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    Inspired by a Family of Social Good, Kaplan University Alumni Helps High-risk Adolescents in Foster Care While Continuing to Pursue Her Graduate Degree in Psychology

    Growing up, Erica Smith’s parents were her role models for community service. "The actions of one can positively impact the lives of many,” they liked to say. Her parents demonstrated this by helping those who were shunned by the community. “During my adolescent years, my friends were called delinquents. Sure, they definitely made some bad choices, but many in our community seemed unwilling to see any good. My parents took the time to get to know them, eventually taking in two friends when they had nowhere to go. My parents encouraged and mentored them in educational and vocational pursuits and helped them find services when in crisis. This inspired me to follow in their footsteps.”

    Erica, 26, was motivated by her parents’ good deeds and decided to pursue a career in the behavioral analyst field. After graduating, it took Erica just one month to find her current position. “Forget any online education stigma, it’s just not true,” she said. Erica is now the lead mental health technician with the non-profit Hibiscus Health Center, helping high-risk adolescents in foster care. “Many of my clients have histories of abuse, mental disorders, behavioral issues, and have been long involved in the juvenile justice system. I am their advocate. I provide supportive counseling, crisis management, counsel in coping and daily living skills, and try to prepare them for life when they age out of the system. I also help them modify problem behaviors and develop personal goals.”

    Choosing Online Education

    To reach her goal to work in behavioral analysis, Erica needed to attend an online school with a flexible schedule since she is married with two small children. “I chose Kaplan University because it had the degree that I wanted with an interesting curriculum. And I needed the flexibility of an online school.” However, Erica was worried that employers might view an online degree negatively. “I did my research, and I feel that the way of the future is going to school online. I was surprised that most of the traditional universities now offer an online component. Kaplan University regionally accredited and the research on the school and my degree were positive, so I decided to enroll.”

    Erica was satisfied with her decision and had a great experience at Kaplan University. “I enjoyed almost every class I have taken, and the curriculum was very relevant to my area of interest,” she said. “Statistics actually stood out the most because as someone who hates math I was shocked at how much I retained and found importance in the material.”

    Erica is now enrolled in Kaplan University’s Master of Science in Psychology program. “I have been able to use my school dedication as a way to lead by example for my adolescent clients,” Erica says. “When they are busy with their homework I work with them side by side on mine.”

    Reaching Goals

    Erica loves her job helping the community, but her family is her first priority. She spends all day at home with her children, ages 1 and 2, and then works in the evenings. She depends on naps and other "gifts of time," such as waiting in the DMV or the doctor's office, to attend to her coursework during the work week and uses weekends to focus on her studies. Her husband and parents have been very supportive, and pitch in whenever they can. “It isn’t easy, but I am halfway there,” Erica said. “I’m so excited to reach my goal.”

    Earning her Kaplan University master’s degree in psychology and specializing in applied behavioral analysis will allow Erica more control over developing the treatment plans and programs that her company offers. With degree in hand, she will then qualify to take the certification test to realize her goal of becoming a certified applied behavioral analyst.



    Views and opinions stated herein are the individual’s and not necessarily those of Kaplan University. Individual student schedules and experiences may vary. Kaplan University’s degree and certificate programs are not endorsed by Hibiscus Health Center.

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