University Series 045 | University of Nevada Reno (UNR)

Today we are joined by Dr. Ramona Houmanfar, Dr. Matthew Lewon, Dr. Bethany Contreras, as well as two students. I have been excited to speak to this program for the plethora of opportunities they are offering, not only to their students but, the behavior analytic community at large. Listen today to learn about the faculty, research, practicum opportunities, and the student experience. You will not be disappointed. 


Contact Information -

Dr. Ramona Houmanfar -

Dr. Matthew Lewon -

Dr. Bethany P Contreras -


Additional Links

Program Details


Shauna Costello (00:00:01):

You're listening to Operant Innovations, a podcast brought to you by ABA Technologies. This month, on the University series, we are speaking with the University of Nevada, Reno, or more informally, UNR. Today we have a very large group of faculty and students. Without further ado, UNR. We are talking with UNR and I'm very excited about talking about the program today, because we don't just have one, we don't just have two, we have five. We have faculty, we have students, and I'm very excited for them to explain some of the updates that have been happening with the program and because we have so many, I'm going to let them introduce themselves. Thank you all for talking with me today and let's introduce everyone.

Dr. Matthew Lewon (00:00:55):

I'll go first if that's cool. [Laughing] My name is Matthew Lewon and I'm an assistant professor here in the behavior analysis program at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Dr. Bethany P Contreras (00:01:06):

I'm Bethany Contreras, also an assistant professor here at UNR.

Dr. Ramona Houmanfar (00:01:11):

Hi, I'm Ramona Houmanfar. I'm the professor of psychology and director of the behavior analysis program at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Keon (00:01:19):

Hi, my name is Keon and I will be a third year doctoral student in Dr. Ramona Houmanfar's lab.

Kathleen (00:01:28):

My name is Kathleen. I am a masters student working with Dr. Contreras.

Shauna Costello (00:01:34):

Welcome, everybody. Thank you again, and I am going to actually pass it right over to you to give a general overview of the program.

Dr. Ramona Houmanfar (00:01:44):

I'm going to go ahead and provide a brief overview. I think it's important to provide a bigger context. We're at the University of Nevada Reno. This University serves over 20,000 students and is growing. We have 30 graduate degree programs and 70 undergraduate degree programs. Our department of psychology is located in the college of science. We have three graduate degree programs in the department of psychology, starting with the clinical program, cognitive behavior science program, and our fantastic behavior analysis program. We have 31 faculty members in the department, approximately 1200 undergraduate majors and over 130 graduate students in various department programs. The behavior analysis program currently has six full faculty members, and we are training over 40 graduate students at this point. This year marks our 31st anniversary of the behavior analysis program at UNR. We're very excited about it. We were awarded the organizational enduring contribution to behavior analysis by the society for advancement of behavior analysis in May, 2010. We have conferred over 80 PhD degrees, which is astonishing, and the on campus masters program has conferred over 80 masters degrees. The satellite master programs has conferred over a hundred off campus, master degrees in multiple national and international locations. We are among the first group of graduate programs to receive the ABAI accreditation over 20 years ago. Our undergraduate training in behavior analysis was the first program to receive an ABAI accreditation in 2016. In terms of our objective, we are well known in our comprehensive training in behavior analysis out of which more specialized, basic applied and theoretical interests can be developed by students. The comprehensive nature of our training is reflected across areas of theory and philosophy, basic experimental research, and applied research plus extensive experiential training we all offer across our areas of specializations. Our focus on theory and philosophy is reflected in courses on radical behaviorism, behavior analysis of language and cognition, relational frame theory, and seminar in psychological philosophy. This includes our emphasis on conceptual developments and applications reflected in the course on behavioral systems analysis, and the interest in basic and experimental research is highlighted by our courses on principles of behavior, research methods, and the experimental analysis of behavior, and experimental analysis of human behavior. Last but not least, our training and applied behavior analysis is reflected in materials covered in such courses as behavioral assessment, behavioral interventions, and behavior management and consultation. In terms of areas of training, it's vast. I'm just going to highlight a few that capture our experiential focus for graduate students across masters and doctoral. We focus on developmental disabilities, including Autism, special education, distance education, instructional design, organizational behavior management, including performance management, and behavioral systems analysis, cultural behavior analysis, and acceptance and commitment training. This is pretty much the overview that I think is good to put out there in terms of the focus in areas of curriculum that really dictates the research we conduct across our labs. In terms of the lab and the specifics of it, at this juncture, I believe we want to give some examples across labs that reflect Bethany's work, Matthew's work and my work. At this juncture, I'm going to turn the invisible podium to Bethany Contreras. [Laughing]

Dr. Bethany P Contreras (00:05:56):

I'm going to attempt to give a little bit of a brief overview of the way I'm seeing the research happening here across all the faculty and I'll talk about mine more specifically and then pass it on to Drs. Lewon and Houmanfar. Of course they can give you all the details about their work. Like Ramona had mentioned, we have a breadth of training in terms of our coursework and our practical training, but also our research, which is one of the things that I think is very cool about our programs. Our research spans the three main areas of behavior analysis. Some labs focus a lot on the philosophical kind of concepts and approach to behavioral science so that you would find a lot of that in Dr. Houmanfar's lab and also Dr. Lewon's lab. We have folks working on basic research, both with animal and human research, so there are opportunities to do research in a mouse lab and also human operant research. Looking at things like delayed discounting, and effects of parameters of reinforcement. A lot of that happens in Dr. Wilson's lab, who is another one of our faculty. Dr. Steve Hayes, his lab does a lot of work in the complex language and cognition, really looking at the RFT influence there and things related to ACT. That's a really brief overview, kind of the span. Of course, Dr. Houmanfar's research circles around OBM area performance systems and looking at things related to culture and whatnot. She'll talk a lot more about that. In my area, I'm very much an applied person. I do a lot of applied research. I hit that realm of things. My expertise in area of interest is in developmental disability, working with children with Autism and related disabilities. I put a heavy emphasis on skill acquisition. I tend to work with younger children during a lot of early intervention, and I'm very interested in how we build early language repertoires, early learner repertoires, really gearing these little guys up to get ready for just a life of dignity, autonomy, and independence, looking at research towards that. Some specific areas, I really dig, are response variability as it relates to Autism and how individuals with Autism will move through the world. That's an area I'm really interested in, and I also have some kind of pet interests in teaching and higher education and how we can bring behavior analysis to do that really effectively. Another area is evidence based practice of applied behavior analysis, starting to dive into what the definition is of that and what it means and how we do it as a process. I feel like that's an okay overview of my research. Kathleen, do you have anything to add? You've been hanging out in the lab for a while now.

