Dr. Tonya Davis, professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, received the Baylor Outstanding Faculty Award for Scholarship for Tenured Faculty. Davis specializes in special education and Applied Behavior Analysis and is coordinator of the Special Education Program and the PhD in Educational Psychology. She also serves as graduate program director for the Department of Educational Psychology.
Davis received her PhD in special education with a specialization in autism and developmental disabilities from the University of Texas at Austin and her BS in special education and MSEd in educational psychology from Baylor University. Dr. Davis is a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst – Doctoral Level (BCBA-D). Prior to joining the Baylor faculty in 2008, she was a special education teacher and in-home applied behavior analysis therapist.
Dr. Todd Kettler, chair of the Department of Educational Psychology, described Davis as a “brilliant and zealous” researcher. “Her work improves the educational outcomes for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities, such as autism,” he said. Davis’ research focus has been to improve educational treatments for children who engage in problem behavior as a result of developmental disabilities by targeting communication skills so the child can better communicate their wants and needs.
Kettler said that, despite the time intensive nature of Davis’ work with individual participants, her scholarly record is among the most prolific in the School of Education. Kettler said, “Her research is excellent, because she is driven to see better outcomes for children. The quality, quantity, and impact of Dr. Davis’ work are all outstanding.”
Davis provides hands-on learning experiences and community involvement for her students, and founded the Baylor Clinic for Assessment, Research, and Education (CARE) to facilitate that and serve the community. She has collaborated with other local clinics to establish real-world experience for master’s students, resulting in opportunities for more than 70 students to provide services while pursuing their degrees.
Davis is committed to involving students in her research; more than half of her publications include a student author, and 85 percent of research presentations include a student co-author.
With grant funding of more than $5 million while at Baylor, Davis has used her research funding to create jobs for many PhD students and a post-doctoral scholar. Through an additional $1.3 million in contracts with local agencies that serve children with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Davis has facilitated jobs for graduate students in meaningful roles.
Davis has published 64 research papers, which have then been cited by other scholars. Tracking by the Scopus database, which measures how frequently other researchers cite a scholar’s work, indicate 1,285 other research papers have cited Davis’ work, while the calculations of Google Scholar track 3,157 resources that have cited her work. Both data trackers put Davis in the top echelon of researchers in the School of Education.
Davis said she loves working at Baylor because of the support from leadership and colleagues. “In the Department of Educational Psychology, we have a team of scientists all with a slightly different set of expertise, but a shared passion for improving the lives of children with disabilities,” she said.
“Making a positive impact on a child’s life is an incredibly rewarding experience,” she explained. “However, as a practitioner, you are limited in how many children and families you can help. As a researcher, I get to expand the knowledge we have about how to best serve this population of children that I so deeply love, and I have the opportunity to identify more effective or more enjoyable methods of teaching so that teachers and therapists can help the children they serve reach their potential.”
Davis said, while she misses the daily interactions she had with children and parents as a teacher and therapist, research allows her to expand her impact.
Dr. Tracey Sulak, clinical associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, said, “Dr. Davis exemplifies everything we say we want in a faculty member: she produces research and secures grant funding, she teaches well, and she serves tirelessly. The part people don’t see from her CV is found in the everyday interactions where she coaches a lost doctoral student on how to be successful or when she counsels a colleague on how to advocate for change.”
Current educational psychology graduate student Julie Hrabal said, “Dr. Davis has been nothing short of phenomenal. Her mentoring has pushed me outside of my comfort zone to grow as a professional and researcher. She listens to my struggles and finds a way to help me work through it. Her passion for the field inspires me to become someone like her, a true inspiration and amazing scholar.”
Currently, Dr. Davis is principal investigator on the PEAKS Project, an acronym for “Preparing Educators with Autism Knowledge and Skills.” The grant-funded project provides three phases of online specialized professional development for Texas classroom teachers in evidence-based practices for students with autism.
When launching the program, Davis noted that even teachers certified in special education may lack these specialized skills. “To be certified, a special education teacher in Texas has to learn to work with every age group from 3 to 21 and with every disability served by special education,” Davis said. “In the classroom, teachers’ plates are incredibly full. We’re excited to invest in a group of people who care so much about their students.”
Davis is one of three School of Education faculty members to receive one of the six outstanding faculty designations awarded yearly by the University. Dr. Jessika Akers, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, was recognized with an Outstanding Teaching Award for tenure-track 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.
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