|Richard O. Anderson:
B.S., Civil Engineering, Michigan Technological University, Houghton, Michigan, 1971
M.S., Civil Engineering, (Geotechnical), Michigan Technological University, 1972
M.S., Business Administration, (Finance and Accounting), University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1977
Licensed Professional Engineer, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio
Somat Engineering, Inc., Principal Engineer, 2001 to present
Somat Engineering, Inc., President and Chief Operating Officer, 1996 through 2000
Member, ASTM Committees D18 on Soil and Rock and D34 on Waste Management
Co-recipient, 2005 ASCE President’s Medal Recipient of 2005 Honorary Membership in ASCE
||An Interview with ABET President Richard O. Anderson
Since the early 1970s, Richard O. Anderson, a principal engineer at Somat Engineering in Michigan, has distinguished himself as a civil engineer. For the past 20 years, Anderson has given back to his profession by being actively involved in the education of future engineers through the American Society of Civil Engineers and ABET Inc. (formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology).
In November, Anderson, a 25-year member of ASTM, will complete his one-year term as the president of ABET. SN recently asked Anderson some questions about the intersection between standards and engineering education today.
In November you will complete your one-year term as the 2004-2005 chairman of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. You have long been active with ABET but you are a full-time professional engineer not working in academia. What inspires your commitment to ABET and to engineering education?
In the early 1980s, as I took on more and more management responsibility for my employer, including the hiring and evaluating of entry-level engineers, I became aware of deficiencies in the formal schooling of these engineers. We were hiring from some of the premier engineering programs in the Midwest, and technically, their skills were superb. However, the recent graduates lacked basic entry-level skills in the non-technical areas that are so important in our business of consulting engineering, such as communication skills, an understanding of the business of engineering and how the professions work together to build something.
I vowed to try to do something about this. I participated on professional advisory boards in the engineering programs at the various universities in Michigan. I participated on scholarship programs for professional organizations. And I even tried teaching a course at a community college. By 1989, it became apparent to me that to really introduce change into the engineering curriculum, the avenue would have to be through the accreditation process. I then became very active with the American Society of Civil Engineers’ educational activities. ABET is a federation of 30 professional societies such as ASCE, and ASCE was primarily responsible for the specific program criteria for civil engineering. At about the same time, I also volunteered to become an ABET program evaluator for civil engineering programs, which permitted me to participate on accreditation teams that were actually performing the accreditation visits to engineering programs across the United States.
Early on, I was told by an experienced ABET volunteer that “engineering education is too important to be left solely to the educators,” and I truly believe that the ABET model of blending educators and practitioners results in the best outcome for engineering education. This volunteer involvement has truly allowed me to be able to give back to the profession that has provided so many opportunities and given me so much.
In 1997, ABET launched its EC2000 criteria for the accreditation of engineering curricula. These criteria require the incorporation of engineering standards and realistic constraints in the professional component of an engineering education. Can you speak to the necessity for the inclusion of standards in this way? Have you learned of any specific examples of how this requirement has been met by colleges and universities?
The implicit inclusion of standards awareness in the ABET accreditation criteria is a long-standing feature that was heightened with the advent of Engineering Criteria 2000, the outcomes-based assessment criteria. Engineering is one of four general areas represented within ABET by the four commissions. The others are the Computing Accreditation Commission, the Technology Accreditation Commission, and the Applied Science Accreditation Commission. The awareness and utilization of standards varies among the specific disciplines represented on the ABET commissions. However, to varying degrees, for the four general areas represented by the commissions, standards awareness and utilization is an integral component of the educational process.
Most of the undergraduate exposure to ASTM standards occurs in the required laboratory component of various engineering programs. However, as ASTM has promulgated more standard guides and practices, these are slowly making their way into the design component of the curriculum along with the traditional design codes from organizations such as ASCE, the American Concrete Institute, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. The faculty responsible for the comprehensive design experience (what used to be called the capstone design class) use this multidisciplinary, project-oriented course to ensure that the students are familiar with realistic constraints, such as codes and standards.
ABET has a commitment to the concept of “outcomes-based education.” Can you explain this and its impact on both students and professors of engineering?
Prior to the advent of Criteria 2000, the ABET general and program criteria were very specific about what was to be taught and how much of it was to be taught. These old criteria were referred to as “prescriptive” criteria. Although innovation was encouraged, the programs had difficulty implementing innovative ideas and still meeting the prescriptive criteria. Academia was deeply concerned that they were not able to respond nimbly to the rapidly changing technological environment, which was becoming global in nature.
With the strong backing of industry and academia, the outcomes-based assessment criteria were developed and implemented in the mid-1990s. Instead of prescribing what to teach and how much of it to teach, the new criteria focused on the end product what knowledge, skills and attitudes should the graduates of the various programs have when they graduate in order to begin their professional career successfully. This body of knowledge for all engineering graduates was captured in the new ABET Engineering Accreditation Commission general criteria as Criterion 3 (a through k). Then, each of the disciplines expanded on the a-k attributes by providing discipline-specific body-of-knowledge attributes in their respective ABET program criteria.
Now, with implementation of the outcomes-based assessment process, the program administrators are asked to tell ABET (and the program’s other constituents) what knowledge, skills, and attitudes they want the graduates of their programs to have, and how these attributes fit with the mission of the university, the college and the program. This permits each program to design the educational experience of their graduates to meet the expressed needs of their constituents, that is, the entities that are hiring their graduates. The outcomes-based assessment process has led to more innovation in the curricula of various engineering programs, which has presumably led to better prepared graduates. Preliminary indications are that the impact of the outcomes-based assessment process has been significant and favorable. ABET is currently in the midst of a long-term longitudinal study that is evaluating what effect the new criteria have had on the recent graduates who have been subject to the new criteria. The results of this longitudinal study will be released at the 2005 ABET annual meeting in October.