Kathleen (00:09:03):

Yeah. I really appreciate that Dr. Contreras also includes a lot of important ethical discussions that are going on in our field right now and brings attention to important issues that are going on, and we can have an open discussion about that. While the little guys are important, we're also tackling some really big and cool things in the lab. I always appreciate those conversations.

Dr. Bethany P Contreras (00:09:32):

Yeah. Thank you for bringing that up. Obviously in the lab, we focus a lot on the research aspect, but I like to bring in discussions on some bigger topics. For example, topics relating to racism or the autonomy and dignity of neuro-divergent individuals, and having these bigger conversations that maybe we are not producing scholarly work, but we are talking about it and seeing how that can be pulled into our work and how we can engage in our research and our practice in the best way possible.

Shauna Costello (00:10:09):

There's just so much going on, especially currently, with some ethical issues in the field and that is absolutely important and I'm very happy that, Kathleen, you brought that up.

Dr. Bethany P Contreras (00:10:24):

So I'll actually go ahead and toss this off, over to Matthew. You can fill us in on your research stuff.

Dr. Matthew Lewon (00:10:30):

Yeah, thanks. My laboratory and my research has been focused in the basic and conceptual domains. With respect to basic research, I'm the faculty advisor for the animal behavior laboratory where we do research on basic learning principles with mice, which is really fun to work with. They're very cute. Within that area, there are two major subcategories of the work that we're doing. The first, is a lot of research on motivating operations. We look at how motivational and emotional variables affect other things like discrimination, learning, maintenance, and generalization. One of the areas, where we've done several recent studies, is looking at the effects of motivational variables on relapse phenomenon, like resurgence and renewal. One of the things that we're doing and I'm really excited about is a series of studies on state dependent learning. The general idea is the motivational condition in which you learn a skill, acquires some control over that behavior. It's less likely to generalize over other motivational conditions and that's something that has a lot of cool conceptual implications, but it also has some translational implications. We all encounter this problem of the generalization of what happens in treatment to the real world setting. We're hoping and thinking that some of these basic studies will have some translational value in illuminating some of these processes and the challenges we encounter in our applied work, because even though I'm doing a lot of basic work right now, my background isn't applied work. A lot of my applied interests have fed into basic interests. The other main area of basic research we're doing is also very exciting to me. Interdisciplinary research with researchers outside of behavior analysis, who have mouse models of human conditions. We've done a study with some people looking at a mouse model of duchenne muscular dystrophy. We ran them through a battery of, "don't kill me", cognitive assessments, all operant learning things, because cognitive impairments are present in about a third of individuals with duchenne muscular dystrophy. We found some interesting differences between these DMD mice and control mice. We are now going to be doing a project, coming up soon, where we're looking at a mouse model of Autism. That's been a really interesting thing to figure out. How can you model Autism in a mouse in a way that has some validity? We've been spending a lot of time putting together something that tries to look at the fundamental learning processes that we assume to be related to the behaviors characteristic of Autism. In a conceptual domain, my work has been focused on translating basic research to more complex things. Again, there's the issue of validity. There have been a lot of people talking about what a mouse can tell me about what this kid I'm working with is doing. A lot of my conceptual work has been thinking about how we can translate what we do in the laboratory in a way such that it has some meaningfulness for larger real world concerns. I think with that, Ramona, it's your chance to talk about your stuff.

Dr. Ramona Houmanfar (00:14:32):

Thank you, Matthew. My interests have been dictated, over the last almost 24 years of my career here at UNR as a faculty member, by my interest in a behavioral systems analysis, and a cultural behavior analysis. Over the years, these two areas of conceptual interest have guided a series of conceptual analysis that my team and I in a performance system technologies lab have tackled that have guided our work in relation to a work of colleagues, pioneers in cultural behavior science and contextual behavior science, to capture our analysis of complex phenomena in organizations and beyond. The role of language and cognition and robo-networks are foundational to our discussion at the conceptual level. Analysis of rule governed behavior in organizations has been really very much of a focus of our work in my lab. In many ways, all of these interests have guided what you can say is translational research in a sense that our interaction with interdisciplinary colleagues, and medical education, and engineering, have allowed for us to really bring the complex phenomena, tackle them at the basic manipulation level, to capture the role of language and cognition and verbal networks in areas of cooperation, with the focus on emerging and frankly dominating area of analysis pertaining to implicit bias in general. A certific responding that really is becoming a focus of our engineering group. They are capturing our work through some of the recent NSF grants that focus on AI bias, our artificial intelligence. It makes sense that you think about AI bias. We know that artificial intelligence is designed by humans. There is a definite human and AI transmission of bias, particularly in areas of gender and race. Colleagues from the college of engineering have solicited and are now working with my team and I on tackling cooperation between human and AI, and AI and human teams moving forward. It has a huge impact in cyber security and beyond. This whole area is basically capturing how we have come through University of Nevada, Reno's work across an array of research labs to capture the role behavior science plays in interdisciplinary expansions. Being housed in the college of science gives us the context to develop our relationships with colleagues across different units. I'm extremely excited that our colleagues here, Matthew and Bethany, offer the areas of work that absolutely resonate to other units on campus. It will allow us to really play a big role in the department of psychology and what psychology brings to the college of science. There's a lot that we are going to be doing and I just want to highlight that we're in the process of hiring new faculty members here. There is a move towards recruitment of colleagues with interest that really map onto the theme, here at the University, again, giving them more of a bigger context of where we are and what is demanded of us. In many ways, that trickles down to the way our students can benefit from our inter-facility alliance with other units on campus and how we bring this to our field through association for behavior analysis international and other scientific platforms to really inform our colleagues, and also be informed by our colleagues from other programs. It's a very exciting phase in our program and there are more that we would definitely bring to you guys in terms of updates moving forward. We hope that we can do more of these podcasts in terms of updates and really bring more of a "here we are now," as we move forward to our audience.

