November 30, 2023

As a student at the University of Florida, Julie LeBlanc, MS, BCBA, LABA, was interested in studying animal behavior, leading her to sign up for any behavior analysis course she could find. Thinking she signed up for a course on primates, LeBlanc accidentally found herself learning about applied behavior analysis (ABA) and developmental disabilities.

“From there, I joined Dr. Brian Iwata’s lab, learned about NECC, and here we are,” LeBlanc said.

While she was initially attracted to NECC for the master’s degree programs — she earned her master’s in ABA from Western New England University — she has stayed because she loves her job. LeBlanc joined NECC 11 years ago as a teacher in the residential program, where she spent time coaching students throughout the week at both in-house and community job sites. “I loved being a job coach and supporting my students in the community,” she said. “I got to know the Vocational Department pretty well, and in 2014 when they developed a position for a vocational coordinator, I was excited to move into a new role.”

Now, as a vocational specialist, LeBlanc is responsible for developing and overseeing job opportunities within NECC and in the local community, as well as working with students and their teams to determine the best vocational work for them. She also conducts job site training for students and their job coaches and assesses what supports a student might need to complete their job successfully.  

“I love my job because not only do I get to work with the students and their teachers, but I have the opportunity to collaborate with people across almost every department in the school, in addition to members of our community,” she said.

LeBlanc shared that NECC has students working in almost all areas of the school including in the cafeteria, where twice a day they prepare healthy snacks, clean, and restock food service items, snacks, and beverages. Students also collect recycling and confidential shredding, hang flyers, care for the Edible Schoolyard in the Reneé Mansfield Courtyard, water plants in staff offices, and clean multiple areas of the school and team vans. In the Daniel Smigel Career Development Center (CDC), students are involved in every step of assembling and shipping materials for the Core Skills Assessment included with the ACE® ABA Software System, hand-making gift bags, and working in the School Store. Students also work and volunteer in the community in places like farms, libraries, conservation societies, and organizations that offer services for the community, such as food, clothing, and supplies. Paid job sites currently include J White’s Automotive, Apex Entertainment, DN Van Lines, Greenwood Industries, and Walgreens.

“Vocational opportunities allow our students to explore activities with the goal of identifying what they enjoy and excel at as individuals,” said LeBlanc. “These opportunities also allow us to assess areas of need for each learner.”

She added that community work opportunities in particular are incredibly important, as they enable students to continue the exploration process and refine their skills in a natural work setting. It’s one of her favorite parts about her job.

“I love seeing our students demonstrate the skills they have learned in a community work setting and engaging in tasks that they enjoy,” said LeBlanc. “I especially love watching our students interact with their supervisors, coworkers, and peers!”

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2023 issue of NECC’s Insight newsletter.