University Series 018 | Assumption College

Join Operant Innovations as we talk with Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf about the undergraduate and graduate opportunities at Assumption College.

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Shauna Costello (00:00):

You're listening to operant innovations, a podcast brought to you by ABA technologies this week on the university series, we're speaking with Assumption college and Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf, Dr. Lionello-Denolf is a board certified behavior analyst and an experimental psychologist. Her research interests are in the area of experimental and applied behavior analysis, autism spectrum disorders, developmental disabilities, and relational learning. The primary goal of her recent research has been to increase functional communication skills that are necessary for individuals with limited language ability to effectively use augmentative and alternative communication devices. Her current projects include exploring how learning history influences people's willingness to cooperate with others in a shared task teaching methods that result in better development of symbolic relations and best practices and training service delivery staff to implement teaching programs to students with autism. I am here with dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf, and we are going to be talking about assumption college today. Thank you. But,

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (01:11):

Absolutely. I'm excited to talk with you.

Shauna Costello (01:13):

I know we've talked before, so this is just kind of like a, okay. Yeah, let's keep going. But can you start off with an overview of Assumption?

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (01:23):

So Assumption is a small liberal arts college in central Massachusetts. We're located in Worcester, Massachusetts. Um, it is a Catholic college. Uh, we have an undergraduate program, um, that's strong in the liberal arts, and then we have a variety of graduate programs. Um, we have a number of different counseling, graduate programs and MBA program, uh, and health care management. And then we have a relatively new applied behavior analysis program that I'm going to talk about today. And we also have starting next year, a new physician's assistant program.

Shauna Costello (01:59):

And that's exciting.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (02:00):

Do you want me to give some more information about assumption,

Shauna Costello (02:03):

Sure! Do you want to, if you want to give some more general information or we can jump into some of the more specifics.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (02:08):

I'm not quite sure what kind of general information.

Shauna Costello (02:12):

That's okay. That is okay. So, um, what about the behavior analysis programs? Um, I know you said that, you know, are a relatively new one and then you also have the undergrad, um, tell us about that program.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (02:29):

So the undergraduate program is our newest program, so we just finished our second complete year, and it is a minor in applied behavior analysis that, um, students in any major can choose. So, um, we get most of the, uh, most of the people who have been minoring in ABA so far have been psychology majors and some human services majors, but it's open to anybody in the college. It's an interdisciplinary minor. So we have most of the well have one course, um, that's psychology of learning, that's in our psychology program and it's also one of the foundation courses for the minor. And then we have another course that originated in the human services department. That's also part of the minor. Um, so that one goes over basic principles a little bit, and then it's a lot of behavior assessment. Um, and then the rest of the classes were ones that I created for the minors specifically. And so those go over the rest of the information that you need, um, for the ABA minor, the ABA minor is a verified core sequence, um, for the BCABA credential and it's all undergraduate classes. So it's solely for people who are interested in learning more about behavior analysis as an undergraduate student, and then if they want to pursue certification, they can. Um, as part of the interdisciplinary nature of the minor, we have students choose an elective class and the electives are, um, from a list of classes in our education department, our psychology department, or the human services department. Um, so there's, there's a number of things for students to choose from depending on what sort of career trajectory they want to go in.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (04:13):

So if they're an education student, um, they can pick one of the education classes. We do encourage them though, to kind of break out of their major for the elective and pick something different so that they can kind of get that exposure. The nice thing too, about the minor in terms of it being interdisciplinary is we do, we do have a lot of students who are interested in autism, and so they are, um, getting the information that they need to work with people with autism, but I really do try. And all of us who teach in the, in the undergraduate program really do try and showcase the science of ABA and how this is applying to human behavior. And not specifically as a treatment for autism. So students who want to go on and, uh, you know, maybe work in the business settings, will get something out of the minor as well. Um, or people who want to work with adults with disabilities, not necessarily people with autism, they will have have that kind of content as well.

Shauna Costello (05:07):

And that's exciting, especially, especially for undergrads, because I know that when I was an undergrad, I actually, before I even transferred to the behavior analysis program, I worked at an adult day facility and then filled in, in some, in home services as well. But it wasn't, you know, it didn't, it wasn't the autism diagnosis. It was there a schizophrenia, there was bipolar, there was multiple profound disabilities, physical disabilities. Um, but it was the same. And once I got into the field, I was like, or once I, you know, started my coursework as an undergrad, I was like, there's so much we could be doing, you know, with these individuals as well. And so

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (05:50):

