In the fall of 2012, I posted on a topic that strikes fear in the hearts of engineering educators–ABET, Inc. At that time, one year ago, my campus was preparing for the site visit of ABET evaluators, a three day examination of our labs, faculty, students, facilities, and student work products. The result of the visit would determine, to a large extent, the re-accreditation of Rose-Hulman’s engineering and computer science programs. At that time, we were in a period of high anxiety and preparation, but even in the midst of the chaos, I wrote,
“Needless to say, the preparation is time-consuming, but the end result is one that I can stand by: the review is intended to help programs improve, in their curricula, their faculty, their facilities, and their responsiveness to the needs of alumni, industry, and students.”
In July 2013, Rose-Hulman received notification of the re-accreditation of all previously accredited programs, as well as accreditation for our Engineering Physics program. The final notification served as recompense for our hard work during the six-year ABET cycle. Looking back through the cycle, however, I feel that I must share a few observations that could help other programs who are in the midst of their work. I offer these suggestions in much the same spirit that your grandpa offers his advice: sure, he has lived longer and experienced life, but in the end, you may just decide to do what you want anyway.
1. Form an ABET “Supergroup”: Rather than each program going it alone, consider collaborating with other programs on the site visit preparations. Every evaluator will need to do basically the same things with the same groups on campus, so try to find allies in other programs who can pitch in and help. Our “Supergroup” was super useful in the Self Study Report drafting stage, since we could share ideas on how best to approach a particular report section, even creating boilerplate that all programs could use in common. Capes are not required for the “Supergroup,” but you may find their powers superhuman when they perform!
2. Be prepared for things to go wrong: As part of our preparations, we set up a large workroom for the evaluators to use for meetings and writing their reports. Even though we had planned and tested the technology (access to the wireless network, for instance), we still had problems during the visit. Luckily we had a back up plan in the form of a student worker who could provide a work around. We had also announced the visit to IT and other areas of campus so they knew that major upgrades and downtime needed to be avoided during the three days that ABET evaluators were on campus.
3. Expect that you will be asked for more information and provide it willingly: It would be great if you were never asked for more information from an ABET evaluator, but honestly, it is unlikely you will send the team off without any requests from them for clarifications and further information. The best strategy here is to provide was is asked for as quickly as possible, hopefully before the evaluators leave campus. Delaying the delivery of information doesn’t help you or the evaluator.
I am more than willing to talk informally about ABET preparations, if you have specific questions. You can email me at email@example.com, and I will respond. After all, what have I got to do, now that our programs are re-accredited for another six years . . . except prepare for the next visit in 2018!