University Series 007 | Georgia Southern University

Join Operant Innovations for their first interview with a strictly undergraduate program - Georgia Southern University. This week we will be speaking with Dr. Andrew Bulla about Georgia Southern and how they are producing high-quality undergraduate students.

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Shauna Costello (00:01):

You're listening to operant innovations, a podcast by ABA technologies. This week, we are back in Georgia speaking with Georgia Southern university. And this week's going to be a little bit different because in all of our previous episodes, we've heard about verified core sequences or master's degrees or doctoral degrees. But this week we're talking with a strictly undergraduate behavior analytic program. And once you dive in, I know that you'll see why. This week we're speaking with dr. Andrew Bulla, who received his bachelor's degree in psychology with a minor in autism studies from st Joseph's university and received his masters and doctoral degrees in behavior analysis from Western Michigan university under the advisement of dr. Jessica Frieder. He is a BCBA and has worked in a variety of settings, applying behavior analysis to a diverse range of populations, including disabilities, mental health, and general education students. His teaching interests include behavioral analysis, behavioral assessment, behavior, change techniques, and educational psychology. Additionally, he enjoys providing students experiential learning opportunities to allow them to accrue hours towards certification in behavior analysis, his general research interests include the application of behavior analysis to schooling and education ranging from preschool to higher education. Specifically, he's interested in the areas of precision teaching, direct instruction, instructional design, and class wide behavior management techniques. Without further ado, we will be in Savannah, Georgia speaking with dr. Bulla about Georgia Southern university.

Shauna Costello (01:43):

We are here with dr. Andrew Bulla from Georgia Southern university, and I am very excited to be talking to him because we were actually in grad school together. So welcome Drew.

Dr. Andrew Bulla (01:55):

Thank you.

Shauna Costello (01:56):

And he is going to be talking about their program and it is a little bit different from some of the other programs we've been talking about because right now, and we'll get into future directions later, but right now they have strictly an undergraduate program. And so I'll hand it over to him and let him kind of describe what Georgia Southern's university's program is all about.

Dr. Andrew Bulla (02:19):

Sweet, thanks, Shauna. Yeah. So right now, um, we have an undergraduate program in behavior analysis for students at Georgia Southern. Um, so in the department we have a bachelor's of arts and bachelor of science degree in psychology. Um, and Georgia Southern is a little bit unique in that we have three different campuses. We have the Liberty campus, the Statesboro campus, and the Savannah campus. Now what's unique about the Savannah campus is that we're the campus that offers the applied behavior analysis program. So we have a minor in applied behavior analysis that meets the coursework requirements for students to sit for their board certified assistant behavior analyst credential. So, um, what we tend to do is during our, um, program student, all students in the program are required to take an intro to behavior analysis class, which is actually really, really good. Um, it's heavily heavily enrolled or highly enrolled course, um, where students get their first taste in behavior analysis after they take that first course, they've been had the option to opt into the minor in applied behavior analysis, which right now is a series of, um, we have four courses for in the BCABA program.

Dr. Andrew Bulla (03:29):

We just added a fifth one to meet the standards of the fifth edition task list. And then we have a couple of electives. So we have a practicum course and behavior analysis where students can accrue hours towards, um, towards supervision requirements for their certification. We also have a learning and behavior class with a rat lab component. So our students get basically an EAB or experimental analysis behavior approach to behavior analysis with actual rat models. So they use, um, the semester to do a variety of projects with, uh, rats and they learn all about shaping differential, reinforcement schedules of reinforcement and all that kind of fun stuff. Um, so that's the program in general, we have, uh, opportunities for research for students. And again, those practicum sites where students are out in the community, applying behavior analysis in meaningful ways, in a variety of populations and settings.

Shauna Costello (04:21):

So with you talking about all the research that's going on too, and I know that, um, just from my knowledge of, that Georgia Southern is growing, um, what, and who are some of the faculty and research going on?