That's one of the really nice things about Worcester is that there are a number of agencies within central Massachusetts that provide services for adults, um, who don't necessarily have autism, but they are doing it from a behavioral analytic perspective. So the capstone class in our minor is I'm a community service learning course service is one of the elements of the mission of assumption. And so when I created the minor, I tried to weave that into, into the program as well. And so the capstone course is community service learning. So as part of that course, students are required to volunteer someplace in the community that provides behavioral analytic services, but it's truly volunteer. They're not there to learn skills, they're learning, they're there to actually give something back and then to see how behavior analysis is being applied, um, within that setting. And so what I've been trying to do is, um, find a range of different placements for students so that they can kind of get exposure to what behavior analysis looks like in different fields.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (06:55):

Um, and so one of those has been in, um, uh, a human services agency that's prevalent throughout the state that that does provide adult services. Um, so our, we had, I think three students placed there this semester and they were able to get some good exposure to, you know, the different ways that you can see behavior analyst analysis being applied before the pandemic occurred. And all of that got canceled, but it was really nice too, because this agency needed help putting together assessment binders, and I'm completely blanking on the assessment itself that they told me that the students were going to be working on, but they needed, you know, the materials put together for each individual client and they just didn't have the staffing available to do it. So our students were able to go in and do that for them. So it was a really nice way for the students to, to be able to interact with some professionals, interact with the clients and then also do something to help them. It was a good experience.

Shauna Costello (07:53):

Yeah. And a lot of the times you don't really get the assessment knowledge other than just, you know, like reading through it and becoming familiar with what's in it until you get that actual hands on experience, putting, you know, the assessment, like, like you said, the assessment binders and materials and things together to really know what you know goes into it. So that's, I mean, that's, that's a really cool thing rather than just in one of your undergrad courses, you know, I mean, even when I was teaching as an adjunct and an undergrad course sequence, it was, I taught the assessment one. That was the one time I taught the assessments and I made sure to bring in all the assessment books that they hadn't seen, because a lot of times they're just talked about and it's like, okay, this is this one. This is this one, this is this one. So I'm like, okay, here, you guys go here are actual physical assessment books. We're going through these. Um, cause a lot of them are huge and you might not know what's really in them until you get halfway through it. And you're like, Oh, I didn't prep for this.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (09:00):

Right. Right. So one of the things that I've tried to do when I've taught assessment is to bring those books in and then also, um, to have the students kind of role play with each other so that they can get a little bit of experience. It's not the same thing, obviously as working with a client. Um, but it does give them an idea because, you know, there's a huge difference, like as you were saying between reading about something. And I think sometimes you get like this false feeling that, you know, what you're doing because you've read it and it made sense. Um, but it's a whole world of difference when you actually go and do it. Even the little bit of roleplay experience kind of gives them that lesson. And I think that's a really valuable one for them to take with them. Um, just speaking of that, the other setting that the students did, their community service learning at this past semester was a special education collaborative.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (09:50):

So they got to see a very different sort of environment. And they also were able to do something hands on helping out that, helping out the collaborative in that they, um, put together vocational training boxes for their clients. So, um, what's really cool about this collaborative is that our program's affiliation had been with, um, their autism program and the director of their autism program recently took over the, another department at the collaborative for, um, children with social, emotional developmental needs. Um, so she's trying to create some behavior analytic programming in that program as well. Um, and so the vocational boxes were for that, that population. So they got that exposure there too, um, which was just a really great for the students.

Shauna Costello (10:40):

That's really exciting too, because not only are the students able to, you know, go in and see what professionals are doing, but then the professionals are also like, Oh well, no, we could also use there. They're kind of like figuring out like, Oh, we could also use it here. Oh yeah. I could also use it here. And I mean, that's, I mean, Just really cool within itself. So you're really good to hear.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (11:03):

Yeah. It's been a lot of fun. The students have been really excited and I've been really excited about the number of students who have been interested in ABA at the undergraduate level. I think we have, um, we had three to last year was the first full year of our minor and we had three students graduate with the minor this year. We have eight and I think we have seven or eight declared for the class of 2021. And that's an underestimate because students aren't required to declare their minor until right before they graduate. So we don't actually know how many there are for a small school to have that many students interested in it this quickly. It's really exciting. And when we've done, and this is what really blows me away when we've done recruiting events, just for the undergraduate college, we'll get students high school students and parents coming up to our psychology table or human services table asking about ABA and do we have anything about that. And I'm just like, wow, you're, you're 17 years old or you're 18 years old and you know what this is already. And that's just really awesome.

Shauna Costello (12:07):

Um, yeah, because like people have heard me say before, I didn't know anything about behavior analysis until I accidentally took one course on it.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (12:17):

That was the same for me.

