition are, when are you, are you guys rolling out the fifth edition or have you already done that? What is kind of like the link of the course sequence that the students can expect?

Dr. Melinda Docter (11:19):

Yeah. So that's a good question. Um, yeah, lots of changes coming January, 2022. So we want to make sure we're ahead of that. It was originally obviously a six course sequence. We have, uh, we are rolling out the seven courses, um, this fall 2019 for the 2019 cohort. And the reason we did this this early is because if you start to start to count back and you realize how long, um, your clinic hours and your field work takes, I really wanted to give our students in these cohorts an opportunity to where in fact, I just didn't want them to get stuck. So let's say they took longer to complete their field work, um, or they waited to take their BCBA exam. And now all of a sudden, it's December, 2020, and they're or 2021 and they're signing up for January, 2022. If they only have the six course sequence, their coursework would not meet the requirements of the new changes that are coming up.

Dr. Melinda Docter (12:20):

So what we did was, uh, I added on an additional course and we are rolling out the seven course sequence this fall, all of our textbooks have been changed to the new Cooper edition and the new, um, Bear edition. And all those changes have been made as well. Um, we offer free of charge to our students access for 14 months to the behavior development solutions modules. And so those models are actually an integrated part of the program, which they get credit for. So all of the weekly assignments are already linked to the new fifth edition task list for development solutions modules. Um, so that works out really nicely. So we're ready to go. We're ready to go for January 2022. And even though it's seven courses, if you are taking the BCBA exam before the big changes occur and you're taking it for the four task list, it still applies. That's not a problem.

Shauna Costello (13:20):

It's great to hear that these programs are jumping, are getting on the bandwagon and getting it out there early to make sure that, you know, their students won't have to take a, you know, one of those like crossover courses where it can maybe count. Yeah. So, no, it's great to hear that. And I noticed too that when I'm looking at the course sequence, you know, there's two courses in the fall, two courses in the spring, two courses in the summer, and then one course in the fall, is there a, um, like overall project that they may be working on or is it pretty specific to the course that they're the courses that they're in at the time?

Dr. Melinda Docter (13:57):

Yeah, so that's a good question. Um, the projects are, there's no multiple choice or anything like that. They are real life application problem projects, um, that honestly they're written with care. And if you really don't understand the concepts and the definitions and how to apply those concepts, you're not going to pass these courses. So, and that's done for a reason because I want to make sure they can apply the concepts. And so each course has their own signature assignment project. So for example, in the first course, the first thing, the second courses is more, is going to be more about identifying concepts in terms based on scenarios that are given. Um, and then the assessment of measurement course, students are required to do a complete FBA, um, in the behavior treatment course, they're required to take those findings from the FBA that they completed, and they are going to learn and write a behavior treatment plan based on the findings from the FBA.

Dr. Melinda Docter (14:57):

So everything is linked. And then when we get into, um, verbal behavior, they are going to do a verbal behavior, short verbal behavior assessment and write a verbal behavior treatment plan based on the findings of that assessment. And then when they get into experimental design, they're going to actually take the recommendations they made in their behavior treatment plan. And they're going to apply an experimental design to that treatment plan to determine if there is actually functional control. And then we get into our ethics class, which is the last term, and we apply all of the concepts and ethics combined. And one of the things that we're adding this year is because your last term, you're only taking your seventh course, which is ethics. I'm actually adding on a 15 hour BCBA test prep, um, that I will be conducting right after we meet for the ethics course. And that is free of charge. It's not something that you sign up for. It's not another course, it will come in conjunction with the ethics course and you'll get that free of charge. So that's 15 hours of test prep and that's besides the BDS modules that you have access to for 14 months.

Shauna Costello (16:20):

So it sounds like you're really setting your students up for success. You're really helping them work through the whole process from the very beginning of, you know, concepts and principles. And then they're working on a project and continuing it through, you know, from the assessment to the treatment, to the experimental design and how to really do that. And then on top of that, you're even adding in test prep and the BDS modules. And it's, it sounds like your students are really being set up for success.

