Dr. Jessica Akers, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, specializing in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), received the Baylor Outstanding Faculty Award for Teaching/Tenure-Track Faculty. Akers’ main teaching role prepares students who are pursuing careers as clinicians for individuals with developmental disabilities or as university professors to train such individuals and conduct research in the field.
While carrying a full teaching load, Akers also mentors each of her graduate students and conducts significant research on children with autism and related developmental disabilities. More than half of her scholarly publications have included Baylor students as co-authors; she has included 12 different students as co-authors on peer-reviewed publications and six students as co-authors on professional book chapters. Colleagues praise Akers’ ability in the classroom to engage students through masterfully planning the engagement strategies she will use.
Dr. Grant B. Morgan, associate dean of research for the School of Education and previously chair of the Department of Educational Psychology, said Akers stands out for the way she shares her skill and enthusiasm with students. “She has a unique ability to use clear expertise and passion for Applied Behavior Analysis subject matter in such a way that is intriguing and inspiring for all students,” Morgan said. “Dr. Akers’ program within the department is among the most healthy and productive in the School due to her contributions as a teacher-scholar.”
As a highly active research scholar, Dr. Akers focuses her research on establishing appropriate verbal and play skills in children with autism and reducing challenging behavior in children with disabilities. She has published her research in journals including the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, Learning and Motivation, and The Analysis of Verbal Behavior. She is an active contributor to research and outreach of the Baylor Center for Developmental Disabilities and serves as the coordinator for the Clinic for Assessment, Research and Education (CARE).
Dr. Akers received her BA and MA, both in psychology, from California State University and her PhD in disability disciplines, with a specialization in Applied Behavior Analysis, from Utah State University. She completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and is a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst-Doctoral Level.
“Receiving this award is a true honor,” Akers said. “As an instructor I have the opportunity to teach the next generation of behavior analysts, and I do not take this responsibility lightly. Mentoring students in and out of the classroom is an important piece of preparing students for their future endeavors. I am so grateful for the students I have mentored as I have learned as much from them as they learned from me.”
Dr. Todd Kettler, chair of the Department of Educational Psychology, said Akers’ success — and that of her students — is no accident. “Her success involves attention to detail and thoughtful preparation,” he said. “Her teaching contributions extend well beyond the classroom. These students come to Baylor with hopes and dreams, and Dr. Akers transforms those aspirations into career pathway realities.”
Course evaluations from current and previous students have lauded Dr. Akers’ positive teaching practices, and students appreciate her knowledge, passion, and efforts toward mentorship opportunities.
PhD student Remington Swennson said, “As a mentor, Dr. Akers has encouraged me to pursue my area of interest while continuing to push me to expand my knowledge and skills as a writer, researcher, and member of the field of ABA. As I begin my own career in academia, I hope to someday impact students in the way that Dr. Akers has impacted me.”
Dr. Tonya Davis, professor in Educational Psychology, who also focuses on Applied Behavior Analysis for individuals with autism and other developmental abilities, said Akers stands out for her dedication to the needs of such individuals. “She is dedicated to improving the lives of individuals with disabilities,” Davis said. “This dedication drives her to be an excellent teacher because she is committed to ensuring that each and every student will be an excellent teacher and/or clinician serving individuals with disabilities.”
Akers is one of three School of Education faculty members to receive one of the six outstanding faculty designations awarded yearly by the University. Dr. Tonya Davis, professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, was recognized with an Outstanding Faculty Award for Scholarship for tenured faculty, and Dr. Jon Eckert, professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and the Lynda and Robert Copple Endowed Chair for Christians in School Leadership, received an Outstanding Teaching Award for tenured faculty.
— Story and Photo by Gracie Ozburn
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ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITYBaylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked Research 1 institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 20,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.