Dr. Andrew Bulla (04:35):

Great. Um, so right now we have four faculty that specialize in behavior analysis and we really have a diverse range of faculty members. So, um, the individual who's overseeing the rat lab is dr. Daniel Peterson. He's new to us this year. And, um, he works with, uh, animal models and looking at cognitive tasks in animal models, as well as looking at kind of like the neuroscience approach to it. So, um, he's looking at the relationship between neuroscience and behavior analysis, and he always says at the heart of everything I do is behavior analysis. So, um, right now it's his first semester. So he's getting kind of adjusted to taking over the rat lab. Uh, but he's already been discussing opportunities for students to get involved with involved in some of those, uh, rat models of studying and understanding neuroscience and behavior analytic relations.

Dr. Andrew Bulla (05:28):

We then have dr. Jennifer Wertalik, who is a student of Rick Kubinas actually. And she is focusing on kind of activities of daily living skills for older adults with disabilities. So right now she's running a couple product projects focusing on video prompting, fluency based measures and frequency building interventions for activities of daily living. Uh, right now we're running a study in tandem looking at how do we establish the frequency aims of these activities of daily skills. So we know it's not just enough to be accurate with behavior, so I can put on my, my, uh, button down shirt with a hundred percent accuracy. Yeah. But if it takes me 35 minutes to do that, is that really mastered? So we've been looking at well, what is the normal frequency range for these activities of daily living skills to help inform our treatment? So we're running that study now.

Dr. Andrew Bulla (06:21):

We have dr. Denice Rios who she's new to us this year as well. And I'm really excited that she's part of the team. Um, I went to graduate school with, uh, dr. Rios, her focus is on, uh, extreme problem behavior, functional analysis methods and teleconsultation, and lastly evidence-based supervision systems. So she's really adding a nice layer and much needed layer to the diversity of research interests within the faculty members here and behavior analysis, and really is helping establish some really good systems for supervision. And then there's me, and I'm doing some research. Um, I have a couple of projects going on right now, all kinds of under the realm of evidence based instructional strategies and precision teaching. We've done a couple of studies on an evidence based instructional design in higher education. So using Tiemann and Markle's taxonomy of learning as a guide for designing college curriculum, we've done some work at comparing, um, different methods of SAFMEDS in higher education.

Dr. Andrew Bulla (07:21):

Um, recently we did a study looking at direct or discrete trial instruction versus frequency building interventions for teaching skills to individuals and trying to think of what else, oh, I have, um, some community partnerships with the aquarium. So what's been really nice is we've been using precision teaching and precision measurement to evaluate environmental embracement procedures in loggerhead sea turtles. So we've been applying preference assessments that we use with humans in loggerhead, sea turtles to then use the highly preferred stimuli as part of environmental enrichment. So we kind of have a plethora of research activities. We're very interdisciplinary as well. We just partnered with, um, the department of public health and we worked on a, um, physical activity study trying to increase physical activity in sedentary college students. So, uh, we have a lot going on and what's nice about it is that, uh, each faculty kind of brings their own little flair and spice to the department.

Shauna Costello (08:20):

Definitely sounds like it, especially with the community partnerships that you've been able to build since you've been there for the last last few years now. So do any of those research opportunities, does that play into the practicum sites and opportunities that your students have?

Dr. Andrew Bulla (08:37):

Yeah, definitely. So what's nice about with the practicum is that we have right now six different community sites that provide supervision to our students. And the first, you know, we first got in there just showing that our students could be a benefit to them, but as we've fostered some relationships with these sites, they've demonstrated more and more interest in research opportunities, which that is fantastic for us as faculty to hear, because that means our students get those opportunities as well. So we have a contract with one of our, um, practicum sites, and really we're trying to build that up to be a laboratory school, a laboratory preschool for individuals with autism and related developmental disabilities, but there's also, um, children without disabilities that attend that preschool. So we were really fortunate to be partnering with the Matthew Rudin center in that regard. And as we kind of looked to build that up, I think that's going to be a really nice Avenue for evaluating these types of techniques in that population and kind of focusing on a pragmatic research approach.

Shauna Costello (09:38):

That's great. And so what kind of, I know that we've talked about, um, how you guys are just the undergrad program right now, and I know that you and I have previously discussed the future and kind of where you see it going, but where do you see a lot of your undergrads graduating and going off? Like what kind of graduate programs are they going into and what are some of maybe the research that you've heard of them?

