For Annie Alaine Hallis, earning a degree and kickstarting her career hasn’t been a straight line to success, it’s been a journey.
Over the past nine years, she has followed her broad interests through three schools and many creative pursuits, including dance, photography, fashion, metalsmithing, drawing, painting, fitness, and even podcasting.
Now, with help from the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, Hallis has found a way to feed her curious soul by focusing on another true passion — human beings.
“It’s really good to know people and how they work,” Hallis says, with a laugh. “I was always very interested to understand how one personality works compared to another.”
In May, Hallis graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in Human Services from the University of Colorado Colorado Springs to become a certified Registered Behavior Technician, working with kids on the autism spectrum to develop essential social, coping, and communication skills.
But Hallis began her path toward Human Services in a very different space.
In 2011, Hallis followed her family tradition of attending Indiana Wesleyan University for a Photography major. Then high tuition rates and an urge to do something else brought her back home to Akron, Ohio to study metalsmithing at Akron University.
“I really liked working with my hands and metalsmithing was rough and delicate at the same time,” Hallis says. “I loved fashion, so I was drawn to jewerly making.”
When her sister moved to Colorado Springs in 2014, Hallis was inspired to also head west and find new opportunities.
After searching programs, she decided that Psychology, with a Human Services minor, would not only give her career path stable footing but allow her to better understand humans while still doing art.
“Really psychology and art have been my two big passions,” Hallis explains. “ I wanted a major that was broad enough to go where I wanted it to, because I’m the type of person who likes to do a lot of things.”
When it was announced that UCCS would be offering a Bachelor of Arts in Human Services focused on direct and group counseling, Annie took it as a fast-track into the workforce and began helping other humans thrive.
During her last year, Hallis applied her psychology and Human Services knowledge to working as a Registered Behavior Technician while still going to school.
This helped her become a part of the clinical team at ABA Across Environments in Colorado Springs, a counseling center that uses Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to help clients diagnosed with autism, Down’s syndrome, ADHD, and other behavior-related disorders.
Hallis explains that ABA is a form of therapy rooted in psychology, behavioral science, and learning that develops proper independence through counseling sessions.
In her day-to-day work, Hallis hosts sessions that last from one to five hours, working one-on-one with patients, using case-specific therapies prescribed by a Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA) and uses a scoring system to track whether or not the client is making the proper progress.
“Depending on their case and the assessment the BCaBA did, I follow that procedure,” Hallis explains. “If they’re non-verbal, it’s teaching them how to pronounce letters. If they are unable to write, it’s about showing them how. When the patient can do tasks at 90 percent, they are doing it independently.”
Both technicians and the analysts who oversee them are certified by the Behavioral Analyst Certification Board (BACB).
This board ensures each year that behavioral counselors like Hallis are developing new skills and competencies to continue helping clients overcome how autism affects their behavior.
“For a person who’s not diagnosed, they get angry, but can’t vocalize that or you understand how to turn it off. So I’m there to intervene.”
To Hallis, hands-on learning at UCCS helped her meet the challenges of counseling.
“A lot of courses, you have other students in your classroom that you can work with. When you do mock sessions, you figure out the type of therapist you want to be. That prepared me, because what I’m doing now is very hands-on.”
With these newfound skills, Hallis has been debating whether or not to pursue a graduate degree to become a BCaBA and create behavior plans of her own. She’d even like to pair her counseling skills with creativity to maybe become an art therapist one day.
For now, she’s happy that her Bachelor of Human Services, and all her education, has helped her find a career, if not her calling.
“My advice to any student is don’t feel like you have to rush and don’t let anything stop you,” Hallis says. After all, it’s the journey to success that can be so rewarding.
“Being a part of something that is making a big difference within a person’s life, surrounding lives, and even the world is so incredible.”
Read more UCCS Success Stories here.