Shauna Costello (00:19:38):

I'm so excited all of you have talked about this, because personally, when I learned about UNR and looked into UNR, I've always viewed it as this cutting edge program, pushing the boundaries and really seeing what else is out there, what else our field can do. Whether that is, like all of you just talked about, it spans the map. You have the entire spectrum of the science of behavior, whether it's experimental OBM, applied. It's there, but you're trying to push the field forward. I'm so excited that all of you just explained that, because it's probably one of the main reasons I was so excited to talk to all of you today. I have always viewed UNR as pushing the boundaries and going out there and seeing what else our field can do.

Dr. Ramona Houmanfar (00:20:50):

Thank you. One thing I want to add here, as part of this expansion of our training, we are among the first group of, I believe 7 programs and 67 programs internationally, offering the verified course sequence in cultural behavior science that allows for us to train students to bring that training and completion of certification and that really maps onto their work. It's absolutely more than ever relevant given how we have come to realize the role of behavior science in terms of ways in area of resilience, adaptation, and how we can really capture analysis of phenomena from a behavioral change perspective at the cultural level. I would definitely want to make sure people are aware of this gradual expansion of areas of association for analysis international is offering and is coming to us and a few other programs, actually internationally, to really set the stage for others to come to see the value of behavior science and behavior analysis in a cultural behavior science. It's important to highlight.

Shauna Costello (00:22:20):

I went to the cultural behavior science conference this past year, and I absolutely loved it. I'm so happy that you brought that up. It's been amazing hearing about the labs and a lot of the research that's going on. I know that you partially talked about it, but what are some of the practicum internship opportunities UNR offers?

Dr. Bethany P Contreras (00:22:44):

I feel like the array of practicum also matches with our array of teaching and research experiences. You can earn practicum experience in all these different areas. We want to find out what our students want to do, what their goals are and then get them the experiences that are going to take them to be successful. If you're aimed towards going more of an applied route, then we're going to get you applied practicum experiences. If you want to go more of an experimental route, then you're going to do practicum experiences that are going to prepare you for that. If you want to go work in the industry doing systems analysis work, then that's the kind of experience you're going to need to get. I think we do a nice job getting students. It's really high quality practicum experiences and I am fairly new here. This is my first year, so I'm still learning about some of the experiences myself and some from talking to students. This is something I've heard from every single student. We get to do such cool stuff and we are just really well prepared to go out into the world and do these things we want to do. I've heard that from current students and graduates of UNR. I think that really resonates and my world, the applied world, as far as practicum experiences go, I'm working in opening up a University based clinic. It will be located on campus where we will provide services for children with Autism and to their families. This will be a place to provide high quality services to the community, but serve as a training site for our undergrads, our masters and our doc students, because there are so much involved in applied work. We'll be able to offer practical training in that applied work, the kind of clinical work, working with children, working with families, doing training, designing assessments and programming and making those clinical decisions, but also doing clinical research. I think that's something I'm very excited about. This is the reason I'm working on the clinic. I want to be able to run research studies in the context of our clinical services and have students learn how to do that process. It's definitely feasible and we can get some great research out there. It will be one area of practical training I'll be involved in and directly supervising. Matthew and Ramona, do you want to jump in and add to that?

Dr. Matthew Lewon (00:25:08):

Yeah, sure. Some of the practicum I oversee... First, like I mentioned, I run the animal behavior laboratory. Students who are interested in doing basic work, get a lot of lab experience in that setting. Animal welfare stuff, dealing with the IACUC, which is the body that oversees the ethical use of animals, programming, data analysis, all those sorts of things. I also have some applied practicum that I oversee as well. One of those is the behavioral education and consultation services. It's a program where we provide consultation services for teachers and students in the Washoe county school district here in Nevada. It's a good opportunity for students to have the chance to, not just do direct service, but also deal with the challenges of working in a school district where you have to impart your skills to a third party. There are lots of students that said they've really enjoyed that because most of the students who graduate are going to be doing that. They're not going to be doing direct services, they're going to be training people and consulting and stuff like that. We also have some practicum at Nevada state agencies to provide services for people in the state. One of those is in the rural regional center, which is very, very cool. We have a student who's down south in Gardnerville and that works perfectly for her. She has a real passion for helping out people in rural locations. In Nevada, there are a lot of those. She encounters some interesting challenges there and it's a good professional experience. Those are just a smattering of the things that I'm overseeing, but Ramona can tell you about some really awesome opportunities too.