Dr. Andrew Bulla (10:03):

Yeah, so what's nice is that, um, our students are leaving the program being very highly prepared for graduate school. Um, because we are offering a very intensive program. That's just, you know, really infused a lot of good instructional design practices for giving the students lots of opportunities. So they are quite marketable, marketable upon graduation. What we tend to see is a split kind of like two options are two paths that students take. The first one is once, uh, once they do practicum with me at their site, oftentimes the practicum sites sees the benefit of having them as an employee and we'll scoop them up and hire them as their clinic, which is really good to help these students gain meaningful employment. Uh, during that time too, a lot of the companies will offer tuition reimbursement. So students are now employed and then also looking for getting graduate training and behavior analysis for either free or, or re or reduced price as working for the company, which is really good.

Dr. Andrew Bulla (11:00):

Um, now because we do have a heavy influence or heavy focus on precision teaching because both dr. Jennifer Wertalik and I come from the precision teaching realm, a lot of the research that we do is in regards to precision teaching. So a lot of our students are looking to go to places that had faculty that, um, use the standard acceleration chart in their research are doing things like instructional design or doing things like working with individuals with disabilities and using the chart to make meaningful decisions. So, um, we have some faculty down at university of West Florida that we collaborate with and which they can go there for some advanced training and precision teaching in behavior analysis. Uh, students, uh, sometimes attend online programs because the state of Georgia only has two universities that offer the BCBA currently. So they, they look to stay in Georgia, but still want to continue their career in behavior analysis. Or we have people that move all over for programs. So I just had one of my students attend Western Michigan university, my Alma Mater so shout out to them, just to learn more there. We have students that go down to Florida to learn so kind of all over. Um, and we really, I helped them figure out what you mentor will give them the best experience based on their personal interest. But what's nice is to see that they all still have a love for precision teaching when they leave here.

Shauna Costello (12:20):

And I know that it's growing as well. The it's, I mean, it's always been there, but the publicity of it is growing a lot more in recent years. And I think that that's really something that puts Georgia Southern's program kind of over, not so much over, but it gives it a different view point in maybe a leg up on some of the other undergraduate programs with the different types of experiences that you're going to be able to get at Georgia Southern.

Dr. Andrew Bulla (12:48):

I completely agree. I mean, I'm just astounded with how much the faculty's really pulled it together to give these students every opportunity to experience the science. You know, what's interesting is sometimes when we have colloquia and we invite other behavior analysts, faculty, they're astounded that our students are undergraduates because of just the level of training that they get throughout the course, I've had students that are literally running classrooms during their practicum, doing direct instruction, precision teaching and Morningside's model of generative instruction. And they're able to make decisions on the charts. They're able to talk the talk, understand, make decisions, analyze the data, and do all these really remarkable things. They get explicit training on instructional design, which isn't very common in behavior analytic programs, but over the course, they developed three different, um, behavioral programs, uh, using instructional design principles to really make sure that what they're teaching, uh, is meaningful to the learners. So when our students go out to graduate school, I'm like, bring your sample program. Um, when they interview for graduate school, they'll be like, wow, like you wrote this as an undergrad. And it just, because we have such a focus on undergraduate education, we can provide these experiences for our students to make sure that they're ahead of the game before they even start, which I think we're really fortunate to be able to do,

Shauna Costello (14:05):

And I know that that's probably going to play a role into some of the future directions that Georgia Southern is taking. Um, I've heard a little bit about it, but can you tell us a little bit about what the plans are or the tentative plans are for the future?

Dr. Andrew Bulla (14:23):

Absolutely. So, um, with the success of the behavior analysis program on campus, the university really sees the benefit of it and just kind of looking at the state need. Um, right now, like I said, there's only two programs in the state of Georgia that offer coursework for a master's level credential, the BCBA, uh, and both of those are on the West side of the state. So there's really this gap in, on the East side of the state and coastal Georgia, or we're just not producing behavior analysts. So with the success of the behavior analysis program on our campus at the undergraduate level, we've gotten some interest, uh, to create a master's program. So we're actively developing a masters program. Um, and we're doing this very strategically because we don't want to water down the program for the undergraduates. So we want to ensure that that program maintains the rigor that it currently has.