Shauna Costello (12:20):

So I'm, I completely, yeah. It's, it's amazing to hear that, you know, younger and younger and younger, like, no, This is what I want to get into. So that's really, really good to hear. And so we've talked about the undergrad a little bit. So what about the graduate students and that program? What does that look like?

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (12:37):

So our graduate program is still relatively new as well. Um, I was hired in 2015 to create the program. So we're starting, I think we're going to have cohort five start in the fall. Um, so that's really exciting. Um, it is also a verified core sequence. So we have the, the courses that students need to sit for the BCBA exam. We also, um, give them a little bit extra training. Maybe I should back up a little bit. So the, the focus of our program is to teach students about the science of behavior analysis and how to apply it. It's not a focus on autism treatment, but a focus just on application in general. So like the undergraduate program, we really try and highlight that throughout the program. Most of our students want to work with individuals with autism. So they do get that training obviously.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (13:29):

But we do try like throughout the curriculum to weave in examples of applications across a wide variety of human problems, we also have been attracting a number of students who are interested in working with the adult population, which has been really exciting. So the little bit of extra coursework that, that they get is, um, in addition to the core sequence, they take a course on the experimental analysis of behavior. Um, I really want them to have a firm grounding in basic principles. So when they take the basic principles class, it's more from an EAB perspective than from an applied perspective. And then they get another dose of that in the EAB class, um, which runs during the summer. So I'm just now preparing for this next group. Um, and that's a fun class to teach. They get, it's just kind of a survey of what's going on.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (14:18):

So there's, uh, about half the class, we talk about different types of quantitative models and how you're going to apply that and why are we doing this? And then in the second half, there's more of a focus on stimulus control related issues. Um, so it's a really fun class. They also take some interdisciplinary classes to kind of round out their education. So we just changed the structure of the program so that they choose two interdisciplinary electives. And there's three different categories that they pick from one category is foster collaboration with, um, other disciplines and other service providers. And the goal of those electives is to kind of teach students the soft skills that they need for interacting with other people, how to listen, how to make people feel like you're listening, um, how to really translate what you're saying into a language that they're going to understand, because if you come at them talking about behavior analytic language and they don't have training in that, they're not going to understand you at all.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (15:21):

And so we don't, we don't want that. I know, and I think that we're really good at training our students to build rapport with their clients. And I want them to have the skills for building rapport with, um, parents and caregivers and other service providers as well. So there's a couple of options of classes they can take. One is a counseling class that's taught through our rehabilitation counseling program. And then another one is a new class that, um, is in our education program, our special education program on collaboration in the schools. So students are really going to be able to tailor, you know, what environment am I going to go work in and kind of pick a class based on that. Um, another interdisciplinary category is on, um, just basic human development. Um, so I want them to have an understanding of what typical development looks like, so that you kind of have a benchmark of, you know, what are, what am I supposed to be doing here?

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (16:19):

And they have a couple of options of classes that they can take in some of our different programs. We have a school counseling program and a clinical counseling psych program. And so they can choose, um, which one they take. And then the third category is on atypical development. So we have a course that's part of our ABA program. Um, it's developmental and intellectual disabilities related to behavior analysis. So that class is really nice because it gives students an overview of different disabilities that people that they work with might present with. But it also goes further to talk about, well, what impact has behavior analysis had for treatments for those disorders? Or if it hasn't, what could we be doing there so that they kind of get that perspective. And in that course too, and we do this in, in the ethics course too, but we also do a focus on, um, non evidenced based treatments so that students are able to kind of get the critical thinking skills that they need to distinguish between what is evidence based and what isn't what's behavior analytic and what isn't.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (17:22):

And if it's not behavior analytic, can we explain this and behavior analytic principles so that we don't get up all up in arms about something that we don't need to get up in arms about? And then the third or the other option in that category is a class in our special education department on autism specifically. So if you know that that's where you're going to go, you can take just focus on autism. Another really strong feature of our program is that we include field work as part of the degree. So it's not, it's not an option for students, they have to do it. And I think that it's a really important benefit of our program because it gives students the chance to, um, to develop the skills and apply what they're learning about in concert with the curriculum. So it's the practicum sequence is coordinated with the curriculum so that the students learn about something.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (18:14):

And then they take the practicum class where they can learn to apply it, or they're taking, they're learning about it at the same time they're taking that particular practicum class. So the course, the work that we give them to do in practicum, um, we have a series of assignments that we've developed in order for them to develop the skills on the task list, um, so that we can make sure that they're hitting all of the things that they need to know. Um, and it's a real focus on teaching them how to be a behavior analyst in the field, which I think is really important. So they, they get that case conceptualization. Um, they learn how to diagnose problems and develop all of those skills on the task list. And they're not left to figure it out on their own. Um, there's a lot of requirements, um, and we're coordinating that for them. And I mean, obviously it's the student's responsibility and they have to be on top of making sure they're meeting all of the requirements, but they've got someone there who's checking it every month to make sure that yep all of our Ts are crossed and all of our I's are dotted and this month's OK. Um, and I think, that's a real advantage.

