Coming into UNC-Chapel Hill as a freshman, I eagerly delved into topics of a wider breadth and more intensive depth than in high school, and many subjects piqued my interest. Although my interest was grabbed by many disciplines and ideas, I stayed true to my initial declared major of psychology. I’m now a junior studying psychology and philosophy and my experience in these first 3 years was mostly shaped by the courses I enrolled in and the conceptual content that they delivered. I took courses that covered a spectrum of topics in psychology that discussed some of the most fundamental figures like B.F. Skinner all the way to the lesser known Amy Muise, a contemporary leader in studies of the role of sex in intimate relationships; outside the classroom, I engaged in the field by volunteering as a research assistant for several semesters in the Motivation and Identity lab, led by Dr. Kurtz-Costes. These opportunities and experiences strengthened my passion for psychology, but looking beyond the scope of my 4-year window as an undergraduate at UNC, they essentially prepared me for little more than a position as a researcher or continuing academic (a career path I still haven’t ruled out).
Unlike some other fields, a degree in psychology can lead to countless professions, at the very least more than the stereotypical namesake psychologist profession. I wanted to apply my knowledge of psychology and direct my passion for the subject towards something concrete, and the Gil internship offered exactly that. Its unique opportunity to get connected with an organization working under the umbrella of psychology-influenced fields instantly attracted me, and I was fortunate to be selected as a Gil Intern this semester. I am currently working as an intern at the Carolina Center for ABA and Autism Treatment, a premier clinic in Cary that uses the principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA) to reduce problem behaviors and develop skills in children and adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
My first few weeks were a whirlwind of training sessions balanced with an online course, as the clinic assisted me on the journey to becoming a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT). One 40-hour online module, a competency assessment, and a certification exam later, I achieved that end and became qualified to practice ABA under the guidance of a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA; another thing that came with the training was learning myriad acronyms!). My supervisor, Matt Henderson, is a BCBA who oversees the Classroom Readiness Program (CRP) that I assist him with. The goals of the program align with the clinic’s in seeking to provide support and teaching to children with developmental disabilities; rather than serving as a permanent alternative, the CRP is designed to be a transitory stepping stone that gives the participants skills for success in public schools.
I initially acquainted myself with the program for a couple of weeks, which involved shadowing the other behavior technicians who had clients in the program, familiarizing myself with the schedule, and managing materials required for various activities that the participants engaged in. In this time, I strengthened my relationship with my mentor Matt, who served as a window into the field of ABA through discussions and providing me with journal articles to immerse myself in the literature. Now more established at my worksite, I am beginning to work on a project with Matt that involves designing a guide for RBTs working in the CRP to effectively model natural language for children acquiring language skills. Exposure to speech is incredibly important to children of all levels of verbal skills and in order to best prepare the clients for success in schools, so modeling the proper use of language and attaching it to objects and actions in the environment (an action called tacting) is critical in developing those skills. With a mix of informal instructions and formal supporting research, we’ll create a program to direct such behavior in the program.
I joined CCABA and the CRP at an exciting time, as Matt was brought on to revamp the program based on his past work experience and the needs of the clinic and I am able to help him with that transition and gain insights into the reasoning behind his changes. Already this semester, I’ve gone from knowing essentially nothing about ABA to having an employable certification in the field and practical experience working with children with developmental disabilities, all thanks to the Gil internship program. Regardless of whether or not I continue work after my undergraduate career practicing ABA, I know that this experience will be impactful and has given me a meaningful perspective on one of the many ways in which I can use principles of psychology to benefit others professionally.