Dr. Ramona Houmanfar (00:27:10):

[Laughing] Those are all awesome across the board. Again, we're providing an opportunity for samples of what's offered here at UNR. I just want to highlight that there are other amazing opportunities offered through training and satellite programs led by Dr. Linda Hayes. The work that Dr. Steve Hayes does in areas of acceptance and commitment, training and therapy, is also very much there in terms of different arrays and applications. Our colleague, Dr. Matthew Locey, offers training in the area of teaching and also experimental laboratory work. Historically, he had a rat lab with colleagues at the University of Nevada medical school and does a lot of work right now in the area of delayed discounting and other related topics. In terms of what I have come to offer to doctoral students and a few master students who actually come to train at a doctoral level with me, is to bring them in contact with... Let me start first with the work we're doing at the leadership training level. We've focused on bringing more of a behavioral scientific lens, behavioral analytic lens in the design of interlock, behavioral contingencies, and other associated ways of managing major systems in medical education to top leaders in the University of Nevada, Reno medical school over the last 10 years and have been very much involved. You could say, partners, it's more of a collaborative partnership, if you will, to design their curriculum to promote more of a value based approach toward engagement with medical teams and also eventually patient care and all. A focus on ways we can bring a management of implicit bias as pertaining to self stigmatization in the form of burnout, stress and burnout, and how management of burnout in many ways can set the occasion for us to be able to manage our biases toward people around us, if you will. This approach has been captured and dominated and brought into the curriculum design at UNR med right now, and we're launching expansion of our training at the faculty level. That captures the systemic evolution of this approach, which allows for them to appreciate acceptance and commitment training as a skill development approach, to manage biases toward one's own sense of vulnerabilities and fears toward [Laughing] environmental changes. Also promoting a more flexible repertoire moving from rigid to more flexible repertoire pertaining to one's own psychological experiences that sets that up for one to manage the way they interact with others, in their work environment, personal life. A balanced view of how this acceptance commitment approach can promote psychological flexibility that can guide our wellbeing, inside and outside of work. It's a way to manage our lives, if you will. It's the approach adopted at UNR med and it's expanding. Right now, they are lodging and they already have affiliated with Renowned Health, which is the biggest health system in Nevada. They have developed a very long term relationship to bring a clerkship and residential training to their medical students. It's a very established, to move forward, [Laughing] partnership and the work we're doing in the area of resilience and adaptation and burnout management, and again, management of biases, cooperation, team dynamics, and in different areas of biases that really are capturing the way they're training their medical students throughout the medical education. Once they move on to the professional settings, taking our approach as we speak, potentially in a movement toward what they're doing with a renowned system. This is the evolution of it. The students like Keon [Laughing] with us here are very much involved with that project. Our partnership with another senior doctoral student, Ali Charco, who's actually working on a dissertation project at UNR med, which is basically a simulation based approach to analysis of engagement and situational awareness captured through analysis of students and what is called standardized patient, which is a hired actor, if you will, to be coming into assimilation, to act in a certain scenario based way to the audience, to be able to measure a student's engagement with this individual, with these certain type of characteristics. In this case, their professionalism, their respect, and then let's capture, "Hey, if we could, from a behavioral perspective, measure from an objective perspective, using our established coding system that's been developed across our projects." Their communication engagement and that is reflected potentially of the implicit bias repertoires, we actually have come to assess through the use of implicit relational assessment procedure, which is an established tool that's been introduced by Dermot Barnes-Holmes and colleagues. Of course Steve Hayes and that whole camp in contextual behavior science over the last decade or so, we have developed a variation of it here with UNR med that has really guided the assessment part of what we're doing with them. I don't want to really go too much into it, but my students are very much involved with this partnership and development of it over time. And one area that is very much relevant to our work that Keon is working on is cultural humility. How do you go about defining it? Operationally identifying it. How can this fuzzy phenomenon [Laughing] be captured from more of a robust way of thinking about psychological flexibility? How we can, from that platform, discuss it. We can offer ways for us to assess it and measure it and provide a systematic approach. What we do with them is very much driven by longitudinal data analysis and it's a supervised research group that we are a part of with our colleagues at UNR med. It is pretty much a research hub and unit at UNR med we're proud to be involved with. Another interdisciplinary area of opportunities, the work we've done with engineering colleagues, is that we have established a contract with a global energy company that has been with us over the last seven years. We have brought leadership training, executive and middle management training in the area of behavior science, focusing on safety and health and other areas of systemic management in this global group and have offered extensive training for our doctoral students. Again, Keon is engaged with that project right now as well and, at this juncture, I just recently came to receive the great news to be a co-PI on an NSF grant that brings my students and I to do the work, as I mentioned in the area of AI bias. Again, this is research focused. Foundational to all of this, is how we go about operationally describing, defining cooperation and capturing cooperation, in this case, AI and human. Of course, human dynamics cooperative, dynamics in teams in general, in organizations and beyond, that is really affecting our work with colleagues right now. College of engineering and cyber security, particularly. I've been an affiliated faculty member of the cyber security center since it's start about six or seven years ago and has allowed for our networking with that group of colleagues. It has really guided our involvement at the research level. What you can tell from what I'm highlighting here is very much a research driven approach to experiential training with me and basically dictating what's happening right now at this juncture in my performance system technologies lab. I think I'm going to stop here and turn the podium. I think Matthew wanted our students to say a few words.

Shauna Costello (00:37:36):

You read my mind because hearing all of this, it just reiterates what I just said about UNR being on that threshold of always pushing into these other fields and getting this research, connecting, networking to these other fields and really getting into it. I always had this inkling in the back of my mind. I've had so many friends who are engineers of some sort. I'm like, "It would work so well together." [Laughing] I was so excited when you started talking about that. I think this is a great time. I would love to hear from the students who are here about their experiences in the program.

