Written by Professor R.H. Bishop, ASE/EM Chairman

You may have heard that our aerospace engineering program is an “accredited program.” Have you ever wondered who has the authority to bestow accreditation upon us? And what does this mean to you as a student, parent, or employer?

The aerospace engineering program review is conducted by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, known as ABET. ABET is an association of thirty professional and technical societies, including the AIAA, our own professional aerospace engineering society. Given our participation as faculty in the AIAA professional society, it is fair to say that we are ABET. In fact, two faculty members in our department are ABET program evaluators and two others have received ABET training in preparation for volunteering as evaluators. Over twenty-five hundred programs at over five hundred colleges and universities nationwide are accredited by ABET.

One fact that you may not know is that undergraduate programs are accredited, not departments. In our case, the undergraduate aerospace engineering program is accredited, whereas the ASE/EM Department and the engineering mechanics graduate program are not.

Why is accreditation important to you? Because it assures that the aerospace engineering program meets the high quality standards that you expect of a top-ten ranked department. Prospective students and their parents can (and should) use accreditation to help them select a superior college program. For employers, accreditation ensures that our graduates are well-prepared for the work environment.

As a department, we voluntarily submit to the ABET review and we agree beforehand to abide by the final findings of the review team. Accreditation helps us by providing a structured mechanism to assess, evaluate, and improve the aerospace engineering curriculum. Frankly, most of our faculty members are motivated by their professional pride and enthusiasm for teaching to continuously improve their classes, not by ABET. That said, the ABET process does force us to think carefully about our curriculum and its relationship to the educational outcomes we desire for our students. For more information visit the ASE/EM undergraduate homepage.

The ABET review is a multi-step process. We initiate the process, in unison with the other programs in the Cockrell School of Engineering, by requesting a review of the aerospace engineering program. We then complete a self-study document that summarizes our internal review of the aerospace engineering program to determine if our students, curriculum, faculty, administration, facilities, and institutional support meet the established criteria. The criteria are established by our faculty working with our constituents, including students, industrial visiting committee members, and alumni. ABET forms an evaluation team and visits campus for several days to review course materials, student projects, and sample assignments. Team members also conduct interviews of students, faculty, alumni, and administrators. Following the campus visit, the team provides a written report of the evaluation. The review process concludes at the annual meeting of all ABET commission members where the final evaluation report containing the recommended accreditation action is voted on by the commission members.

Accreditation requires a tremendous effort on the part of the faculty, students, staff, visiting committee, and alumni to achieve the desired results. In the fall of 2004 we were visited by ABET. Our students met with the ABET evaluation team, alumni traveled to campus from Dallas/Fort Worth and San Antonio, and our faculty worked relentlessly to perfect the written materials required to document the feedback process instituted over the past six years.

We are excited to announce that our ABET review concluded successfully. You can continue to rest assured that the UT aerospace engineering program meets the high standards that you have come to expect.