Fifth in a nine-part series spotlighting each GCU college as the fall semester begins.
By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
Grand Canyon University’s leaders knew almost a decade ago that science, technology, engineering and math would be at the core of its future as an academic institution.
So the University began to build its STEM offerings, opening the College of Science, Engineering and Technology in 2014, launching its first computer science and information technology programs that year, then adding engineering programs in 2015.
Now, four of the college’s programs have received a highly sought-after accreditation that assures employers of the quality of GCU’s graduates in those degree tracks.
GCU’s bachelor’s degree program in Computer Science has been accredited by the Computing Accreditation Commission of ABET, and the bachelor’s degree programs in Biomedical, Electrical and Mechanical Engineering have been accredited by ABET’s Engineering Accreditation Commission. (View the press release here.)
ABET – the acronym originally stood for Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, though that designation has since been dropped – is the global accreditor of postsecondary programs in applied and natural science, computing, engineering and engineering technology.
The nonprofit organization’s voluntary peer-review process is “highly respected because it adds critical value to academic programs in the technical disciplines, where quality, precision and safety are of the utmost importance,” said ABET.
Industry professionals who review an academic institution that's being considered for accreditation look to make sure its curricula, faculty, facilities and institutional support meet its high standards.
The College of Science, Engineering and Technology began the daunting accreditation process for those programs almost two years ago.
“It’s hundreds of pages of documentation, lots of artifacts that you have to supply for the site visits. It’s pretty lengthy,” said Christine Hanson, Academic Project Manager for Engineering.
But going through that rigor to receive that ABET stamp of approval was important to the college because of what it means for the University, employers and, most of all, students.
“It really ensures that the programs meet a standard,” said Associate Dean of Engineering Dr. Janet Brelin-Fornari, who was appointed last spring to the ABET Board of Delegates, representing the Society of Women Engineers. “It means that employers know and understand what to expect when they hire an engineering graduate from an ABET-accredited program. They know that these students are prepared for industry.”
“ABET assures a minimum set of expectations graduates will have,” said CSET Dean Dr. Mark Wooden, though, “In certain areas, we go above and beyond what their expectations are.”
For one, the college emphasizes a hands-on learning approach over a traditional lecture format. Professors introduce a concept, principle or fact, then students apply that concept in a mini-lab. The learning style resembles a full lab interspersed with a lecture rather than the other way around.
“We do provide the theory, but they get the hands-on with it,” said Associate Dean of Technology Dr. Heather Monthie, whose Technology Program touted another coup last fall, when the IT with an Emphasis in Cybersecurity Bachelor’s Degree program was awarded the prestigious National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education designation from the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security.
A boon the college offers students is its collaboration with the Colangelo College of Business, whose makerspace was integrated into the Engineering Department when the engineering wing of the CSET building was opened in 2017. The makerspace is where students from any college can collaborate and develop ideas and perhaps develop those innovations into businesses.
Another plus: Programs in CSET are designed so that there’s fluidity between them.
“Students have the ability to not only work together with people from other programs but to switch programs very easily if they want to,” Wooden said.
Also, students in CSET have access to equipment that they normally wouldn’t have access to in an undergraduate program.
They complete projects using everything from 3D printers to a laser cutter/engraver, which promotes the hands-on learning style emphasized by the college, along with facilities such as the Cyber Center of Excellence, where technology students can practice computer hacking, password cracking, social engineering and more to sharpen their cybersecurity skills.
Still another differentiator: the college’s connection to industry.
Like the other eight colleges on campus, the College of Science, Engineering and Technology moves forward in its programs with the guidance of advisory boards made up of industry professionals who steer campus leaders toward what they are looking for from graduates.
What accreditation also means for students in those programs is that the college will be eligible to submit applications to join various academic honor societies that are not open to non ABET-accredited programs, such as Tau Beta Pi, the oldest engineering honor society.
“That’s a bonus for current students and interested students, too,” said Hanson.
Those honor societies usually partner with established campus organizations, which strengthens those established organizations.
More importantly, what ABET’s approval means for students – beyond opportunities to join honor societies and beyond letting employers know that they’re meeting a quality standard – is that employers likely will look more favorably on them when considering them for jobs.
“Many employers will only hire from programs that are ABET-accredited,” Brelin-Fornari said, which equates to an even more valuable degree for the undergraduate computer science students and engineering students enrolled at the University in 2020-21.
The accreditation process continues for CSET as it moves forward in seeking the highly touted ABET designation for its other engineering and engineering technology programs.
As of Oct. 1, ABET has accredited more than 4,140 programs at 812 institutions in 32 countries around the world, including the first programs in fundamental physics and petroleum geosciences.
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.
Also in the series:
GCU Today: GCU pledges its allegiance with teachers
GCU Today: Sure bet – ABET appointment a boon for GCU