Talk to Cheryl Ostryn for even a short time and you get a clear sense of her philosophy of education: learning happens in small steps, over time.
And, good teachers pay close attention, noting where their students take steps forward and where they get stuck, in order to make adjustments to their teaching methods.
Following this formula, Professor Ostryn has been part of many success stories over the years, working with those diagnosed with autism. She’s also sharing her insights these days with her students in the Master’s of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis and Autism program at Sage.
But it should be noted that the process of learning that got Professor Ostryn on her own career path began with a giant first step.
She came to America at age 18, from her home in England, to work as an au pair in a home with a child who had autism.
There, she observed a behavior therapist helping this child to learn to read. Professor Ostryn couldn’t have articulated this at the time, but she saw a systematic approach being followed that produced impressive results.
She would go on to get a degree in psychology, get a master’s, a Ph.D., and then complete post-doctoral work in the field of autism and ABA.
The degree program in which she teaches at Sage is designed to advance the skills of professionals who work to improve the lives of those with autism. It’s a licensure-qualifying program that prepares students to apply for a Behavior Analyst license in New York, and to sit for the National Board Exam for Behavior Analysts.
This license qualification is something Professor Ostryn took a lead role in making happen, and she’s particularly proud to have done so. In part, because she thinks the program is truly outstanding.
“We’re a great program,” she says. “The faculty is carefully hand picked. We make sure everyone has demonstrated excellence in working in the field. We’ve done the hands-on research, completed editorial work, and reviewed for professional journals. We’re all well rounded people, which is critical, because this is a field that’s constantly changing.”
The program’s classes are delivered entirely online, with an optional supervision track, and serves students from around the country.
These students, according to Professor Ostryn, are prepared to take on careers that offer profound rewards. Rewards that she has witnessed up close. “Seeing families with children with autism and developmental disabilities in tears as they say, ‘Thank you so much. He couldn’t do that for himself, but now he can.’”
Before the rewards, however, it’s necessary to do the work. The Applied Behavior Analysis and Autism program is challenging. But as in their professional work, Professor Ostryn says, she and her colleagues have carefully and methodically created a program designed to succeed. They’ve developed a first-semester class on how to be a better online student. They invite students to engage with them fully at every step along the way, by email, phone, or whatever it takes.
“All the time I’m thinking, as I prepare the course work, ‘What will my students do to demonstrate that they understand this,’” she says. Because she wants to be sure there’s a direct connection being made between what she’s sharing and what they’re hearing and understanding, and what they will essentially be doing in their careers.
In other words, she’s trying to make sure all the right steps are taken.