University of South Florida

Innovative Education


How chewing food helped a psychology grad find her passion for Applied Behavior Analysis

After landing a chance job teaching children how to eat and try new foods to expand their diets, Faith Raulerson discovered a passion for applied behavior analysis. This newfound interest inspired her to pursue an online master’s degree at USF in Applied Behavior Analysis to take her ABA career to the next level. 

ABA is a type of therapy that is often used to promote learning new skills for children with autism and other developmental disorders, such as improving feeding skills, motor dexterity, and other areas of functioning.

Discovering a Passion

Raulerson always knew she wanted to help people but wasn’t exactly sure what her career would look like. After earning her bachelor’s degree in psychology and spending time as a pharmacy technician, she wanted to try something else. 

“I ended up applying for a registered behavior technician job on a chance,” Raulerson said. “I had no idea what ABA was. I had no idea what being a registered behavior technician was. I just knew I wanted to help the kids.”

The job, which involved treating pediatric feeding disorders, opened Raulerson’s eyes to a whole new world. “I taught kids to chew that had never chewed before. I increased their diets by 25 foods,” she said. “Watching kids try new foods and learn to love eating really kickstarted my career and my passion.”

Once she was about six months into her role, she knew she wanted to continue in the ABA field. Raulerson worked up to a senior-level registered behavior technician role and later transitioned into a board certified assistant behavior analyst position at the clinic. 

Finding the Perfect Fit

She decided to take things further and pursue a master’s degree in Applied Behavior Analysis to become a board certified behavior analyst (BCBA). 

“I want to create treatment plans, work with the kids more, and be as innovative as possible to improve these kids’ lives. So, I started looking up ‘Top 10 best ABA schools in America,’ and USF kept popping up,” she said. “I set up an interview with Anthony Concepcion, the program chair, and talked through what the program would look like and how it would be if I stayed in northern Florida and kept my current job as my practicum site. So, it was really the best of both worlds where I could get a great education while also being able to train in one of the best clinics in our state.”

Program Chair and Assistant Professor of Instruction, Anthony Concepcion credits his student’s success to the collaborative efforts between USF’s ABA program and the University of Florida’s Center for Autism and Neurodevelopment (UF-CAN). 

“Our students are successful not just because of the education they receive at USF, but because of the outstanding collaborators,” he said. “Vivian Ibanez and Kerri Peters at UF-CAN have been long-standing instrumental partners in providing clinical training to students in high areas of need in the state of Florida, in pediatric feeding disorders and severe behaviors such as self-injury and aggression.”

While Raulerson chose the online Applied Behavior Analysis program, she emphasized that she, her classmates, and instructors all put in the effort to build and maintain meaningful connections with each other. One major factor in this is that ABA faculty only teach one course at a time to provide students their full attention. 

"Our Cohort model combined with plenty of peer engagement opportunities fosters a close-knit community," said Concepcion. "Weekly class meetings, office hours, peer assignments, and encouraging and modeling peer engagement enhances our community connectedness." 

This community-oriented mindset was one of Raulerson’s favorite parts of the program. 

“This was my first fully online program. It’s unique because you can’t hide behind a screen,” she said. “Faculty value your presence, and they value your input, and there’s a connection during class times.”

One of her instructors even recognized her halfway across the country. 

“I remember being in Denver, and one of my professors, Heather Zerger, walked up to me and said, ‘You were in my behavior theory class.’ She remembered my name, and it was cool to see that we’re not just someone they talk to for an hour on Wednesdays. They value our growth and our progress, and they know our names and our faces,” she said. 

Overall, Raulerson said the program has been a very rewarding experience and has well-equipped her for the next phase of her career.

Looking to the Future

Raulerson expects to graduate this spring and is now working on preparing for her board exam. 

“I’m a clinical supervisor right now, so I want to get the BCBA certification and grow my presence and caseload to help as many kids as possible. The next step is becoming a board certified behavior analyst,” she said. 

To others who may be interested in the ABA program, she offers this advice:

“Try as many areas as you can. I started off with early intervention, I moved to problem behavior, transitioned to adulthood, and then I finally landed on pediatric feeding disorders. The faculty at USF have such a wide range of research interests. Do your research to know what they are interested in. Reach out for those opportunities and take them up on whatever they have to offer.” 

To learn more about the online master of arts in Applied Behavior Analysis, program features, and application deadlines, visit the website or contact Erin Nolan, admission coordinator, at

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USF Innovative Education is a powerhouse of creativity and collaboration, offering a range of faculty-related services including learning design, multimedia development, technology integration, and support for teaching and learning. We help faculty transform courses into dynamic learning experiences, providing training and support for various programs. We work with both experienced and new faculty, assisting them in integrating technology and staying up to date with educational trends.