Keon (00:38:27):

I've actually started my practicum over the summer and I'll be going into the fall and the spring with Dr. Ramona Houmanfar. She mentioned the global energy company we're working with and that's where I'm placed right now. It really is a very unique and exciting opportunity. It's just one of those opportunities that is rare, and you just don't hear programs having these types of opportunities. I won't go into all the details, but the ones I'm more excited about. I think the biggest thing that is exciting for me, is not only getting a real look at the day to day interactions as what you would do as an OBMer, because that's always been something I felt has alluded to. I've always been interested in OBM, but I never had an opportunity to be even a fly on the wall in the room of someone who's an OBMer and be like, "Well, what do you actually do?" I've read so many articles about interventions, but if you work with clients with Autism, that's a lot different. Working eight hours a day and knowing what that is versus like, "Okay, I know how to intervene on this problem behavior." That part has been very exciting for me, but also something that I'm very excited about is the way this is set up. It's almost as if it's putting me in a position to practice being a thesis advisor, because part of what we do is we train some of these engineers who work at this company to basically be OBMers. We train them with the basics about behavior analysis and how to intervene on issues that come up and then they start their own projects through our guidance. As a student, we get to be one of the people who are guiding these people. It's almost as if I'm a thesis advisor, because this is going to be months and months of a project that they're working on and they'll come to us for advice and run into an issue. How do I get around it? How do I measure this thing? I'm having problems getting by. All of those types of things if you were a masters student or working on your thesis, would go to your advisor for. I've never really heard of anything in a program that offers something like that. I think that's a really cool opportunity there, not to mention all the other things involved in such a unique experience. I've also been lucky enough to have a variety of experiences already, not just through the practicum, but my work placements. I've had a lot of conversations with my advisor. Dr. Ramona Houmanfar is my advisor. I feel in some sense it might even be something some people might see as a little negative. I feel like I like to touch on everything, I like to get experience in everything. I'm not like,"This is exactly what I want to do," and that's it. I've been lucky enough to have an advisor who's allowed me to dabble in a lot of areas. Over the past two years, I've been able to teach,  been in the PSY 101 where it's not just teaching the students, but we also have these undergraduate TAs, who we also teach. We also act as mentors and we also have a day where they're the ones teaching and we train them to be able to teach. It's an interesting, more complex environment for that educational piece. I'm not only teaching the students and getting over the anxiety of standing up in front of a class and going on and on about a topic. I'm also getting the experience of mentoring students who want to do the same thing. That was really exciting as well and then I had an opportunity, which I'm still doing, working with UNR med as a research assistant. I always think about how cool it is to learn and get paid to teach. You just get paid to talk about really interesting things and that's a really good gig. Getting paid to literally research something that you're already interested in, or analyze data you think are interesting. It's a really good gig. I've really appreciated those opportunities. Dr. Houmanfar already mentioned cybersecurity and all that stuff. I'll be involved with that in the fall. It's one of the things about UNR, and it's already been touched on, so I don't want to beat the dead horse on this, but there are opportunities that I just haven't heard of anywhere else. I always knew that I'd love my experience at UNR, especially because of all these types of opportunities, but it's exceeded my expectations, to be honest with you. I've developed a lot more interests. It's weird, because I already have a broad area of interest. Since coming here, I've developed an even broader one. I've become a lot more concerned with philosophical issues and stuff like that. I've become a lot more in touch with how philosophical issues matter on a practical level. How do you relate philosophical issues to an applied level? I'm getting to a point where I'm going on a rant. I'm going to pass it over to Kathleen.

Kathleen (00:44:24):

Yeah. Thank you, Keon. I appreciated hearing what you had to say about the OBM side of things. All my practicum experiences have been applied, so it was interesting to hear about some of those opportunities there. In terms of a practicum, I like what you mentioned, Keon, about graduate students getting to work with undergraduates because that's how I got interested in the program in the first place. My first job was as an undergraduate as a behavior technician at Behavior Education Consultation Services or BECS. At the time, Dr. Larry Williams, who's now retired, was the program director. I just had such a positive experience working with the other graduate students. They seemed really passionate about what they were doing and they really enjoyed taking the time to mentor and teach and train the undergraduates there. Their passion just got me like, "I want to learn more about this program." I really appreciated, again, the wide variety of experiences that were offered to me at that time. BECS actually had three clinical operations going on under the umbrella of BECS. We had that contract with Washoe county, that Dr. Lewon talked about, we had a clinic for adults with intellectual disabilities. That's where I got my start and we had a clinic for children with Autism. I got to work at all three, at one point or another. It was a really well rounded experience, I felt. That's something I really appreciated and especially the emphasis on integrating clinical work with research. So many fellow graduate students got thesis projects and dissertation projects that came about through their clinical work. Like me, for example, my thesis stemmed from an assessment I worked on with one of my first clients, as a case manager at the Autism clinic. I just really appreciated that, and it has been cool. Now I'm working with Dr. Contreras, helping to get her learning center prepared, hopefully to start seeing clients in the fall. It's been cool to see that side of it. How to get a project started and just really fantastic practical experiences for sure.

Dr. Bethany P Contreras (00:47:00):

I just want to jump in here and add an aspect of the practicum experiences. As Kathleen has been working with me to get this clinic up and running, I think I've learned as much from her as she has learned from me, so there's this cool bidirectional learning aspect. We give our students quite a bit of space to function, not independently in the sense that you're out floating off on your own with no support, but independently in the sense you get to bring ideas. Like, "That's a great idea. Let's do it." It's bidirectional in my experience anyway, and I think I've seen and heard that from other students. I just had to give a shout out to Kat. I would not be as far as I am, and we wouldn't be ready to pull in clients if Kathleen and I had not been working together on this. Our students are learning a lot, but they're also so valuable to the work that we do as faculty, to be able to just do the cool stuff that we get to do.

