Improving the World Through Volunteerism

Throughout my life, I’ve always found it particularly rewarding to “give back” — whether it be to my community by planting trees at a local park, by building a raised garden bed for middle school students learning to grow vegetables, or by helping improve the quality of technical education through my professional society IEEE.

It was through IEEE that I first became involved with ABET, the global accreditor of postsecondary STEM programs, as a Program Evaluator. Now, as the Executive Director and CEO of ABET, I’m continually amazed at the professionalism and dedication of our Program Evaluators, Team Chairs, council members, society delegates and Board members who volunteer their time and expertise to improving technical education in over 30 countries around the world.

Last month, hundreds of our Commissioners — volunteer experts with decades of professional experience that lead teams during campus visits — convened in Baltimore for our annual July Commission Meeting. This event results in final accreditation decisions on programs evaluated during the fall of 2018. We also invite representatives of those institutions that will be evaluated during the fall of 2019 to meet with the Team Chair leading their evaluation, providing answers to any questions they may have and sharing details about the upcoming visit.

What really impresses me most about our volunteers is the passion they have for the work they do and their willingness to spend their personal time doing it. Any type of volunteerism is rewarding, but as technical professionals, we have unique skills, abilities, experiences and an understanding of science that can help the world in countless ways. It is our responsibility to use this knowledge to advance the profession and ensure the next generation of STEM professionals is prepared to enter the workforce and address the many complex challenges facing our planet.

As today’s baby boomers retire, professional society membership has declined. Millennials and younger generations haven’t been joining societies at a rate to make up for those leaving. There are many reasons for this, but it’s worth noting that joining a society takes effort — including paying membership dues. What I’ve found, and what countless others have told me: the benefits (what you get out of it) vastly exceed the effort (what you put into it).

My relationship with IEEE began with the student chapter at Michigan State University, and I maintained my membership throughout my working career (and still do!). During one of my assignments as a faculty member at the United States Air Force Academy, I had the privilege of also being the faculty advisor for the IEEE student branch. It was during my time at the Academy that I was first introduced to ABET when my department sought accreditation for our electrical and computer engineering programs. The experience was eye-opening and made me aware of the unique opportunity to “give back” to students around the world. It didn’t take long before I decided to become a Program Evaluator myself. During each review I conducted, I felt that I made a real difference in helping improve the educational experience for the many students at those institutions.

The substantial growth ABET has achieved wouldn’t be possible without the hard work and dedication of our committed Experts. Our continued growth and success also means we’ll need to grow our Program Evaluator pool as more programs around the world seek accreditation. It’s vital that we encourage younger generations to get involved in their professional societies, where they can have an impact on advancing their professions and STEM education. Not only is it a rewarding experience, but as professional engineers and scientists, we have an obligation to use our technical expertise, education, and working experiences to build a better, safer, more sustainable world for all.

Executive Director & CEO of ABET, the global accreditor of college and university programs in the STEM disciplines.

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