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Student wins grant to pursue doctorate specializing in autism and behaviorism
Mar 30, 2013 | 560 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Kristi Morin feels that her passion for working with exceptional students is a true calling.

 Morin, a teacher who is earning a master’s degree in special education through Northwestern State University’s Gallaspy (Family) College of Education and Human Development, was selected as a recipient of a Texas A & M University Autism Leadership Grant to pursue a Ph.D. in special education with a specialization in autism and behaviorism.  

She will compete requirements for the master’s in special education at NSU in August and immediately begin study at TAMU that will include practical experience in an autism clinic to obtain Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) certification.

Morin earned her undergraduate degree in elementary education at LSU-Alexandria in 2006 and is a first and second grade teacher of special education students at J. B. Nachman Elementary School in Alexandria.  

TAMU is offering Morin a funding package of over $100,000 for the duration of her studies, which includes tuition, books, a per-semester stipend and funding to attend an annual conference and one-time one-month summer internship with a highly regarded autism/behavioral researcher.  She was one of only three students accepted to the program.

 “My interest in autism began during my time as an undergraduate student,” Morin said. “For my degree, I was required to take one course in special education that required me to write a 10-page report on an exceptionality of my choosing.  I chose autism because it was the exceptionality that I knew the least about.  My interest in autism grew and from there I was drawn to anything related to autism – books, television shows, news articles, conferences.  I can’t explain my passion for autism other than to say that it is the calling God has given me.”

As she neared completion of her master’s degree, Morin began searching for universities with program specifically for autism and discovered the doctoral program at Texas A & M.

 “My area of research interest is in addressing the challenging behaviors of students with autism, particularly in the classroom setting,” she said. “I have developed this interest through my own experience.”

 Now in her second year teaching special education at J.B Nachman, Morin said she has learned more about autism than in all her years of self-study.

“My experiences in the classroom working with students with autism is one of the reasons that prompted to begin searching for programs that would further my knowledge of how to help children with this exceptionality,” she said.

While pursuing her full-time Ph.D. program, Morin will work in an autism clinic to conduct research and gain the experience hours necessary for BCBA certification.  Work in the clinic on a weekly basis is also a requirement of the Autism Leadership Grant.

Morin said help from NSU professors Dr. Barb Duchardt and Drs. Nelda and Wendell Wellman impacted her development as a special education teacher, as a researcher and a future doctoral candidate.

“Dr. Duchardt is someone who I consider to be my mentor,” Morin said. “I never quite realized how much I was learning from her until I took the special Education Praxis for my certification.  I passed with flying colors and the only questions I missed were from the classes I had not yet taken.  The professors that conducted the interview process at Texas A & M were very impressed with my knowledge of special education, particularly of applied behavior analysis and the behavior strategies that are used to help children with autism.

 “The leadership classes that I have taken from Drs. Wellman have helped prepare me for writing my research paper for my master’s degree and I know they will be useful when I begin my dissertation.  Each of these professors holds their students to very high standards and I appreciate the research they required me to conduct.  By research scholarly journals for these classes and defending my answers to discussion questions each week with research, I feel better prepared to complete the research-intensive requirements of a doctoral program.”

 Morin has completed her coursework for NSU’s graduate program entirely online and said the experience has been positive but challenging, requiring self-discipline to complete reading and assignments.

“Despite the challenging nature of online classes, I am very grateful NSU offers them to students,” said Morin, who in addition to teaching fulltime is the mother of two small children. “Without the ability to complete my master’s degree online, I would not be able to pursue it.”

For more information on graduate programs offered through Northwestern State’s Gallaspy (Family) College of Education and Human Development, visit
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