some thoughts from the ABET symposium

I really did not have any expectations going into this engineering accreditation workshop/symposium – well, maybe I expected it to be a little dry – but it was in fact quite inspiring and encouraging!

There was a great deal of talk about student-centered, project-based, real-world learning, the value of diversity and inclusivity, represented in everything from the President’s remarks to virtually every workshop I attended. The President of Olin College of Engineering, Rick Miller was a plenary speaker and went so far as to say that, done correctly, engineering could be the liberal arts of the 21st century – and that it is too dangerous to send engineering grads out in the world without a proper understanding of the humanities and social sciences. This is exactly in line with what we hope to build here at USF, so hearing this message from the official platform of engineering education accreditation was extremely encouraging.

There was also a lot of talk about basic strategies to attract and retain a highly diverse faculty and student body – specifically to attract more women and underrepresented minorities (in engineering). There was discussion about the need to reach all the way back to K-8 and improve the language around engineering to reflect the societal and environmental care that is the goal of so many engineering fields. Engineering is still regularly “masculinized” and made to sound aggressive to young people, when in fact most engineering problems cannot be solved without a balanced, humanistic approach.  There was also discussion about presenting an overall theme to our program, even reflecting it in a clever title, in order to emphasize that engineering is to help people.

I also learned a lot of nuts and bolts about achieving accreditation, and found that the criteria and procedures seem very reasonable, with a lot of deference to our institutional values, and how we understand our program to be unique. Let me know in comments or feedback if you want to know more details of this.

All in all it was a very affirmative experience – I am confident we are on the right track!

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