Become an ABET Program Evaluator: An Exciting and Rewarding Volunteer Opportunity


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ABET is a non-profit accrediting agency whose mission is to assure quality and stimulate innovation in technical education. ABET accredits more than 3,100 programs in 670 colleges and universities in 24 countries throughout the world in the disciplines of applied science, computing, engineering, and engineering technology. ABET accreditation assures that a college or university program meets the quality standards established by the profession for which the program prepares its students.

ABET is a federation of 33 member societies, including IEEE. ABET, originally named the Engineering Council for Professional Development (ECPD) was founded in 1932 by six founding societies. One of IEEE’s two predecessors, the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE), was one of the six founding societies. Member societies recruit and assign volunteers to accreditation visit teams which evaluate programs against ABET criteria. Volunteer teams are made up of a team leader who is assigned by one of ABET’s four commissions (applied science, computing, engineering, or engineering technology) along with a program evaluator (PEV) for each program under evaluation. Accreditation evaluations are carried out by accreditation teams during a campus visit, typically conducted during the fall.

Accreditation work is an exciting and rewarding activity conducted by volunteer accreditation teams. ABET, in concert with its member societies, is constantly recruiting volunteers who are interested in furthering the profession through the accreditation process. This overview is intended to familiarize IEEE volunteers with the important work that PEVs do in carrying out ABET’s mission. You are encouraged to become an ABET PEV.

The PEV Training Process

PEVs are volunteers who are keenly interested in educating tomorrow’s technical professionals. PEVs come from the ranks of academe, industry and government. Volunteers from industry and government are particularly encouraged to become PEVs. These volunteers bring a practitioner’s perspective to visit teams. PEVs are carefully selected using a set of competencies including interpersonal, communication, and organizational skills. In addition, PEVs are expected to be organized, professional, and should be engaged in their profession with a demonstrated commitment to lifelong learning.

Prospective PEVs must undergo a training program administered by ABET. This process requires 12-20 hours of self-study followed by participation in a one and one-half day face-to-face training workshop. The workshop is organized to simulate an actual campus visit. PEV candidates who successfully complete this training are assigned to visit teams in the fall following their training. PEVs are expected to devote a couple of days in pre-visit preparations in addition to the time required for one campus visit during each year of a five year appointment. PEVs are eligible to serve more than one term and are required to complete brief annual refresher training during their tenure as a PEV.

The Campus Visit Process

The visit process starts in middle to late summer for PEVs who are assigned to an ABET visit team. At this time PEVs are contacted by their Team Chair with some background information on the program. PEVs receive preliminary information on the programs being evaluated, visit dates, and other information relating to the visit. PEVs then contact their respective department heads to introduce themselves and to develop a preliminary visit agenda. The visit agenda includes items such as an opportunity to inspect student work and instructional material; tour of facilities; faculty interviews; student meetings or interviews; and visits to supporting departments. PEVs collaborate with their Team Chair and other team members as they finalize their visit agenda.

Some team chairs may wish to have one or two pre-visit conference calls with their visit team to coordinate plans for the campus visit. PEVs quickly learn that planning and organizing for an ABET visit is a very important role. This is true during the pre-visit phase as well as during the actual visit.

During the pre-visit phase each PEV on the visit team receives a self-study evaluation of each program being evaluated. Programs are analyzed by faculty and staff in a comprehensive self- study document. This document is organized by criteria and enables PEVs to gain a perspective on strengths and weakness of the program. PEVs also receive a set of student transcripts corresponding to the programs they are evaluating. Transcripts are evaluated by PEVs to verify that students in each program are indeed meeting prescribed degree requirements. Pre-visit preparations are an important activity and PEVs must devote sufficient time and attention to this activity prior to the campus visit. PEVs will spend an average of 40 hours evaluating the self-study and transcripts for their respective program and may interact with their hosting department chair to clarify any questions they may have. PEVs are expected to brief their Team Chair on matters of concern, particularly matters that might adversely affect accreditation status of the program. The time required to review materials and conduct campus visits are spread over a period of three to five months, from July through September, October or November.

The campus visit occurs in early to late fall � September, October or December. Members of the visit team travel to the institution being visited on campus prior to early Sunday afternoon on the date that the visit is to commence. Following a late Sunday morning meeting the team visits the campus to evaluate student work and program materials including assessment data which the institution has collected on its programs. Team members typically tour laboratories and other facilities which support the program prior during this initial visit. Teams meet after their Sunday afternoon campus visit in their hotel to discuss their preliminary findings. This is a team endeavor aimed at identifying any issues of concern and finalizing plans for the following two days.

