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EDP Doctoral Student Wins Dissertation Award [3/9/2015]


Scalzo-Blog-450Baylor School of Education Doctoral Candidate in Educational Psychology Rachel Scalzo received the James L. Kopp Memorial Scholarship for her dissertation, “The Analysis of Behavioral Indicators as a Measure of Satiation.” The scholarship is awarded to only three students statewide, and Scalzo is the first Baylor recipient.

As part of the award, Scalzo gets to present her research at the Applied Behavior Analysis International Conference in San Antonio May 22 – 26, and the award defrays a portion of the costs to travel.

In February, Scalzo and her mentor, Dr. Tonya Davis, SOE assistant professor in Educational Psychology, attended the four-day Texas Association for Behavior Analysis Regional Conference in Houston, where Scalzo presented her research and received her award.

“It feels amazing to have won the scholarship and to be a representative of Baylor,” Scalzo said. “Of all the amazing things that are being done in this department and in Baylor CARE (Clinic for Assessment, Research, and Education), it means a lot.”

Scalzo’s dissertation focuses on improving the ways in which behavior analysts study and receive results from intervention practices. Here’s how this works: a young child with a developmental disability will receive their most preferred toy, which Scalzo said is currently the iPad. After the child plays with the toy, Scalzo and her team measure the child’s “challenging” behavior. Challenging behaviors include physical actions like kicking and screaming. To observe the child’s behavior over time, Scalzo uses an interval recording every ten seconds, noting how many times the child performs challenging behavior, and then marks the behavior as a percentage.

Davis said, “When working with children with developmental disabilities, they often have very few toys that they enjoy, so sometimes when they are exposed to that one toy for so long, they lose interest. While we have a method to assess when interest is lost, it is somewhat arbitrary. Rachel is investigating modifications of that assessment and so far has found some interesting results.”

Scalzo is in the fourth and final stage of her research determining conclusions. Scalzo said she is seeing differences in children and that there is a range in the percentages of challenging behavior.

“It is fun to see this develop and know that in a few years, she could change the way behavior analysts practice this assessment,” Davis said.


Award-winning doctoral student Rachel Scalzo (left) and her mentor, SOE’s Dr. Tonya Davis

While Scalzo excels in her practice today, she wasn’t always certain of what she wanted to do. While pursuing her undergraduate degree in psychology at Sienna College in New York and then her master’s degree in social work from Stony Brook University in New York, Scalzo realized her passion for helping children, especially those with disabilities.

“I got my master’s and still didn’t know really know what I wanted to focus my career on,” Scalzo said. “But after volunteering in South Africa for a year I knew I wanted to work with children and their families.”

She decided to return to school to get her PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis in the Department of Educational Psychology in Baylor’s School of Education.

“The opportunity to research in the Baylor CARE clinic was a huge draw for me to come here and pursue this,” Scalzo said.

Here, she met her mentor, Dr. Davis, and currently works as Davis’ graduate assistant. Scalzo said Davis has taught her everything she knows, “I’m so grateful for everything she has done for me.”

During her time here, Scalzo has written and published eight papers and is working on two other projects that involve antecedents and interventions to prevent challenging behavior in children by changing their environment and finding the most up-to-date technology to measure the effectiveness of the interventions.

“Rachel is fantastic in so many ways. She loves children with developmental disabilities and is dedicated to improving their lives,” Davis said. “She always has a smile on her face is willing to help on a variety of projects.”

Originally from Syracuse, New York, Rachel plans to become a professor and is currently interviewing for different university positions in her home state of New York.

—photos and story by Kate McGuire

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