Writing to Inspire & Encourage with Shanita Allen ‘05 M.S.
Applied Behavior Analysis Alumna Authors Children’s Book Series
Through her book series Let’s Go Dreaming, Shanita Allen ’05 M.S. hopes to encourage readers to “reach beyond the stars to pursue their dreams”—a practice that has served her well in life.
Allen is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst with a master of science in applied behavior analysis from Florida Tech and a bachelor’s in psychology from Florida State University. She has 17 years of experience serving individuals with developmental disabilities.
Discover how Allen has achieved her career goals and childhood dreams, and how she hopes to inspire others to do the same, in this Q&A:
Ten Questions with Shanita Allen ‘05 M.S.
What inspired you to write and create the Let’s Go Dreaming book series?
When I was younger, I wrote poetry and short stories all the time. I dreamed of becoming a published author of children’s books since I was in middle school. However, while I was in high school, I fell in love with psychology and decided to pursue a college degree in order to become a Psychiatrist. I changed course after learning about Applied Behavior Analysis and decided to become a Behavior Analyst, and my writing got sidetracked by course work.
I hadn’t picked up a pen to write any stories in over 15 years. I loved my career as a Behavior Analyst and put all of my time and attention into it. In 2018, while thinking back on some of the things that I used to love to do when I was younger, I remembered my childhood dream of becoming a published author. I had actually forgotten about it! But, reminiscing on how happy it made me when I was younger, bought a renewed sense of passion back into my heart…all I needed was a topic. A split second later, I had my “Ah Ha” moment and I decided to write a children’s bedtime story about following your dreams, and the rest is history.
I initially wanted to write one book, based on the concept of believing in yourself, following your dreams, and teaching children that they have unlimited potential. When they set their minds to achieving their goals, anything is possible. However, 1 book turned into 9 books and the “Let’s Go Dreaming” series was born.
My reasons for wanting to write a children’s book was two-fold; Not only did I want to inspire young minds, I also wanted to encourage parents to read to their children in order to foster a nurturing relationship with them, since it’s so important for children to have that connection. Parents also need to be reminded of their dreams as well. Sometimes, us adults tend to put the needs of others ahead of our own, and we forget about the things that make us happy. It’s perfectly fine to invest time and energy into your loved ones, but don’t forget to take care of yourself as well.
What do you hope readers take away from reading your books?
My hope is that readers feel inspired to reach beyond the stars in order to pursue their dreams. I want my readers to feel a sense of joy, but to also understand some of the important messages that I address in the books, such as lessons about friendship, bullying, special needs, and acceptance.
What originally led you to study behavior analysis at Florida Tech?
Two words: Jose Martinez-Diaz! I absolutely loved that man. He was such a great guy; very wise, friendly, and full of positivity. He came to Florida State to speak to my Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) class during my senior year. I wasn’t that familiar with Florida Tech at that time, but Jose spoke to us about the wonderful program and everything that it offered, and I was so intrigued. I hadn’t even started looking into graduate schools at that point, but after hearing him speak, I knew I wanted to be his student and Florida Tech had to be my graduate school.
What led you to pursue the field of behavior analysis?
I initially went to college with the intention of becoming a Psychiatrist. Once I learned about Behavior Analysis, I decided that it was a much better fit for me. I enjoy helping others and I consider myself a great listener, which is why I wanted to be a therapist (Psychiatrist). However, there was a missing component in Psychiatry that Behavior Analysis filled in for me; and it was the fact that I could actually help my clients in their natural environment.
Behavior Analysis allows me to see my clients in their home, community, or wherever the problem is occurring and I’m able to assess what the potential cause (function) might be. I can then formulate a plan, implement the plan, and collect data on the behavior to see if my plan is actually helping the individual or not. For me, being able to have proof that I am actually making a difference in someone’s behavior is more rewarding.
What would you tell individuals who wish to follow in your footsteps and study behavior analysis at Florida Tech?
I would say, “Go for it!” Technology has evolved so much since I attended Florida Tech, and now there is an option for online classes for those who can’t be there physically. Florida Tech has a wonderful program and so many of the Alumni are doing wonderful things in their careers, thanks to the guidance and teaching that we received. The professors go out of their way to make sure you understand the material and get the hands-on training that you need.
What has been the most rewarding part of creating and publishing your book series?
Hands down, the most rewarding part of being an author, is hearing from the children and their parents about how much they enjoy my books. I save all of my thank you letters, and I read all of the reviews on Amazon. Some of them have made me laugh and some have even brought tears to my eyes when I read or hear how my books have touched them.
“Sleep, Tiny Dreamer” is just a short bedtime story that poses the question “where will you go tonight” in your dreams, and it talks about all of the wonderful possibilities. I heard from a grandmother that her 4-year-old grandson, who had been removed from the care of his parents, was living with her and having nightmares every night. She told me that after she read him my book, he woke up excited the next morning and told her that he had finally had a good dream the night before. He climbed a mountain and was a superhero! That brings me joy beyond words. Whenever I get discouraged and have any doubts about being an author, I always think of him, and it keeps me going.
What were some of the possible challenges like in creating and publishing your book series?
My first book, “Sleep, Tiny Dreamer” was released in September 2019 and I had tons of success with that one. I was able to attend numerous author events and was invited to speak and read at several elementary schools. My second book, “What is a Dream?” however, was released during a pandemic. That means I wasn’t able to go into schools because they were all closed, and so were the bookstores. Once things began to open back up, there were still restrictions on crowd sizes and the requirements for social distancing. As much as I love interacting with the children, I also value everyone’s health and safety, so I’ve solely focused on doing things virtually.
Who in the field of behavior analysis has been most inspiring to you in your career—e.g. a Florida Tech instructor, a colleague, etc.?
Well, it’s probably not going to be a surprise that Jose Martinez-Diaz is the winner again. He was extremely influential in my decision to pursue a Master’s degree in Behavior Analysis, attend Florida Tech, and encouraging me to actually finish the program. Not many people are aware of this, but I actually considered dropping out of graduate school after my first semester. The course work was not easy (as I’m sure is the case in most graduate programs), I had a full-time job, I was a full-time student, and I was truly burnt out from schooling. I completed my undergraduate degree in 3 years by attending summer school every summer, so I didn’t really have much down time from school before I started Florida Tech. Jose had so much faith in me. How could I possibly let him down? If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t even be a Behavior Analyst.
Since graduating from Florida Tech, how has the field of behavior analysis impacted your life?
Since I became a Behavior Analyst, I have had the privilege to work with so many wonderful clients, parents, and professionals. I have worked with a wide range of individuals with Developmental Disabilities. I have learned a tremendous amount of life lessons along the way.
The one thing that this field has taught me is that every person is an individual. There are no “cookie-cutter” solutions when dealing with behavior, whether it’s an individual with Developmental Disabilities or not. What works for one person may not work for the other. I have learned to listen better, pay more attention to detail, and think outside of the box when trying to come up with solutions to problems. I feel that I am a much better person with tons more patience thanks to the field of behavior analysis.
Are there any other thoughts you might wish to share regarding any of these topics?
Believe in yourself, even if no one else does. Follow your dreams, even if you walk alone. Most importantly, have fun while doing it!
Learn more about Florida Tech’s School of Behavior Analysis.