Shauna Costello (19:20):

I really like that too, because I know that, you know, when you have those practicum opportunities set up that are connected to your program, it, it, it is the most ideal that you can get. And I mean, I know you were talking about some of the courses and some of like the controversial therapies and things like that. And I was like, Oh, I have, I have, I have them right here.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (19:43):

We use that book.

Shauna Costello (19:45):

Yeah. So I know I have my controversial therapies for treatment book right here sitting next to me. So, um, I was like, Oh yeah, it's right here. Um, for my personal experience in my master's program, we tend to, like, you've kind of mentioned too with the assessments, but with the treatments, we tend to get a little gung ho about, and that's great cause you know, we're getting our students, students excited and this and that, but at the same time, sometimes we can be a little bit too much and be like, and turn things down too quickly, which can, like you said, which is you need to focus on building caregiver, rapport as well. And parent rapport, not just with your client. Um, I mean, I had a situation in grad school where, um, we were doing in-home consulting my PhD student mentor. Um, he would go out with me and we'd work together on the cases and the parents wanted to try something and you know, I didn't say something like right then and there, but when him and I were talking about it afterwards, I would I'd bring up.

Shauna Costello (20:55):

And I was like, that's not evidence based. We can't do that. And he goes, okay, Shauna, wait, is it harmful right to our client or to their progress? I was like, well, no. And he's like, okay, why don't we say, we'll give it a try. Let's take some data on it. And be able to show them if it's effective or ineffective. Right. Exactly. That was, you know, that was a very big learning moment for me, you know, it's, it's like, Oh, that's not evidence based. We need to be doing this. No, we need to constantly be testing things to make sure that things can get to be evidence-based or that, you know, prove them as they're not evidence-based. So having that correlation between the classes you're taking in your practicum, or I see the importance is right there.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (21:48):

It's it's so it's so beneficial for them. And the feedback that I've gotten from, um, BCBAs in the community who have been supervising our students have been, it's been really positive. They like the, the approach that we're taking, we're doing a collaborative approach to supervision. So we provide some supervision. We have, um, supervisors that we have hired to, to work with our students. But we also ask the students to have a supervisor at their site who knows their clients or their clients, I should say. And, um, we work really closely with them. So we'll go out and meet with them. I'll go out and meet with them every semester prior to the start of the semester, make sure everybody's on board, we'll check in with each other frequently throughout the semesters so that we can really make sure that the students are being supported and that the clients are benefiting from this as well.

Shauna Costello (22:40):

Yep, and that's wonderful because I know that I'm sort of in that position right now as the onsite supervisor, although, you know, we don't have clients, like it's not a clinical setting as an OBM setting, but at the same time, I'm their onsite supervisor that, and I'm in charge of a lot of the stuff that they need to be doing for their curriculum as well, not just for us. Um, so I completely understand. Um, and so we've talked a lot about the programs and the practicum sites, which are very exciting, but what about the faculty?

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (23:16):

So we're small programs still. We're still new. Um, I am full time faculty and the program director. Um, we have a number of really great faculty who have been with us since the beginning. Um, and they're really diverse among the faculty that we've had from the beginning. Um, we've got some people who have really strong clinical experience in school systems who have been consulting to schools or working as school BCBAs. Um, we have got some faculty who, um, have established their own clinics in the Worcester area so that they have, they're able to bring that center-based experience to the students. And then we have a number of faculty who have worked in, um, private residential schools for children with autism. Um, so those faculty in particular have really strong research focus as well. Um, what's been really nice. Is that a number of our faculty? Um, a number of our part time faculty have, um, doctorate, a doctorates in behavior analysis or related fields. So, um, they're able to bring in some multidisciplinary knowledge, um, into the program as well. So for example, we'll have some faculty who have doctorates in behavior analysis. So they've got that advanced knowledge about behavior analysis, but then we have some faculty who have doctoral degrees in, um, education related fields. So they're able to bring in, um, a different kind of experience for our students.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (24:47):

