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From the Dean's Desk
Dean Daniel Pitt
Accreditation: Trial or Inspiration
In late October the School of Engineering hosted a team of evaluators from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) for the dreaded accreditation review that typically takes place once every six years. I say “dreaded” not because I felt that way, though I certainly experienced some anxiety in the weeks preceding, but because it is often regarded as a no-win prospect: if it goes well you receive only mild criticism; if it doesn’t go well you undergo another trial in a year or two or even lose your accreditation. We approached our ABET review with a different attitude and as a result it was a positive experience for us.
Since 2000, ABET has required engineering schools to demonstrate how well they have met the ABET criteria and their own goals. Thus we had to gather data measuring our results, among current students, graduating seniors, and alumni from three to five years after graduation. Between the data gathered over the last four years and the documentation of everything we do, we compiled 75 linear feet of documentation, a daunting effort and probably an excessive one. But we entered into the review guided by one of our strategic objectives (from our strategic plan): “Incorporate ABET processes into continuous School practices.” And we welcomed the evaluators with an eagerness to improve our programs based on their feedback, all with an eye to benefiting student learning. During the three-day visit, I felt we sat on the same side of the table with them, examining, considering, learning. We wanted to learn from them and learn we did, receiving suggestions (and observations of our faults) that will concretely improve our programs for the benefit of our students. In addition to the suggestions and fault citations, the evaluating team gave us a strong endorsement of our vision and direction, which inspires us to make our improvements as quickly as possible. Over the last two years we have systematized our continuous-feedback process into something we call PIPE: program improvement process for engineering. With PIPE, our preparation for future ABET visits will be almost automatic, but more importantly it will guide our ongoing improvement so that our programs, like the engineering profession itself, will be dynamic and ever better.
Though ABET dominated our fall quarter, we had plenty of excitement going on in our programs themselves. The conference on sustainable development we organized and hosted in El Salvador, and its consequent joint activities in teaching and research, was a highlight, as was the appointment of a new endowed chair in engineering. I hope you enjoy reading about them in this issue of Horizons.
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