Shauna Costello (00:47:58):

It's really great to hear, especially coming from the students about working with the undergrads. I understand that it's part of the task list now, but to know that's been in place for so long, you're really fostering future mentors. It's something that I personally really like to hear, because I think sometimes people forget that as supervisors, the people we're supervising are going to be future supervisors. I love hearing that directly from the students. That was wonderful.

Dr. Ramona Houmanfar (00:48:44):

It would refer to this approach. We have referred to it as the junior mentorship model, allowing for our students to really know from moment one when they apply to our program through the admissions process. When they come here, our innovative approach, let's say cannot be innovative without this free operant way of engaging students with what we do. There are collaborative team members and there's no autocratic, "You do what I tell you," micromanagement of it. Without that freedom or flexibility to engage students, we cannot push the envelope. I do think that has been foundational to our program, going back to the start in 1990 to now. The co-founders Steve and Linda Hayes, really brought that perspective to us and we are maintaining it moving forward. Our history is self capitalization and we started our program on [Laughing] that sort of a note. Without working with our students, generating funding to fund ourselves as students... Now, we all have tenure positions and all, but this is the history that really is foundational to how we are operating now. We have the funding for faculty, but we still have that self capitalized approach, as you can see with Bethany, and all of us are going out in terms of outreach approach as well as other sources of funding to get students engaged and push the envelope and expand. That is a theme that goes back to our beginnings to now.

Shauna Costello (00:50:33):

To add to that too, it's not only making sure that the program is self-sufficient, but also that is such an amazing lesson to teach students on how to start all of this. If you want to do something, go out and do it. Find a way and we will go out and do it. That's a hard thing to learn unless you have physically been taught how to do that. It's a question I see all of the time, on social media and this and that. People are always asking questions like that. I love hearing that the students of UNR, not only are they engaged in these projects, but they're also learning how to upstart them and start a program and get it going from the ground level. That's absolutely amazing.

Dr. Ramona Houmanfar (00:51:33):

Thank you.

Shauna Costello (00:51:35):

I think too, Ramona, you brought it up. I think this is a really good transition point. You said, "Right from when they apply," and I've learned a lot about application processes through this. I had my blinders on, because I was used to Western's application process. I have a feeling that UNR's is similar. What is the application process? Are there interviews? What does that look like?

Dr. Matthew Lewon (00:52:07):

Sure. Yeah. I'll tell you all about that. I'll start off by saying that a lot of this info that I'm going to talk about here is on our website. There are a lot of good stuff on there. Please check it out. Just Google UNR behavior analysis program and it'll come up. The gist of it is, we have one admission cycle and applications for this are due on December 1st. If you're admitted, you would start the following August. In terms of what we request for your application: Transcripts, GRE scores, CV, personal statement, and three letters of recommendation. This is a question that I get from a lot of people who are interested in our program: "What makes me a good candidate? I'm worried about my GPA." I might say this a couple of times more, but we evaluate applicants on all aspects of their application. There is not necessarily any one feature of it that's a deal breaker, make or break sort of thing. We try to look at the whole candidate, all those things that I just mentioned. Like I said, applications are due each year on December 1st. We have an interview weekend every year in February, which is I think a really cool thing to be a part of. We look at all the applicants and we select some of them to come to Reno to see the campus and meet everybody in the program. Interview weekend involves, of course, interviews with faculty as well as students. We really try to involve students in the admissions process. Applicants will attend a research fair that we hold, one representative from each faculty's lab will present some of the research that they're doing. Of course we have a social event where all the students can get together and the applicants can meet all the students. We are really proud of this and it's been a tradition. I think maybe you can tell me, Ramona.

Dr. Ramona Houmanfar (00:54:19):

Since the beginning.

Dr. Matthew Lewon (00:54:24):

Yeah. Okay, cool. It's really, I think, a signature sort of experience. When I was applying, the other programs didn't have anything quite like this, so I thought it was very interesting. The whole purpose of this, and I think the thing that makes it unique, is that it gives the faculty and the students who are already in the program an opportunity to interact, to evaluate the fit on both sides. We get to know the applicants, but the applicants also get to know us and see where they would be living, because that's a really important feature of making a decision about a graduate school. You have to feel good there socially and you like where it is, and Reno's a very beautiful place. I think we have an advantage when we get them to come here and they see it, it's hard to say no.

Dr. Ramona Houmanfar (00:55:18):

Of course Tahoe, the hidden jewel.

Dr. Matthew Lewon (00:55:20):

Tahoe. Yes. [Laughing] Lots of hiking.

Shauna Costello (00:55:24):

That's a question I have too, because when I think of Reno, I have my assumptions [Laughing] What can people expect from Reno?

Dr. Matthew Lewon (00:55:40):

Well, I'll start because I'm already yapping anyway, but there are the casinos here downtown, which are really fun actually. We have this beautiful downtown area. It's so fun, lots of really cool restaurants, even if you're not into gambling, really cool restaurants, lots of fun entertainment things to do, cool bars and stuff like that. There are some hotels that don't have anything to do with casinos as well. I got here in 2010 and I've seen it progress across the last 11 years. There are some really amazing restaurants, really cool night spots. Anything that you could want to do, you can do here in Reno. I don't know if anybody else wants to add, that to me is my favorite feature of it.

