Photo Courtesy of Engineers Without Borders

As I reflect back on 2018, I am amazed how often I’ve been involved in discussions about how we prepare STEM graduates for success. It drove me to think a bit deeper about how we view “success” and how that’s changed over the past few years. I quickly came to the conclusion that it’s not just about the great jobs our graduates land or the impressive salaries they demand, but more importantly, the impact they have on our world. As we inch closer to the start of a new year, I realize that defining success this way and talking about our impact on the human condition is exactly what makes us unique.

Last April, the theme of our annual event, the 2018 ABET Symposium, was Sustainability. The event marked a turning point for us; rather than talking about what we do–our criteria and our processes in accrediting programs — we started talking about how our work has a direct impact on our world. Our view of success isn’t just that students learn the skills to become competent, gainfully employed STEM professionals, but that they apply these skills to build a better world — one that is safer, more efficient, more comfortable and more sustainable. We want to help our academic partners infuse this sense of success into their students’ experience.

The “Building a Better World” Panel at the 2018 ABET Symposium.

As members of the World Federation of Engineering Organization (WFEO), we recently participated in the Global Engineering Congress, where the global engineering community gathered to discuss engineering solutions to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Many of the critical issues affecting our world such as climate change, dwindling resources and the growth of our cities, can be solved with real technical innovation and the application of STEM skills. However, the great challenge is to inform and inspire our students to address these challenges head-on when they graduate from our institutions. As the global accreditors of over 4,000 post-secondary programs in engineering, engineering technology, computing, and applied and natural science, we are charged with the important task of establishing appropriate standards in these evolving fields. We are in a prime position to affect how students influence the world.

Each year, approximately 100,000 students graduate from ABET-accredited programs. These graduates will be developing and implementing innovative solutions to address the world’s most pressing challenges. And, as the leaders of tomorrow, they have an obligation to make a difference for future generations.

We can’t achieve any of this by ourselves; it takes international collaboration amongst industry, technical and professional societies as well as our growing network of dedicated experts. This year, we welcomed the American Welding Society into our federation and hosted 138 Program Evaluator Candidates (PEVCs) at our Global Learning Center in Baltimore. The PEVCs represented 24 of our member societies and hailed from 11 different countries around the world. We also added 153 new programs and 17 institutions since last year, including the first ABET-accredited programs in Mongolia. Now, almost a quarter of our accredited programs are located outside of the U.S., demonstrating a continued commitment to the values we champion globally.

As the needs of the world and its citizens evolve, so do our disciplines and our criteria. We continue to set our standards high and deliver confidence for all — confidence that we’re ensuring today’s students are prepared to address tomorrow’s challenges. We expanded the scope of disciplines we accredit with the additions of cybersecurity, cyber engineering, environmental science and others. We also updated our engineering criteria to make sure it’s supporting today’s education requirements.

Last month, I attended the WEEF-GEDC Peace Engineering Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where we discussed the importance of a multidisciplinary engineering education in this rapidly evolving world. In order to address the 17 SDGs, we must work together, across sectors, disciplines and borders, to teach future generations to use engineering and technology for the benefit of human development and wellbeing. For example, our partners at Engineers Without Borders incorporate elements of peace engineering into their projects and curriculum requirements. They consider social and cultural aspects as they design sustainable projects that empower communities to meet their basic human needs.

Defining and redefining success in a changing world requires a commitment by students and programs to build a safer, more sustainable world. I’m sure 2019 will come with its own set of challenges, but one thing will remain constant: our commitment to improving STEM education for all students though an accreditation process that assures confidence — for today and tomorrow.

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