ABET accreditation = jobs, promotions for students
Editor’s note: Reprinted from the November 2020 issue of GCU Magazine. To read the digital version, click here.
By Lana Sweeten-Shults
In August, Lon applied for a job at Raytheon Missiles & Defense, the Tucson, Ariz.-based defense contractor that designs air and missile defense systems, radars and precision weapons.
It was around the same time that the college’s leaders anxiously waited to hear if several of its undergraduate programs would receive accreditation from ABET.
The prestigious accreditation, two years in the making, would come through just a few days later.
It was good news.
Four of the college’s bachelor of science degree programs – in Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering – earned that game-changing stamp of approval from ABET, originally called the Accrediting Board of Engineering and Technology, though it just goes by ABET these days.
“My interview was literally the weekend after,” said Lon, who earned his undergraduate degree in Computer Science.
He started his new job this month as a software engineer at the company, a subsidiary of Raytheon Technologies, the second-biggest U.S. aerospace and defense company by revenue behind only Boeing, according to a 2019 article by CNBC.
Without the ABET accreditation, he never would have been offered the job.
“In a nutshell, we won’t hire students unless they come from an ABET-accredited school,” said senior engineer Tony D’Ippolito, part of the engineering recruiting team at Arizona Public Service-operated Palo Verde Generating Station, the largest nuclear power plant in the country.
That benchmark extends to internships, too.
When a student applies for an internship or a job, the first thing D’Ippolito does is confirm that a student is enrolled in or graduated from an ABET-accredited program.
“As engineers, we work to standards. The standards are derived from federal law,” said D’Ippolito, who also serves on the University’s Engineering Advisory Board. “This accreditation assures us that the course of study meets certain standards and that program graduates are better prepared to enter a critical STEM field, like the energy industry.”
Like Lon, College of Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET) administrators knew how essential ABET accreditation would be in validating the quality of their programs – and their students.
They began the rigorous ABET application process in 2018, just four years after the University launched its Computer Science program and only three years after the Engineering program debuted. It was a daunting task that required hundreds of pages of documentation and a multiple-day site visit.
Going through all that rigor was worth it, say college leaders, who are in the midst of the ABET accreditation process for several other programs.
Accreditation allows the college to submit applications to join academic program honor societies, such as engineering honor society Tau Beta Pi. Some licenses and certifications require graduation from an ABET-accredited program.
Accreditation also establishes eligibility for specific grants and scholarships. And since ABET accreditation is recognized worldwide, students who graduate from a program with that designation can work globally.
Closer to home, students will see doors opening at campus job fairs as more companies send representatives to recruit them, though Marquis Scott, Program Director of GCU’s Strategic Employer Initiatives & Internships, said the University might not see the full extent of that increased participation for a while because the pandemic has put job fairs in a challenging space.
“There are those employers or companies (in the technology fields) who were restrictive on what they would do with us because we did not have the accreditation,” said Scott. “They would recruit our business students for accounting and marketing kinds of jobs, but not the technology kinds of positions.
“Now with the accreditation, what they will do is post those jobs that are in alignment with those accreditations, they will participate in the career fairs that are in alignment with those industry opportunities. As word gets out, we’re getting more companies to join our employer network.”
Not that companies didn’t know GCU was producing high-caliber students before the ABET accreditation.
“I think the industry knows the quality of students we produce,” Scott said.
One of those high-caliber students, Denisse Delos Santos, has seen new opportunities opening for her because of the accreditation.
The spring 2019 electrical engineering graduate, one of the shining stars in GCU’s first engineering graduating class, interviewed with Salt River Project engineer James Statzer and landed an internship with the company when she was a junior.
SRP offered her a full-time job a year later, though as an engineering technician. The company would move her up to full engineer, she was told, when GCU’s electrical engineering program received that crucial ABET designation.
So she checked in with faculty regularly.
“Without that ABET accreditation, at SRP you can’t be an engineer,” she said, though even before then, the company “had faith in GCU.”
And in her.
Delos Santos, after all, was an impressive student. She co-founded the Robotics and Astronomy clubs. She was a member of the Philippine American Student Association, Hui Aloha Club and GCU chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. She also worked as an undergraduate researcher on the 3D printing and biotechnology teams.
At SRP, she’s as busy as ever, joining several employee interest groups, such as the SRP Green Team, which promotes sustainability efforts. She is pursuing dual master’s degrees at GCU – a Master of Business Administration and Master of Science in Leadership.
And since GCU’s electrical engineering program just received ABET accreditation, her options have expanded. It gave her the opportunity to get promoted to a two-year rotational engineering program for new graduates. Those chosen for the program rotate every six months to new areas of the company.
The department she has been working for fought to keep her, too.
“They’re trying to change my title to engineer,” Delos Santos said. “Without the ABET accreditation, they wouldn’t have tried to open up a new position.”
Like Lon, the stars have aligned for Delos Santos thanks to the accreditation. And CSET has more students aligned to follow in their footsteps.
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.
GCU Today: Press release on ABET accreditation