Dr. Ramona Houmanfar (00:56:33):

Actually, one of our pioneering colleagues, Dr. Patrick Ghezzi, who actually was the source of training in the area of early childhood Autism also had a very established interest in an area of research and analysis of gambling behavior. A very fascinating area from a different vantage point, behavioral economics or other sort of a solid Skinner way of behavioral ways of capturing the phenomena. It's a fascinating area and of course, delayed discounting, [Laughing] very relevant to it. Just to highlight Northern Nevada, Washoe county in Reno, in the middle of course. Carson city, our capital here, which is not that far from Reno, is experiencing transformational change. There are many major global companies. Tesla has its major battery factory, which actually is the biggest factory in the world, in terms of square footage. Of course Microsoft and Google. A lot of technology companies have moved to particularly this part of Nevada and it's really transforming Reno, particularly into more of a tech Tahoe [Laughing], recreational and tech hub of Nevada and then leaving Vegas to be Vegas, basically, in terms of more of the entertainment and gambling, seriously, part of Nevada. It's a fascinating change, having been here for so many years. Watching it happen and of course, downtown Reno is transforming as we speak. Every time I drive through it, something else has changed and the University is actually buying out big parts of downtown. It's getting closer toward downtown, to really highlight the University and public sector interaction much more directly. You see all of that happening as we speak, which is fascinating to watch.

Shauna Costello (00:58:59):

How about the students?

Dr. Ramona Houmanfar (00:59:02):

Kathleen, what do you think?

Shauna Costello (00:59:05):

Yeah. Are you from the area? What did you think about moving to Reno?

Keon (00:59:14):

I'm not from the area, I'm originally from Fresno, California, which is quite a different place, I'd say. Before I came to Reno, to be honest with you, the only image I had was Reno 911, that show. [Laughing] That's not a very pretty image, to be honest with you. That doesn't paint a pretty picture of Reno, doesn't do Reno justice. I was only interested because I wanted to come to UNR. I was dead set on coming to UNR, but when I got here, I was very pleasantly surprised to be honest with you. I don't want to take up too much time, so I'll just stick to two topics. Number one, the food is really good and I think that was already touched upon. I live downtown and if you open up Yelp, you see where all the restaurants and stuff is. Within 0.1 miles, there are 50 restaurants around me. There are tons of really good places. There's a really good Korean place, a really good Indian place, right near me. I love that. The other thing that caught me by surprise or that I wasn't anticipating, I guess, is that there is a lot of art around and it's really aesthetically pleasing, especially relative to where I came from. Where I come from, it's a regular town. You don't see art on the street. That struck me as something that really stood out when I came here. Across the street, there's this big statue of this horse and there are all these little art pieces. I'm told apparently some of the stuff comes from festivals, like burning man and stuff like that. I remember when I first got here, I'm a big Doctor Who fan, and on the side of the road, there was the TARDIS. I don't know if you guys know what that is, but it's the spaceship that Dr. Who goes through and it looks like a telephone box, but someone had painted just this little object into a TARDIS and I feel like that's all over the place. There's all these regular objects that get painted into something really aesthetically pleasing and it's cool to live in a place like that. I've never lived in a place where it's like, "Wow." Things are always changing and there are always these little art pieces that are swapped out for new art pieces. I know, I only said I'd say two things, but there actually is a third. Every month there's a festival type of thing, there's a new event. COVID has put a damper on that, but just recently there's this sidewalk chalk event where everyone's doing art and it's really cool for kids and stuff like that. I've got a nephew who's been visiting here and he's obsessed with this place now. He would love the sidewalk chalk and all that kind of stuff. I'll pass it over to Kathleen since I've probably gone a little long.

Kathleen (01:02:09):

Yeah. I'm from here, a more rural area, 30 miles outside of Reno. I moved to Reno for college, but yeah. I completely agree with everything Keon said. There's always something fun going on. I know food keeps getting brought up, but there's a fun rib cook-off that happens every year. Especially during the summer, things are usually popping right now around here. We have fun, hot August nights where you can go look at all these cool, old, retro cars. We have a motorcycle event, Street Vibrations, is what that's called and it's just super fun. There's also a fun theater community. If anyone's interested in plays and things like that, I go see a lot of plays. We have really good local actors and actresses, and that's a lot of fun. Lake Tahoe, which has already also been mentioned, but that's a really fun place. It's super close to go, it's absolutely beautiful. There is stuff to do year round outdoors and if you don't want to go as far as lake Tahoe, we have beautiful hiking trails here and lots of places to ride bikes and stuff outside. If you're an outdoor person, I think Reno is for you, but if you're indoor and want to eat yummy food, Reno is also for you.

Dr. Ramona Houmanfar (01:03:27):

If you want to try your skiing and winter adventures, while they're here, we're going through the climate warming as we speak. Here you go, you got the chance to take.

Dr. Bethany P Contreras (01:03:43):

I was going to add that. The one thing that hasn't been brought up is the wonderful snow that comes with the Sierra Nevadas and the cool thing is Reno's down in the valley. We don't get a lot of snow, but it's 45 minutes to the ski hill. We had one storm with four feet of snow. Getting out in the snow in the wintertime is what keeps me a sane person year round. This got it all. Yeah, it's a cool place. I've lived in eight states and I can say, this is a cool place to be.

Dr. Ramona Houmanfar (01:04:13):

Of course you are three and a half hours away from San Francisco, which is one of the most beautiful places on earth, top five cosmopolitan cities in the world. Here you go, so [Laughing] just to highlight.

Dr. Matthew Lewon (01:04:29):

I do have to say, the airport here is one of my favorite features about living in Reno. It's really accessible from almost anywhere and it's the easiest airport to get in and out of. Some of those big city airports... I used to live in San Francisco, so I was thinking about SFO and what a nightmare it was getting to from that place, and getting picked up. Literally, you just drive in and you drive out. It's so awesome. I love that feature of it.