That's been really nice and helping round out their education. Um, I think the faculty are a real strength of our program. Um, and even though, um, some of our faculty are part time faculty, they are all devoted to our students. Um, so we're a close knit community. We all know each other. Um, as program director, I know who all of the students are. I know all of their, their supervisors are at their sites and all of us, um, whether we're full time or part time, um, are always willing to go that extra mile for the students. So we're there to support them in terms of, um, help that they might need with their coursework or for career planning or research planning. One thing I didn't mention about the program was that we have an optional research thesis, um, so students can choose to do that.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (25:39):

And, um, if they, they don't want to do that, um, some students are really hesitant about getting involved in research, especially if they didn't have that, um, experience as an undergrad. And they don't really know what it's all about. Um, they're able to kind of do it on the side as like a volunteer basis. Um, so, you know, people are willing to work with them in that capacity as well. So it's, um, the faculty are really great in, in that regard that they're, they're diverse. They have really strong clinical skills. Um, some of them have really strong research skills on top of that. Um, and they're all really excellent teachers, so it's been, it's been really good.

Shauna Costello (26:17):

Yeah. And what I wanted to ask about too, is that, you know, from reading your history and you also bring in, a, I mean, I only know what I read on the screen, but you know, you have a, your master's and your PhD in experimental psychology.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (26:37):

Yes. So I came at this field from a different way than most people. I didn't come up through applied field. Um, when I was an undergraduate, I was first exposed to behavior analysis in a learning and conditioning class, um, that had a rat lab in it. And that I, that was just so much fun. And that's what kind of, I had originally wanted to go into more clinical psychology kind of thing. Um, and that's kind of what changed my mind from that. So from there, I went to, um, to graduate school at Purdue university working with Peter Urcuioli, so this was, um, a pigeon lab where we did a lot of stimulus control where um working in a number of different, a number of different research topics. Um, one of them being stimulus equivalents. So after I graduated, I came out to Massachusetts to work with Bill McElveen and Bill Doobie at the Shriver center.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (27:29):

Um, and that's where I started doing translational work with children with autism. Um, and so it kind of my route into the applied world kind of came through like this transit translational path, which is, um, it's different, but I think it's a real strength for our students. I have a really strong background in basic principles, experimental design and research and taking those things and, and, and seeing how we can translate them into applied solutions. Um, and I think that that's something that I bring to the classroom that is different than a lot of other programs. And I think it's a real benefit to the students. They struggle with it sometimes, but I think that they come out so much stronger for having done it

Shauna Costello (28:12):

Well, and I fully agree because there is, this is my personal opinion too. Um, so I want to throw that caveat in there, but sometimes it feels that, you know, when, cause I was in clinical work for awhile before I changed to the OBM field and it kind of sometimes when you're in the field, it kind of feels like you start getting this plateau of you're in, you just keep doing the same things over and over and over and over again. And I've seen so much more translational research coming out recently.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (28:51):


Shauna Costello (28:51):

I'm so excited for it because just because we have something that, you know, we've proven that works doesn't mean we can't make it better and there are better ways to do things. And that is where this translational work is going to come in. So having these students who are getting this type of training and yeah, it's not easy, it's easy at all. I mean, even trying to read a lot of like the articles and the publications that are out there, um, it can be difficult to understand this because you have to have a whole different set of analytical skills. A lot of time applied clinicians are not taught to have. And so,

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (29:34):

But that's what I'm trying to give them in the EAB class. Um, and I tell them to, you know, we start off, I'm like, look, you're not going to be able to take the stuff we're talking about here today and apply it to what you're doing and in your jobs right now. Um, but the purpose of this is to kind of learn the process and learn how to read these articles and just kind of have an idea of what's going on in this world, because at some point you are going to encounter a client that is not going to respond to the things that you know, and then what are you going to do? The literature that you might have to go to is going to be this translational literature and you have to be able to decipher it. Um, so that's what we work on.

Shauna Costello (30:16):

Yeah. And that's really exciting because, um, like you said, we, like you said, we have these clients that are not going to respond. And especially when you start getting into working with adults and non autism diagnoses as well. And I know I had the most fun of my clinical experience when I was an independent consultant working for just a mental health company. And, you know, they provided a ton of services, but they provided behavioral services. And it was my, I think my youngest was six and my oldest was like 76. And so, um, I loved it because, you know, I had a history of working with adults. I had a history of working with children, but the types of diagnoses that I was getting and the types of environments that I was going into were so varied. And having that background and the background that, you know, the methods that you're teaching your students is so important. It is so important.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (31:23):


Shauna Costello (31:24):

It's so exciting to hear. I love hearing about that. That's one of my new things that I'm all gung ho about is translational guys come on and not just clinical, not just clinical translational, because we can't have one without the other. No,

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (31:41):

I really hope it, I really hope that they continue studying once they graduate, that they continue looking at these things because it's the kind of skill that you need to keep using it. Otherwise it's going to start to go away and you don't want that to happen.

