Key evaluator

Academic accreditation is an integral part of engineering education, and Auburn University is one of a number of institutions that offers ABET-accredited programs. The undergraduate engineering programs in the College of Engineering are accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET. The college’s computer science program is accredited by ABET’s Computing Accreditation Commission.

Jeff Fergus, associate dean for assessment and graduate studies, is familiar with the accreditation process as a faculty member who both assists with the College of Engineering’s accreditation process, but also as a visitor to programs at peer institutions across the nation. He is also active on ABET’s EAC as a team chair and editor.

“People are sometimes under the misconception that ABET accredits schools, colleges and universities, but what they really do is accredit programs,” Fergus explains. “Auburn currently has 13 programs that are accredited by the engineering and computer commissions of ABET.”

The accreditation process occurs over a nearly two-year period, and usually begins in January when the institution requests an evaluation. Over the next several months, team chairs and program evaluators – or PEVs, as they’re known – are assigned to teams that visit and evaluate programs seeking accreditation or reaccreditation. At the same time, the programs assemble self-study reports which are submitted by July. Between then and the visit date in the fall, the evaluators submit questions and request clarifications regarding the information in the self-study report with the program.

“This part of the process generally occurs right up to the date of the program visit,” Fergus notes. “The PEV evaluates the program relative to each of the ABET criteria to determine if the program meets all criteria or if there are any shortcomings, which, are, in increasing severity, concern, weakness and deficiency.”

“I am humbled to be a part of this group,” Fergus states. “I have been a PEV in the past, and have represented TMS, which is the Minerals, Metals and Materials Society, on the EAC. I have also served on the executive committee of the Engineering Accreditation Commission and, beginning in July, I will be an officer of the commission as vice chair of operations, moving then to chair-elect and chair.”

ABET is in fact a confederation of member societies, such as TMS, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, American Society of Mechanical Engineers and American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

“The number of members from each society is proportional to the number of engineering programs in the relevant discipline,” Fergus explains.
Each year, hundreds of programs are evaluated by ABET. The EAC alone evaluates more than 600 programs at nearly 200 institutions in the U.S. and abroad.

“The evaluations are performed by volunteers, so recruiting, training, monitoring and coordinating the individuals that perform the evaluations is no small task. The criteria has changed from just counting hours – years ago – to focusing on student outcomes that describe what students need to know and be able to do.

“The student outcomes support program objectives that describe and outline what engineering graduates are expected to accomplish,” he added.

The results of this rigorous process are evident at Auburn University and its peer ABET-accredited institutions – an engineering education unrivaled globally, and one that attracts students from all over the world.

“Auburn is fortunate to have Jeff in his role as an ABET visitor, PEV, team chair, and to be active now at the national level as an officer,” said Christopher B. Roberts, dean of engineering. “The depth of his knowledge allows us to understand the high standards placed before us, and in his role as a visitor, he brings Auburn’s name to others in institutions across the country.

“His analytical abilities are joined with a strong sense of vision, and an ethical compass that is well known by our peers,” he added.

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