Dr. Ramona Houmanfar (01:05:01):

They are constantly designing it to capture the Tahoe and Sierra image of it, which is beautiful.

Shauna Costello (01:05:11):

So happy that everybody brought up food, because it's one of my favorite pastimes. I love that you brought up the different seasons. People think I'm crazy, but I moved back to Michigan in December. People think that I'm crazy, but I love the snow. Bethany, I'm very happy you brought up snow.

Dr. Bethany P Contreras (01:05:32):

I love snow so much, which is weird. Most people think that's bizarre.

Shauna Costello (01:05:38):

I know

Dr. Ramona Houmanfar (01:05:39):

It's not bizarre. It's fantastic.

Shauna Costello (01:05:42):

[Laughing] Yeah. Like I said, when people think of Reno, they probably just assume it's very similar to Vegas. Like a smaller Vegas is what I've heard people assume. The location of Reno is very ideal, I like all of you just described. It's tucked away and you're just within an arm's reach from all of these different things.

Dr. Ramona Houmanfar (01:06:13):

Very quickly, to highlight: University of Nevada, Reno is among the tier one Carnegie sort of universities in the United States. We attract some of the most outstanding pioneering scholars across different areas of global topics that come to campus. Campus itself has a very vital atmosphere and a lot of students actually stay on campus and engage with the activities because it is constantly reflecting different areas of national and global topics. Again, scholarly art being part of it, music being part of it. It's a very fascinating, scientific community that we're very proud of being part of, just to highlight that part as well.

Shauna Costello (01:07:15):

I've definitely heard the passion from the faculty, from the students. It's been great learning more about the intricacies of UNR [Laughing] and we've covered a lot. We've covered faculty research, practicum, student experience, location, application process. I just want to open up the floor now. Is there anything else that anyone would like to make sure to reiterate or tell us about UNR?

Keon (01:07:47):

It was actually because Dr. Lewon mentioned the accessibility of the airport and stuff that reminded me of one other part that I really like. ever since I moved here. Like I said, I live downtown and the University is super close. Everything I need is super close. Everything's super convenient. When I first moved here, I lived here for about like months before COVID hit. I only had to fill up my gas one time because everything is so close, that I basically just bike everywhere. I can bike to UNR campus in 10 minutes. It's super convenient. When I was a kid, I always said I would love to live somewhere where you don't have to drive, where you could walk everywhere or bike everywhere or something like that and it's just easy. Living downtown, it's totally like that. I could totally survive without a car, if I didn't want to.

Dr. Ramona Houmanfar (01:08:45):

Excellent comment.

Dr. Matthew Lewon (01:08:45):

Thank you. The only other thing I had written down and I don't know if you think this would be valuable. I get a lot of questions from people about what makes a successful candidate, or a successful applicant or what we look for.

Shauna Costello (01:09:01):

I would love that.

Dr. Matthew Lewon (01:09:03):

Okay. After the interview weekend, we decide, we look at the candidates, we look at their applications in full and like I said, we look at all aspects of it. One of the questions that I get asked a lot is, "What would make me a successful applicant to the program? What are you guys looking for?" I'm going to repeat this and say we look at everything, but more specifically, we expect candidates to have decent GPAs and GREs. We do take those into consideration, but like I said, that's not the only thing that we look at and it won't necessarily be a deal breaker because we're looking at the whole thing. One of the things that a lot of successful applicants have is significant experience. Either doing some clinical work and/or research in behavior analysis. Of course, strong letters of recommendation, a clear personal statement describing both why you're interested in studying behavior analysis and secondly, why you're interested in studying behavior analysis at UNR. Related to this, I think that the number one thing is a good fit between your intellectual interests and who will ultimately become your faculty advisor. Right now, we're admitting people on a program model. You're admitted to the program generally and not to a specific faculty advisor, and you're invited during your first semester to visit all the faculty labs and check them out to see the intellectual environment, the advice style. That being the case, everybody has an idea of who they might like to work with on the basis of their intellectual interests. I think the biggest tip I could give anybody who's interested in applying for our program, and I think I would extend this to say more generally any program, is to do your research on the faculty and the labs. Read the research that these people are producing and then if it's in line with your interests contact and try to meet with that faculty directly. We have Zoom these days. It's easy to do that sort of thing. If you do that, you can establish a relationship. You can see if they're accepting students and then you might be able to talk to them about what their expectations are or what their advice style is. Aside from just talking about UNR, like I said, it's important that you're happy where you go, because you're going to be spending a lot of time with the people and in the place where you decide and graduate school stuff sometimes. You want to be really happy where you are, so I hope that's helpful.

Shauna Costello (01:12:00):

No, that's great. Thank you so much for saying that. I'm very happy that you reiterated it's not just about finding the biggest, best, brightest program. It has to be a good fit for you, personally. One of the main reasons behind this episode and this podcast series is because not every program is for every person.

Dr. Matthew Lewon (01:12:29):


Shauna Costello (01:12:32):

Does anybody else want to make sure to say anything about the program? I just want to end by thanking all of you for waking up, bright and early, and meeting with me and talking about the program and really showing what UNR is all about. Thank you all so much.

Dr. Matthew Lewon (01:12:58):

Yeah. Thank you for doing this.

Dr. Ramona Houmanfar (01:12:59):

Absolutely. We are very much appreciative of your support and your engagement with us. And once again, it would be great to update this podcast every now and then to highlight where we are. As I indicated, we're moving forward with hiring new faculty and as you would imagine with a new faculty, we will have new updates to offer. This is a fantastic first sampling of what UNR is about and we are very excited to share our updates in terms of the next phase of our program evolution as we move forward. Thank you again for giving us this opportunity.

Shauna Costello (01:13:43):

Thank you for listening to this episode of the 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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