Dr. Melinda Docter (16:52):

Yeah, that's, that's definitely the intention. I mean, you know, I think oftentimes we learn these concepts piece by piece and students leave programs and they really don't understand how they're, they're connected and how each particular concept or practice kind of drives the next one. Um, and so I want to make sure that link is there now. It's not always possible, you know, students change jobs, they don't have access to a client that they had access to before. Um, and so I understand it and when we make those arrangements where, you know, we're flexible in that way. And certainly I want to point out that, you know, these are real assessments and I would never want one of my students to conduct an assessment on a student where it wasn't warranted. So if that's ever the situation, then what I do is I just create a scenario, a hypothetical scenario, and they complete projects based on the scenario that I've written so that we're never putting families or clients into a situation where they feel like they have to give consent. Um, so we, you know, I work very hard with the agencies that we partner with and with the agencies that our students work for to make sure that this is these assessments are something that is warranted. And if not, we find another way to make it work.

Shauna Costello (18:14):

That's great. And I know that you talked about your partnering agencies and your, like the locations that your students are at getting their supervision hours or their practicum experience. How are you working? How close of a relationship do you have with the locations that your students are at?

Dr. Melinda Docter (18:33):

Uh, very close. Um, I don't enter a partnership with an agency unless I've spoken with them in depth. I've met them in person or via zoom. I know the quality of services they provide to their, to their clients. I understand their ethics behind their agency. So I need to feel comfortable that when I'm sending someone to an agency that I'm partnering with, that I'm comfortable with, with the ethical services and the effective treatment that they provide for clients. Um, so we do have a few partnerships and here in LA, um, and I know these agencies very well. I worked with them and I felt very, very comfortable and, um, I'm very admirable, the kinds of services they provide to our clients. So it's worked out really nicely now, certainly I can't guarantee a position for one of my students, but what I can do is I can pair them with an agency. I can get them an interview and then they will have to, you know, interview and obviously get the position. But the partnerships that I have, have guaranteed supervision for free.

Shauna Costello (19:41):

That's probably kind of unheard of. Um, like I said, you're really the first, fully online program we're talking to. And I know that I've been on the Facebook groups. I've been, you know, on social media. And a lot of times it's really hard to find supervision or to find it for a reasonable price. And so, you know, having that option that you provide for your students, you know, you know, granted they have to actually get the job, but just having that option to really continuously be supporting your students through every facet is just phenomenal.

Dr. Melinda Docter (20:17):

Yeah, and it is really important. I mean, I, you know, right now we're a very small program and so I'm a department of one and eventually I'll be a bigger department, but right now, you know, my students have access to me. I mean, they can text me, they can email me, they can call me, they know that, and I'm not sure that will ever change even if we get bigger, because I think that that contact, especially for an online program where you're not seeing your professor, you know, it, you know, live week, I think it's really important. Students need to have a connection. And, you know, at the end of the day, Loyola, Marymount is a private university. We are quite a bit more expensive than a lot of the other programs. And I feel that it's my responsibility to make sure that our students get what they paid for.

Dr. Melinda Docter (21:05):

And I feel that we have a very high quality comprehensive program. We have a lot of resources. Um, I've connected with quite a few, um, professionals in the field. Um, you know, I'm able to use dr. Sundberg's brief language assessment. I've contacted him and, you know, he he's letting me use it for our students. So, you know, whenever I can do that, I do that because I think it's really important. I don't want our students to have to have extra charges. Um, but I want them to have access to the best, you know, so if there's a question they asked me and I don't, you know, I'm not sure of the answer, or maybe I want to get a different opinion. I'll, I'll email dr. John Bailey and I get a response right away. And it's so nice that these professionals in the field are available to us like that, but you have to initiate it. And I, you know, I want our students to see that you can reach out to professionals in the field. Um, who've been in the field for a long time and have published a lot and, um, they are supports for us. So I think that's really important.

Shauna Costello (22:07):

And I know that I've even, um, I've even felt that when I've started this podcast, um, but there was something that you had mentioned to me about a student who was coming in and trying to decide between programs. Cause I know that you brought up the price and that, you know, it's a private university and that, but you had, when we chit chatted before you had brought up a student who you said that she was really debating between which online program that she wanted to go to. And, you know, the money was an issue that was potentially an issue, but she actually ended up deciding to go to Loyola Marymont because of all of the additional supports and services and resources that you guys provide. And I thought, I just wanted to make sure that that story was put out there because when you told me that, you know, you took the time out of your day to even talk and reassure and give all of the information to a potential incoming student is wonderful.