With final plans in place the team adjourns for a team dinner � one of the brief interludes offering a chance for relaxation prior to focusing on the evaluation activities that will occur over the next couple of days. The team rises early on Monday morning for a quick breakfast, arriving on campus for a busy day. The team meets with the dean of the college hosting the visit team for a briefing. Following this briefing, each member of the evaluation team exits the meeting to commence their agenda.

PEVs have a full agenda which includes items such as interviewing the department head, faculty interviews, meeting students, and visiting laboratories and facilities that support the program. Each PEV will also review the program’s endeavors to improve the program. Continuous improvement is an important component of the ABET criteria. Indeed, this is fundamental to ABET’s mission � promoting quality and stimulating innovation. Since the evaluation team needs to evaluate supporting departments, the Team Chair will assign individual PEVs to evaluate supporting departments. As the day progresses, the PEVs are taking copious notes that will be used in their final evaluation of their assigned programs.

An institution-sponsored luncheon provides a welcome break in the visit team’s agenda. This event offers the team an opportunity to meet with advisory board members, alumni, and other supporters. Team members gain first-hand knowledge of some of the ways the programs are supporting its critical stakeholders.

Monday campus activities conclude with a team meeting at the hotel. This meeting, led by the Team Chair, focuses on a review of recommended accreditation actions based on team observations and findings. This activity requires a consensus decision by the entire team.

Recommended accreditation actions must be based on ABET criterion. An important element in these decisions is judgment, particularly in cases where issues are not clear. Clearly, decision making and team skills are important attributes for members of an ABET accreditation evaluation team.

The team ends their early evening deliberations with a dinner � another opportunity to relax and socialize as a team. Following the meeting team members spend some time in the privacy of their hotel room reflecting on the day and updating the report that they will leave with their team Chair following the visit. An important part of the PEV’s report will be an exit statement that is read to the institution following during an exit meeting that will take place on Tuesday. The exit statement briefly summarizes important features of the program and any shortcomings that may exist in compliance with ABET criterion.

Tuesday morning finds the visit team on campus again. The team spends the first part of the morning with any follow-up questions that may need attention. PEVs brief their respective department heads on their findings and what they will say during their final briefing to the institution. The entire team then meets in a private room for final discussions on the exit briefing that the team will conduct with institutional leadership. The Team Chair will review each PEV’s exit statement ensuring that the recommended accreditation action proposed by each PEV is consistent with their findings and observations and is based on ABET criteria.

The team then convenes in a conference room for a final briefing with institutional leadership. This includes the President, Provost, Dean of Engineering, and Department Heads of the programs under review. The Team Chair introduces the visit team with a few brief remarks.

Each PEV then reads their comments briefly emphasizing any shortcomings the program may have. The exit meeting is a very formal process where the institution has an opportunity to learn about the team’s findings and observations. The team, however, does not share their recommended accreditation action. The team leaves campus immediately following their briefing to the institution.

Follow-up Activities

PEVs leave their written reports � a couple of forms along with the exit statement they read to the institution � with their Team chair. There is good reason for not sharing recommended accreditation actions because final accreditation action will not take place until the visit teams recommendations have been reviewed by ABET’s responsible accreditation commission. The final accreditation review process also provides an opportunity for the institution to correct any factual errors in the team’s report. The review process that takes place in the months following the visit involves very little of the PEVs time. In some cases this might require the PEV to answer questions that might arise concerning the PEV’s particular evaluation findings. Final accreditation action is decided by the responsible accreditation commission at the July Commission meeting.

A very important part of the accreditation process is the corrective actions that programs take to eliminate shortcomings that are highlighted by the visit team. This continuous improvement process along with innovations to effect changes, as pointed out earlier, results in improved quality of technical education programs.

Conclusion

This provides an overview of what you should expect as an ABET PEV. PEVs not only receive personal satisfaction from knowing they are positively affecting the future of the profession through their contributions but they benefit from the professional relationships they build in their endeavors.

Accreditation is a very important process. After all, accreditation ensures the quality of technical education and drives innovations that result in a better education for future generations of our profession. This is indeed an exciting prospect for volunteers who wish to make a difference.

Learn more about how to become an ABET PEV at ABET’s web site: http://www.abet.org/volunteer-to-become-a-program-evaluator/


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