2021 grad earns applied behavioral science master’s and excels as a student, mentor, researcher

Rising Up at KUEC: In this Q&A series, outstanding 2021 KU graduates share how the KU Edwards Campus has helped them start, advance or change their career. Meet Jessika Tucker.

Jessika Tucker smiles amongst flowers outdoors

For 23-year-old Jessika Tucker, putting her undergraduate degree on hold led to discovering her passion. This May, she graduates with her Master of Arts in Applied Behavioral Science.

“In giving myself time, I found out how I wanted to fill it, and what essentially led me into my chosen career path,” Tucker said.

Originally from Kansas City, Tucker currently resides in Dallas, Texas, working as a senior behavior instructor. Her proudest accomplishment was presenting at the 2020 international Atlantic Providence Autism Conference (APAC), where she discussed noncompliance in children with autism spectrum disorder.

“Through presenting at APAC, I formed connections with professionals around the world and had the opportunity to work with the amazing Dr. Harrison, who is a professor for the on-the-ground M.A. in ABA program at KU in Lawrence,” Tucker said.

In addition to Tucker’s academic accomplishments, Academic Success Coach Liz Barton praised her aptitude for leadership.

“Jessika has actively and thoughtfully contributed in class, maintained an exemplary academic standing, and served as an exceptional mentor to first-year students,” Barton said.

Learn about Tucker’s journey at KU and how she’s preparing for her next challenge: becoming a board-certified behavior analyst.

Q: What is a typical day in your life like?

A: My day typically starts with making breakfast and having a coffee. I believe that food is fuel, but coffee always adds an extra boost. I typically work six to eight hours a day for Behavior Frontiers, whether it is obtaining indirect hours and working on client programming or direct one-to-one therapy with clients. After that, I typically spend three to five hours a night working on schoolwork.

Q: What makes you the happiest?

A: What makes me happiest is the constant reminder that I am making a difference. As a graduate student, I have to find time within my busy schedule – even if it takes a full year to finally figure out – to make time for the things that I love to do. Self-care within my busy schedule has been essential to my time as a professional and graduate student in ABA.

Q: What motivates you?

A: I am primarily motivated by the clients I work with and their parents. Seeing how the principles of applied behavior analysis have worked to change the lives of my clients and their families motivates me to become the best behavior analyst I can be.

Q: Why did you choose KU and the Edwards Campus?

A: I received my undergraduate in psychology from the University of Kansas, and I chose the online Master of Applied Behavior Analysis program because of the amazing experience I had as an undergraduate student at KU. Additionally, KU was one of the founding schools of applied behavioral science, so I couldn’t have chosen a better school!

Q: How did KUEC meet your personal and/or academic needs?

A: KUEC has professors that are dedicated to their students. All my professors have gone above and beyond to provide me with the highest quality of education, especially my thesis advisor, Dr. Robin Kuhn. Dr. Kuhn and all of the professors I have had the opportunity to learn from here at KUEC care about their students – academically, professionally and personally.

Q: How has your KU degree prepared you for the future?

A: KU has provided me with a high-quality education that has prepared me to become a competent and ethical future behavior analyst. 

Q: What was the most difficult part of earning your college degree and how did you overcome it?

A: The most difficult part of earning my college degree was finding time to enjoy college while working a full-time job and enrolled in full-time classes. In fact, in my second year as an undergraduate, I dropped out of classes for a semester because I struggled to balance it all. Dropping out of classes was the best decision I made. It allowed me time to find myself and be with friends and family. In giving myself time, I found out how I wanted to fill it, and what essentially led me into my chosen career path.

Q: What is your proudest accomplishment?

A: My proudest accomplishment is when I mastered the skill of time management. As a graduate student and a professional trying to complete clinical hours, figuring out how to balance it all is tricky, but once you work out a schedule, you find time to see and be proud of yourself for all the small work you do to achieve your bigger goal.

Q: What is your favorite memory of your time at KUEC?

A: My favorite memory at KUEC was being given the opportunity to present at the Atlantic Providence Autism Conference (APAC). Through presenting at APAC, I formed connections with professionals around the world and had the opportunity to work with the amazing Dr. Harrison, who is a professor for the on-the-ground M.A. in ABA program at KU in Lawrence.

Q: What are your long-term career goals and how do you plan to achieve them?

A: My long-term career goal is to become a board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA). After I graduate this May, I will spend the summer studying for the Behavior-Analyst Certification Board Exam that will accredit me as a BCBA.

Q: What advice would you give others who are thinking of earning a degree, whether a first-time bachelor’s, a second bachelor’s or a master’s?

A: To all future or current students on track to receive a degree, my advice is to make three attainable goals each semester: a professional goal, an academic goal and a personal goal. Creating these three goals each semester served as a motivator for me to accomplish things such as completing weekly assignments.

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