Dr. Melinda Docter (23:16):

Oh, well, thanks. I appreciate that. And I appreciate you bringing it, that story. Yeah. I mean, I talked to a lot of potential students and we do talk about the cost. I mean, the fact is, is that you can, you know, you can find a program that's much less expensive, you know, online. Um, and I'm not here to debate that, but I do feel that you do get your money's worth here at LMU. I do feel that when you leave our seven course sequence, you're going to have a very good understanding of applied behavior analysis, um, principles and concepts, and how to apply them and how, how they work together and how to be effective in a variety of settings. And, um, again, it's not just about making sure you pass the exam the first time, right? I mean, it's, that's a very important part of it, but you know, my background up until my past two years with LMU has been running schools for children with autism.

Dr. Melinda Docter (24:14):

And so I know what it's like, you could have the best laid out behavior treatment plan in the world that gets an A in class, and then you go to implement it. And the teacher says, I don't have time for that. You know, I'm short staffed, you know, three staff and, you know, I have a new, a new student that just started today. I mean, that's the reality of the situation. So if you've never really exhausted those situations in your coursework, and you've never talked about what to do in a situation like that and how you can still be effective, you are really going to struggle out there in the field because it's, you know, like we talk about controlling for extraneous variables. I mean, there's extraneous variables all over the place. And a lot of times we need to talk through those situations, um, and really kind of problem solve what you do in those situations. And I think that I can bring a really unique perspective because, you know, the last school that I was at, I started from the ground up. When I left, I had a hundred staff and I had a hundred kids, 90% of them had autism. And about 80% of those 90 had significant aggression. We took a lot of kids that nobody else would take. Um, so I do have a lot of practice, um, in that milieu, and I think that it really brings a lot to the table in the courses.

Shauna Costello (25:33):

Yeah. And I can, I can definitely see how that would. And even, like you said, with some of the backgrounds that your students have, how they're bringing in, you can start kind of seeing those light bulbs go off when they're talking about what's been happening in their jobs as well. Um, I know that I got that experience when I was teaching undergrads before, and you can kind of just see this light bulb go off when you're really diving into a topic like that. And so I know that fall is coming up and you guys are starting another cohort. Uh, but what is the application and interview process like at LMU?

Dr. Melinda Docter (26:11):

The application you can get online. Um, it's not a difficult application to complete. Uh, one of the things I do want to say is right now, we're a standalone course sequence, which means that you're required already to have a master's degree in either education, psychology, or applied behavior analysis or a related field. However LMU does offer, if you don't have a master's degree and you need to get one, you want to do it in conjunction with the BCBA program, LMU does have an education studies masters program, which requires four core courses, which you can also take online. And then they require six electives. So I have some students that are doing the ed studies masters, where they're taking their electives in the BCBA program. And then they're doing the four core courses required for the masters degree. If you choose to do that, if you're interested in that, just contact me, contact me anyways, but contact me, and then that way I can get you to the right person. What's a little bit different is if you are going to do that master's program, you would want to apply for that master's in its studies. And then you would register for the BCBA courses first because mine start in the fall and they have to they're sequential. They have to go in order. And then you would do the master's courses afterwards. Um, in regards to the seven course, just the standalone seven course sequence, you would just apply online and you would apply for the BCBA program. So it's pretty easy. It's nice if my students who are going to apply contact me first, because then I can kind of walk them through it. I can check on their application. I can make sure that they're on the right track. I can follow them. You know, so nothing gets lost in translation and we can move things through a little bit more quickly and we are still taking applications.

Shauna Costello (27:55):

Um, and I just want to reiterate that too. This isn't just a verified course sequence that, you know, if you want to get the courses in that you can, if you already have your degree and you know, upcoming in a few years, that degree requirement is also going away. But for now, if you have the related masters, or if you have the related degrees, you can just go take the course sequence. But on top of that, if you need a masters still, you can apply to the ed studies program and take the course sequence and get your masters in the process.