Dr. Andrew Bulla (15:14):

And we want to design a master's program that is not producing someone who can follow a cookbook. We want to ensure that we're creating analysts, behavior analysts that really adhere to these core values of behavior analysis. You know, really focusing on Skinner's pragmatism throughout the entire coursework. So we're developing a masters program, hopefully we'll go live in a year to two years and the faculty were unanimous when we said we want it to be a masters in behavior analysis with the opportunity to pursue certification of an individual once. So at the heart of it is behavior analysis, and then students can pick which area they want to specialize in. So we'll have kind of like cognate areas where they want to continue on with the animal model and they can do that if they want to continue on to board certification, they can do that. And then we can offer them specialized courses that each faculty member has expertise in. So like an instructional design course or education of course taught by me, or if we look at an autism and developmental disability course taught by dr. Wertalik, you know, advanced functional analysis, methodologies, and extreme problem behavior with dr. Rios, we can really help tailor these types of experiences to the students' interests. So it's not a one size fits all master's program. It's a very good behavior analytic program, and you can pick which area you really want to focus and specialize in.

Shauna Costello (16:37):

And I know that I, and possibly you and even Denice, just cause I know that our backgrounds are, we come from a program that does a similar thing. And, um, you know, we've heard from Western on the podcast already. And to hear that, you know, just these new and upcoming programs in with the master's degree, they're still creating these very well diversed programs where, you know, it's not just this school to clinician school, to clinician. Um, they're really, we are still trying to, you know, go by our tenants and disseminate and really push behavior analysis out and push behavior analysis to its boundaries, to really ensure that we are as Dick Malott would say, saving the world with behavior analysis and spreading it as far and wide as we possibly can. Because like you said, with the applied animal behavior, I know that there's research going on in Africa with, with animals, not just dr. Al Poling, but, um, with looking at the migration routes of elephants in teaching them how to migrate differently to avoid poachers. And then there's so much going on in precision teaching, which I know that you know, much more about it than I do just to really get those different types of educational views out there to, you know, make it even more known that behavior analysis does actually have the best educational methods that research can provide. So it's really neat hearing about just the development process of the master's program.

Dr. Andrew Bulla (18:18):

Yeah, we're definitely excited. We're definitely excited and kind of can see this growing to be a really good addition to meet the community need as well as meet the need of the field in general.

Shauna Costello (18:29):

And so what are your students saying about the area? Um, I know I had an opportunity to visit you. Um, so what's going on in the area? What can students expect when they get to campus?

Dr. Andrew Bulla (18:42):

Excellent question. So Statesboro is going to be a little bit more rural, but at Statesboro, we don't have the coursework at, for the behavior analysis. So students can go to the Statesboro campus if they want to do their primary degree and then come to the Savannah campus after they get that to take the courses, the Armstrong campus is located in Savannah and it is, I love Savannah. It's a very nice area.

Shauna Costello (19:04):

I love Savannah and I spent one day there one full day there, the ice cream is really good.

Dr. Andrew Bulla (19:12):

Um, the students, they tend to really enjoy the area. Um, we have a mix of commuter students, as well as students that live on campus in a very diverse range of students. So we have a large military population. Uh, we have students that quote unquote are non traditional. I don't really like that term, but you know, they may have lived a, a full life or had children or pursued a career and are coming back to their education. And then we have students that are coming out of their high school programs. So the area in general students, there's always something to do for them. There are moments away from downtown Savannah, where we have really beautiful historic buildings, parks, squares, there oftentimes they're filming movies, downtown Savannah, like they just filmed the lady and the tramp movie downtown. That was a big deal. We're close to the beach. So we're about 20, 25 minutes away from Tybee Island. So students oftentimes enjoy that they kind of have the best of both worlds where they can have this college experience, go to the beach, you know, go downtown Savannah and have that city type feel. And the only thing I think that they would complain about is the heat in the summer, but this is more of the humidity, more than anything.