Shauna Costello (31:54):

So what about the application process? I know that the undergrads are probably just a standard, you know, coming into the school in terms of the program. Um, but what about for the master's students?

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (32:08):

So there's actually a couple of different things. And one of them starts with the undergrad starting for, not the incoming class for 2020, but the incoming freshmen undergraduate class for 2021 is going to have something that we're calling a dual degree option. So this is, it's not like a fifth year program, but what it is is kind of like a direct entry into the master's program. So if they're, someone who in high school now knows that they want to go through and eventually a BCBA, um, they can apply for this dual entry sort of program where there'll be accepted into the undergraduate program. And then they have a series of benchmarks that they need to meet along the way, but if they meet those and it's like a GPA benchmark, um, obviously being an ABA minor, um, and having some recommendations from the faculty, but as long as they meet those benchmarks, they're going to automatically be admitted into the master's program.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (33:09):

They don't have to go through the regular admissions process. So that's one route, just in terms of, if you're someone right now, who's working in the field and you've decided you want to go back and get your master's degree. Um, you already have a bachelor's degree. The application process is pretty easy. Um, it's an online application. Um, we don't have an application fee. Uh, we don't require the GRE. Um, you do need to have a GPA of 3.0 or better. Um, you need to have three letters of recommendation. Um, I really prefer if you have one or more academic letters of recommendation, so a professor who can talk about, um, your ability in the classroom, because that's really what we're trying to assess with your application. Are you going to be a successful in this, in this program? Um, I do realize that for many people, they fall into this field, so they might graduate and then go work for a company for a couple of years, really just to kind of do this until they find the job that they want.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (34:14):

And then they discover that this is the job that they want. I have a lot of students that that happened to, um, but the longer that you're out of college, the harder it is to get that academic reference. So we will accept three professional letters. Um, but we do prefer an academic letter. The letters should address your ability to, to, to complete graduate level work. Um, and then if you've been working in the field, they can also talk about your clinical skills and your understanding of behavior analysis that the letter writer's been able to get from, from working with the student. Um, we also require a personal statement. Um, so the personal statement serves two purposes. One is to kind of let us know, you know, do you know what this field is about and why do you want to become a BCBA? Why are you interested in behavior analysis?

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (35:07):

Um, and then the second purpose is this is a writing sample. Um, so it's helping us determine what kind of students you are. Um, so, you know, please always make sure to check for typos and things like that. Um, and then also a resume. Um, so we don't have like a requirement for a particular major in college. Um, because like I said before, a lot of people kind of fall into this field. Um, so, you know, it doesn't really matter what your undergraduate degree was in. I think that that's about, Oh, and then there's an interview. So I'm, once the graduate committee looks through the applications, we will select people to interview and it can be, it had been in person interviews in my office. Right now with the social distancing requirements, um, they're zoom interviews, if that's just generally an interview with me, and then I will, um, we have a standard set of questions and then the committee will make a decision on, on applicants.

Shauna Costello (36:08):

And I noticed on the website that it says for a false start date, the admission deadline is July 1st. Correct?

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (36:17):

Yes, it is. Um, it's, it's a tight deadline. So if you are interested, so that's the deadline for this year, last year, it was June 15th. We did push it back a little bit this year because of the issues with the pandemic and things like that. Um, so it might, I can't guarantee that it'll be July 1st, next year. It may be a little bit earlier. If you apply before then you will get your decision, like if you were to apply like say in February, we don't make you wait until the summer to know the committee will review your application, you know, sometime in February or March and get back to you. So, you know, if you apply sooner, you'll know sooner.

Shauna Costello (36:58):

Yeah. But it's just very nice to know. And I just like to point that out because a lot of times, you know, when we talk to schools, I kind of like to point this out, because what does that fall of? What year is it? 2020, whatever year. I don't even know what year it is anymore. Um, fall of 2020, you know, they would have had to have known, you know, some of these other schools are making them apply, you know, in December of 2019. And so, you know, I want to make sure that people know that they can apply at the same time as they may be applying to other universities and colleges to get the decision at the same time as they're fitting it with, with the other colleges so that they can make a decision.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (37:41):

Yes, absolutely. So we're, we're still a relatively small program, so we just have a false start right now. Um, it's kind of a cohort model. So students take the courses in the same sequence generally together, um, unless they decide to go part time and then they're a little bit out of sequence, but students, they can apply at any time and be admitted for the fall. So, um, you know, if you were to apply to the program in like September, but, you know, you wanted to start in September of 2021, you can apply in September and maybe be accepted in October or November, and then you just know where you're going. Um, and you can relax.

