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The Transformative Power of Possibilities

Ronald Spotts

Ronald Spotts, BS in Psychology '21, MS in Applied Behavior Analysis '22.

March 11, 2024

The transition from active duty to civilian life can be challenging for many veterans, and for some, education becomes an anchor in that transition. Drexel is well known as a top choice for military-connected students, and for Ronald Spotts, BS psychology ’21, MS applied behavior analysis ’22, Drexel didn’t just provide tools for a life transition. It was central to his life’s transformation. His Drexel degrees, and discovering new intellectual and professional passions, provided him with a renewed sense of self and purpose.

Before starting his educational journey at Drexel, Spotts struggled with many aspects of his life. He says, “I dropped out of high school and joined the military around 2008. I served overseas, and when I came home, I kind of lost all sense of myself. It got to the point where, by 2016, I was homeless.”

Continues Spotts, “I remember sitting in jail. Someone arrived from the VA [Veteran’s Affairs] and saw I was a veteran. Even though I had been in the service for less than two years, since I had been in combat, he said the VA could help me pay for school. For somebody to say they were actually able to help me changed my whole life and gave me something to work towards.”

Spotts made the most of this opportunity, saying, “I decided I wanted my life to change, and I started going to community college. I kept a high GPA, 3.9, and was accepted into Drexel in 2018. I felt such a sense of pride.”

He went on to earn two degrees from Drexel, a bachelor’s in psychology from the College of Arts and Science and a master’s degree in applied behavior analysis (ABA) from the School of Education. When it came to selecting a field of study, he pulled from his own life experience. “My undergraduate thesis looked at PTSD in veterans,” says Spotts, “I discovered in my research that the main difference between PTSD in military veterans and civilians is moral injury. Moral injury is doing something against your own morals, like taking someone’s life or watching people die.”

Spotts went on to further explore the concept of moral injury when he began his graduate work in ABA, which is a category of therapy that employs tools and practices to treat individuals with behavioral or development disorders. He says, “I chose Drexel’s ABA program because I knew I wanted to be a therapist, but I didn’t know what kind. The ABA program is very well-rounded and suited for pursuing multiple disciplines.”

Spotts goes on, “My master’s thesis involved testing the side effects of the moral injury questionnaire (MIQ). The MIQ asks a lot of questions like ‘Did you kill someone?’ and ‘Do you feel betrayed by leadership?’ Really tough questions. The questions are repetitive, and in my research, I wanted to see if the completing of the questionnaire increases PTSD symptoms. My goal is to prove that taking the MIQ causes more anxiety than it should, and that it’s not as helpful as it should be. I want to develop something more like the PHQ9 questionnaire, which is a depression assessment tool that focuses on emotions and thoughts, rather than on the details of the traumatic event itself.”

Today, Spotts is working as an addiction counselor at the VA in Philadelphia, a place where he really wants to make a difference. He says, “My professional goal has been to work at the VA and help other veterans, because it was a veteran from the VA that reached out to me and offered help. As soon as I finished at Drexel, the VA had an opening for an addiction therapist. I got the job, and I’ve been there for a little over a year now.”

His work at the VA is informed by his academic experiences at Drexel. Just as he was able to apply coursework theories to his co-op placements as a health tech in rehab facilities, ABA course curricula have also proved invaluable to his role as an addiction therapist.

Spotts says, “One of the big things I learned in the ABA program was behavioral assessment and functional analysis, which is something they don’t teach in other types of therapies. It teaches you to listen and pay attention to physical cues. In my work as an addiction counselor, I’m able to see people changing or going back to former behaviors. It’s a way to objectively see what an individual is doing, what their intentions are, and what is causing a behavior. When I know what is causing a behavior, I know what I can work on with them and help their chances of staying in recovery.”

He also brings considerable life experience to the job. Spotts says, “I was homeless, I’m in recovery, and I bring those experiences to my work. And the tools I learned in my behavioral assessment and functional analysis courses have helped with my personal recovery too.”

Looking ahead at his future, Spotts wants to continue his work with veterans, and the work experience he’s gaining at the VA, along with his two Drexel degrees are opening up even more professional possibilities. Says Spotts, “My eventual goal is to offer psychotherapy for all mental health disorders. I just received my CAADC (Certified Advanced Addiction and Drug Counselor certification). It’s a master’s level license and the highest local license for an addiction therapist. I’m qualified to run an Addiction Recovery Unit, for example. And then my ultimate goal, after I have two years of service at the VA, is to apply for my LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor certification). That will allow me to work beyond addiction recovery, in other areas like behavioral health.”

While Spotts’ personal drive and ambition have certainly propelled him to where he is today, Drexel had a significant impact in his life’s trajectory. “Without Drexel, I wouldn’t have the options I now have,” says Spotts. “When I tell people I went to Drexel, they know it for the well-known university it is. For someone like me who dropped out of high school, to graduate from a top university like Drexel, it gave me a lot of confidence to go out into my career. Drexel definitely changed where I was going in life and enhanced my ability to keep moving forward.”

The people of Drexel also made a difference in Spotts’ journey. Says Spotts, “Professor Connell [at the School of Education] was probably the biggest source of support for me. He’s a veteran too and was very invested in the work I was doing.”

In his work, Spotts often professes the value of education. “I have these conversations with other veterans a lot,” he says. “Veterans can get paid to go to school. So just start, even if you don’t know exactly what you want to do. Reach out to people and find out how they got to where they are. Fill up on education.”