Dr. Melinda Docter (28:29):

Exactly. And one other thing I wanted to mention is that I do also offer the bridge courses. So I've had three students now who actually needed those bridge hours because they did their coursework with the third task list or they're trying to get done. Um, and that's worked out really nicely. So what I, I do offer that I do create a, whatever you need, if it's 20 hours or 30 hours or 10 hours, I create a particular program just for you. You wouldn't meet with the rest of my course, you know, with my, with my cohort, but we meet via online via zoom, just like the way I would with a regular class. And all that I ask is that you do send your transcripts prior to me creating a bridge course to the BACB so they can review transcripts so that we can, uh, you know, that I'm creating your individual course based on the hours that the BACB is missing. Okay. So that makes it really easy that way, if there's any ever, you know, controversy about how many hours you owe and how many hours you took, you can go back to the, to the email that you got from directly from the BACB and show them, this is what guys said, this is what I'm missing, and this is what I took. And it's worked out really nicely. I've had three students do that already. So, um, yeah, so we're, we're up for that also.

Shauna Costello (29:51):

That, you're probably the first person I've heard that just, I know we're, I know we're behavior analysts and we always talk about individualizing, but you were the first person, you know, that I have spoken with that says, if you need a bridge course, I will create you an individual bridge course or what you need. And so that's a really, that's a very good resource for people to hear about.

Dr. Melinda Docter (30:16):

Yeah. I mean, I think it's important. You know, we have people who, you know, they, they plan on getting their BCBA and life happens and sometimes you don't get it done the time that you need to get it done. And so what I do is I talk to the student once I get their, um, transcipt to review from the behavior board, then I talk to the student about the kinds of assignments they had in their previous courses and what I feel like they're missing. And then we, we create kind of that together and what kind of assignments I think we'll fill in those holes and it's worked out fine.

Shauna Costello (30:47):

Knowing that that is an option. Um, I know this, I'm hoping that some people will jump on that if they think that, you know, maybe if they think that their time ran out or even if they want to contact you to see if that is an option for them, just because this is, that's a wonderful resource for people to learn about. I know we've talked a lot about the program. Are there any questions that I have not asked yet?

Dr. Melinda Docter (31:10):

I don't think so. I mean, the only thing that I can really add on is I want to give a big shout out to Loyola Marymount university, and they've been so supportive of this program. And, um, you know, I have a lot of support at the university myself and I just, um, I'm really happy to be there. And I'm really happy that this is a university that where we've decided to create this program and, you know, so I hope I do hear from your listeners. And I think we have a lot to offer. I think that we have something very unique. Um, and I did my BCBA program online. So, you know, of course I don't know what all is out there, but I am familiar with some of the online programs. And I think we're very, just give us a call and I can discuss individually with, you know, any potential.

Shauna Costello (31:57):

Thank you so much for taking the time to really sit down and feature LMU on this podcast because, um, you know, I'll be honest until I decided to, you know, take this journey and start reaching out to schools. And I didn't know, I don't know about all these new programs that are out there. And I wanted to make sure that we're not just featuring big schools in behavior analysis, but we're really showing all of our consumers out there, like what programs are really out there and the differences between them and how they can really make it their own experience. That's gonna work best for them. And I think LMU can really do that for a lot of our listeners.

Dr. Melinda Docter (32:36):

Well, thanks Shauna. And I appreciate the opportunity I really do. And I appreciate you wanting to do this project because, you know, BCBA programs are not any different than colleges that focus or, uh, you know, that focus on different particular fields or a particular way of teaching. I mean, not every college is the right match for you and you have to find a program that's going to work best. And, you know, granted, especially if you're already paying graduate tuition, you're, let's say you're paying your loans on your master's program. You know, obviously we don't want to incur more loans. You know, you, you're taking a BCBA course sequence because you're going into a field. You're not looking for a job. You're, you're looking at a career that is focused on helping others. And so, you know, you want to get the best education possible and hopefully LMU can make that happen.

Shauna Costello (33:26):

I just want to thank you again for taking the time to not only talk to me today, but I know that we've talked before and been an email correspondence, um, I will make sure that your contact information and, you know, LMUs website is in the information section for all of our listeners. And like she said, if you guys have any questions, please feel free to reach out to Melinda. She's very responsive and she's very on top of her game from working with her the past month or so. So thank you again for sitting down with me.

Dr. Melinda Docter (34:01):

Thanks so much Shauna, have a great day.

Shauna Costello (34:03):

You too. Thank you for listening to the university series on operant innovations, stay tuned for more interviews coming from universities across the country, but do you have any more suggestions because we would love to hear them. Please contact us at


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