Shauna Costello (38:19):

So, what about the area?

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (38:21):

So we're in Worcester, Massachusetts, which is right in central mass. So it's a really good location, um, because it's pretty convenient to get anywhere from Worcester. It's about an hour to, to Boston. It's about an hour to Providence, maybe a little bit more than an hour to Hartford. Um, so you have access to some of these other cities, but stir is a really nice city in and of itself. Um, the campus itself is in a really beautiful section of Worcester. It's in a nice residential section and we're kind of an enclosed campus. Um, so it's very pretty and very calm and quiet on campus, but we're not far from downtown Worcester. So there's, you know, activity downtown there's, um, a lot of nice restaurants, um, and some there's a theater, um, like an Hanover theater. Um, and one of the big things is that we have the, um, the triple 18 for the Boston red Sox that are moving from Rhode Island to Worcester. So we're going to have, um, I think they're going by the woo socks now. So we're going to have, um, we're going to have the baseball team here. And so there's a lot of work being done to renovate that particular area of the city.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (39:37):

So it's going to be really nice. Um, the surrounding areas are nice places to live. Um, there's lots of opportunities for students to, to get jobs. Um, you know, a lot of, um, there are a lot of agencies that provide in home services. There are a lot of school systems that have, um, behavioral therapists, positions, um, aid positions. There's a lot of independent clinics, um, residents and residential schools that aren't far from here. Um, and we have a lot of, um, good relationships with area agencies so that our students have not really had any difficulty finding practicum placements. So that's been really nice. Um, it's a, it's a nice place to live. We moved here, from the Midwest. I'm originally from outside of Chicago in 2001, and we've been really happy here. Um, we moved right to the Worcester area when we came out here and it's, it's been nice.

Shauna Costello (40:33):

And can I just say too, when someone looks at where assumption is located, when you look at the name, I did not read it as Worcester.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (40:46):


Shauna Costello (40:48):

I just want to point that out.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (40:50):

No, it's not. It's not pronounced the way that it's spelled and that's true for a lot of towns in Massachusetts. Um, there's actually, if you Googled it, you might be able to find it, but there's a funny little, um, video on YouTube where it's got people making fun of the different ways that names are pronounced out here. It's not Massachusetts, but I have a grad school friend who is from, um, like Pennsylvania and even how he pronounces some stuff. He, I know he gets made fun of for it, like what, like water for water and things like that. So, um, but that's just something, you know, but I did want to point out that if somebody was looking up assumption and you know, they heard you say Worcester, but then they thought like a war, war, tester, something like that. It's yes, you were there. Don't worry.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (41:50):

There's a silent R in the middle of Worcester.

Shauna Costello (41:53):

Um, another thing I just like to point out is that when you're in this area, you're so close to so many other States and activities and things like that, too.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (42:02):


Shauna Costello (42:03):

You can do so much exploring as well.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (42:05):

Absolutely. So we have, um, there's skiing, not too far from here. There's actually skiing at Mount Wachusett here in Massachusetts, but then you could also go up into Vermont or New Hampshire. Um, we have really easy access to the beaches. So there are beaches, obviously in Massachusetts, but you can also fairly quickly get to beaches in Rhode Island and Connecticut. And a lot of people go up in Maine. Um, so there's those sorts of things to do. There's lots of hiking. If you're an outdoors kind of person, there are a lot of different types of things that you can do here.

Shauna Costello (42:42):

And I know that from personal experience, there's a ton to do over there. So I haven't spent a lot. I haven't spent time in Worcester, but I spent time, um, traveling, you know, from Rhode Island into Massachusetts and just have seen the plethora of things that you're able to do. And there's so many different types of, um, it's kind of like a melting pot there's so there's so much different food and activities. Just things that, you know, if you like, if you want to do it, you can find it is what I have, what I have seen, if you want country you can have country, if you want mountains, you can have mountains. If you want seaside, you can have seaside. If you want big city, you can have big city. Um, it's all very, very close together.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (43:35):

And Worcester is like right in the center of all of it. It's the perfect location for all of those things. Because you're right in the middle and it's not going to take long to get to any of it.

Shauna Costello (43:44):

Yeah. Um, and so I know we've talked about a lot, but what, is there anything else that you want to say about assumption or about the program in general?