Shauna Costello (20:20):

I know that I feel that down here in Florida as well. Um, but I know just from my tour that you gave me of Savannah, I was lucky enough. I don't, I don't want to say lucky enough, but when I was visiting Savannah, you guys actually had a hurricane day. So instead of just having lunch, um, you gave me a full tour of Savannah and,

Dr. Andrew Bulla (20:39):

That was a hurricane day wasn't it?

Shauna Costello (20:41):

It was a hurricane day. I know that the downtown area is gorgeous. And then you talked about movies, and I got to see the park where forest Gump was filmed in. Um, like you said, the ice cream is phenomenal and the little old school ice cream parlors. Um, but then also I know that there's always things going on there. You told me about like the farmer's market or the Saturday market that's right in the middle of the heart of downtown. And then I got to see like a throwback to our little hipster, Kalamazoo area with the record shops and the vintage clothing stores.

Dr. Andrew Bulla (21:19):

There's so much, and a big part of that is because we have Savannah college of art and design in downtown Savannah. So you do get to see a lot of like, these really fantastic, like performance art shows they'll have, they'll be performers in the park, they'll put on many concerts. Um, we get to see that there's like movie festivals that are in town. There's music festivals that are in town, local artists are selling their arts in different cafes and on the street. And it, it really is a cool little hip place for students to be, you know, I still consider myself young enough to be hip. So I think it's pretty hip, but we'll see what the students say about that.

Shauna Costello (21:57):

Well, I liked it too, but I think you and I are closer to the same hip age as maybe some of the students that might be coming into the program. All right. Well, we talked about the, we've talked about the coursework. We talked about the faculty, we talked about the research, talked about some of the practicum opportunities. We talked about Savannah. Is there anything else that you want to talk about for the Georgia Southern program or the area in general that we haven't covered yet?

Dr. Andrew Bulla (22:27):

No, I think, I think we hit on a lot of the things, you know, as a, as a younger program, I'm going to kind of, as we're getting our feet planted, I think that it's just really is such a remarkable opportunity for students to get these experiences in their undergraduate program. Um, I know when we send our students out to graduate school, they always report back that they're thankful that they got these experiences at a young age because they're coming in with these really high quality experiences with the science, that many people don't get right out of their undergraduate program. Um, and we can shape up then this type of autonomous level of behavior analysts when we can focus on the undergraduate student. Um, I know that it's very unique for undergraduates to publish, but because we're so focused on undergraduate research, our students are applying to graduate school with sometimes two or three publications already under their belt.

Dr. Andrew Bulla (23:19):

And, you know, that looks really good for them, but it also gives them opportunities and opens more doors for them. So I'm really proud of the students here in the program that we've created. And I'm proud of the way that the science is allowing certain students opportunities that they wouldn't often be presented with. Um, whether that be because financially they can't afford to go to graduate school or they never saw it in their, but that we're able to create a program that starts to kind of turn the tables on what they thought their life trajectory could be and opened the door for a variety of opportunities, um, especially opportunities that they're passionate about and they want to do. And I think that's really where the heart of our program is, is that we want to make sure that we allow our students to do better than, than we were able to do. So I think we have a good faculty here. We have a really nice, you know, relationship with the faculty. We're a good solid team. And I think that we're just gonna continue to do great things because we have some tremendous people.

Shauna Costello (24:17):

Yeah. And we don't always see, um, you know, I haven't gotten into a lot of the undergrad programs, so I'm happy, we're talking about one of the newer undergrad programs, but we don't always see an undergrad program that is so highly focused in behavior analysis and, or, you know, instead of just like the general psychology that a lot of students might get. Um, I know I was lucky for my undergrad because Western is very focused. Um, but again, I fell into it on accident. And so it's nice to see and hear about more of these undergraduate programs that are really building these, like you said, these autonomous behavior analysts up from the groundwork that are just going to keep being able to build and build and build and build those experiences.

Dr. Andrew Bulla (25:06):


Shauna Costello (25:08):

Well, thank you drew for talking with me today. Thank you for listening to operant innovations and our very first strictly undergraduate program in behavior analysis. It's our goal at operant innovations to interview behavior analytic programs and unique programs that house behavior analysis within them. So if you have any suggestions, feedback, or comments, please make sure to email us at


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