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (43:56):

So, one thing that I was thinking about before we started talking that I haven't mentioned yet, um, assumption is it's a small Catholic liberal arts school. And one thing that's really important at assumption is the mission of the college. And that mission also extends to our graduate programs. Um, and there's two things in particular that I kind of wanted to talk about, um, related to our mission. And one is, um, compassionate service where we're trying to, to teach, um, our students to go back and to serve the community. And we try and do that in the ABA program as well. I mean, I don't have like the community service learning sort of thing that we talked about with the undergraduates.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (44:36):

Um, but for the graduate students and, you know, the whole focus of the way that we're teaching them is that, you know, we're teaching you to how are you best going to serve your client? Um, and so we kind of connect with the mission that way, where we're really looking at, um, teaching our students to really focus on, um, you know, the, the entire picture for the client when they're providing services and not just focus on one or two particular behaviors, but like that, that big, that big picture. Um, and then another area of the mission that I think is really important is, um, teaching students critical intelligence. And we do this throughout the ABA program. And I know that this is kind of built into behavior analysis in general, but we really try and focus on, um, that critical analysis and teaching students to think critically. Um, so that, that makes them a better clinician when they go out to serve their clients. Um, you know, and partly the way that we do that, um, like I had mentioned with the undergraduate program about teaching that, um, evidence-based, um, how to identify an evidenced based treatment. We really focus on that in the graduate program as well. Um, so that, you know, students are able to go out there and make good decisions about the different types of treatment options, um, for their students.

Shauna Costello (45:58):

Yeah. And that's a very good point to bring up. And this is also something that I've noticed when we have been talking to the schools in Massachusetts is they're very focused on like community as well. And you mentioned it earlier, too, about giving back to the community around you. And it's been a really, it's just been, you know, very inspiring to hear it from multiple schools that we've talked to in Massachusetts that, you know, this is, this is something that they're very passionate about, making sure that, you know, they're focusing on their whole clients and the community and giving back.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (46:36):

Absolutely. Yeah, we all, we all live here, we're all connected to each other. So I think it's a really important, important thing to focus on in the program. And it's the students have, I think they benefit from it.

Shauna Costello (46:49):

And the types of experiences that you're able to give your students, not only, you know, having a higher, like, even a bigger focus on that translational piece and the experimental piece and teaching them that, but also the different types of practicum opportunities that are provided. Um, it's, it's a very, you know, a lot of people probably haven't heard of assumption and I mean, that's the point of the podcast, right? But at the same time, like for being a small program in a small school, it's really focusing on catering to make sure that their students are getting the types of experiences that they really, they want, that they want.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (47:29):

Absolutely. Yes.

Shauna Costello (47:30):

Yes. Helping them grow into these very well rounded behavior analysts, whether it's working in a clinical setting or working in a more experimental, you know, EAB, translational setting or any type of setting that they want.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (47:46):

I hope I get one of those students pretty soon.

Shauna Costello (47:48):

I know right. Hey, it might, you know, it's always a smaller percentage, but they're out there, they are out there. Um, and I know that I found that too, when I was, uh, teaching undergrads in a core sequence a couple of years ago.

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (48:06):

Well, I just got an email from an undergraduate who was in my psychology of learning class this semester. And she was a senior. And what she said was that, you know, she's, she took this class as an elective and she hadn't been too excited about it and she's going to graduate school to be an SLP. And that she's like, I am just so happy that I took this class because it's really, she's like, it's pushed me out of what I, what I knew. And there's so many things I'm going to take with me to my graduate program. And I mean, that was the best kind of feedback that I could get. Cause that's exactly what I'm trying to do. Even if you're not going into this field, there is so much that you can take with you to where you are going. And, you know, she, she got that and that was just great.

Shauna Costello (48:48):

Yeah. And I mean, and then if you think about that as a whole, like with the field as a whole, that even starts pushing dissemination even more because, you know, she learned it at a young age and she's probably going to hopefully continue to do analytic research and principles to continue on in her field than other SLPs. We'll see that and fingers crossed. That's how that works, right?

Shauna Costello (49:14):

Well, is there anything else that you want to make sure that we cover?

Dr. Karen Lionello-DeNolf (49:17):

I think we've covered about everything.

Shauna Costello (49:19):

Perfect. Well, thank you so much, it's been great finally hearing about assumption. I know when we talked before, I was like, I just wanted to ask questions, but I tried to save them for this, but thank you again.

New Speaker (49:31):

Well, thank you for this opportunity. This has been really exciting. It's my first podcast. This was fun.

New Speaker (49:37):

Thank you for listening to this week's university series. And as always, if you have questions, comments, feedback, or suggestions, please feel free to reach out to us at


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