What have been your priorities for ABET throughout your term as president?
My number one priority during my term as president has been to increase diversity within the volunteer corps of ABET. ABET has about 1,500 volunteers from many different disciplines serving as program evaluators, team chairs, and ABET board members. In the past, the technological disciplines that comprise the four commissions of ABET have not been bastions of diversity, and this has to change. ABET draws its volunteers from the membership of our 30 member societies, and has to rely on those societies with respect to diversity. Some disciplines have traditionally done better than others, especially with regard to female involvement. However, across the board, all of the technological disciplines within the United States do not have adequate representation from under-represented minority groups.
The problem goes much deeper than the membership roles of our member societies. How do we encourage teenagers across the spectrum of diversity to take math and science courses that will prepare them to attend a college program in one of the science-technology-engineering-math disciplines? ABET is actively working with many coalitions to address this grassroots problem. ABET is also working directly with our member societies to ensure that they are searching their membership to provide ABET with qualified members that further our goal of making its volunteer ranks as diverse as the population of the United States.
In addition to our diversity initiatives, ABET is also in the midst of revising and strengthening our volunteer recruitment, training, and evaluation procedures by means of our Volunteer Participation Project. The new criteria are much more subjective than the old prescriptive criteria, and thus ABET is requiring more and different training for our evaluators and team chairs to ensure we are providing the best prepared people that we can to evaluate the programs of our client colleges and universities.
You have been a member of ASTM International for 25 years. Why did you get involved with standardization? How has membership in ASTM International and your standards development work helped you professionally?
I became involved with standardization activities because I wanted to have direct input into the standards that were so integral to my professional livelihood. As a geotechnical and construction materials engineer, virtually everything we do as a prelude to our design recommendations and reports is based on ASTM standards. In order for our input data to have validity and credibility, it must be based on standard testing and evaluation procedures.
The variability in the types of soil across the United States is enormous, and when someone from Texas is reviewing our geotechnical report for a site in Michigan, she can understand what we are talking about and what we are basing our recommendations on because of the reliance on the applicable ASTM standards (which, by the way, are referenced in our reports). By participating in the standardization activities, I have become professionally acquainted with many of the leaders in my technical field. I know these people are also interested in maintaining their currency in our field because they have chosen to be involved with the ASTM process.
How do you apply ASTM and other standards in your day-to-day work?
ASTM standards are an integral part of the day-to-day activities of our firm. Where applicable standards exist, we follow them without hesitation. This includes our drilling and sampling activities and all the tests conducted in our soil and materials laboratories. When new engineers or technicians are hired, part of our training program is to orient them to the ASTM standards they will be using in their daily work and to explain the importance of adherence to the procedures; freelancing in testing procedures is not permitted.
You received your B.S. and M.S. in civil engineering (geotechnical) from Michigan Technological University. Were standards brought in to your curriculum at that time? If not, what was your first exposure to standards?
When I received my bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Michigan Tech in civil engineering, we were certainly exposed to ASTM standards in the laboratories. ASTM standards are the basis of the lab manuals we used for classifying and characterizing the soil samples. When I started work, the learning curve in the company laboratory was rather minimal because the firm was obviously using the same standards that I had been exposed to in school.
Do you think standardization is more or less well represented in today’s engineering curriculum than when you went to school?
I believe the importance of standards is probably better represented now in civil engineering than when I was an undergraduate. ASTM has expanded into many new areas over the past 30 years or so, and even in the traditional areas, new standards have been prepared to account for new materials and procedures that have been developed.
Even faculty who are engaged in cutting-edge research rely on ASTM standards to characterize the basic materials with which they are working. This information is then brought into the classroom as the faculty member exposes her students to the results of her research. Increasingly, undergraduate students are assisting in research activities as part of the undergraduate curriculum. As they assist in this research, they realize that the standards serve a useful purpose and they are not simply part of a laboratory assignment in a junior level course.
Do you have any thoughts on how well U.S. colleges and universities compare to those of other countries in educating their engineering students about standardization?
Prior to assuming the presidency of ABET, I had been participating in international substantial equivalency visits on behalf of ABET. In this role, both as a program evaluator and a team chair, I had the opportunity to visit many universities outside of the United States in Europe, Asia and South America. At first I was surprised to see so many textbooks from the United States, and then I realized the reason for this is that most of the engineering faculty in these prestigious universities received their graduate education in the United States. As a result, they were using the texts they were familiar with. In addition, they were also relying on ASTM standards that they had become familiar with during their graduate education in the United States. In some of the countries the ASTM standards were being used alongside comparable European standards, but the ASTM standards were predominant.
What international activities is ABET involved in? What role do you play as president in the international activities?
ABET’s international activities continue to increase, as an adjunct service to our primary mission of accrediting domestic programs. The international activities can be subdivided into three categories. The first are our mutual recognition agreements with organizations similar to ABET in foreign countries. This includes the countries of the Washington Accord and a long-standing mutual recognition agreement with the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board. The eight countries of the Washington Accord agree to recognize each other’s accreditation activities for engineering.
The second category is memorandums of understanding between ABET and fledgling accreditation agencies in foreign countries. ABET has agreed to provide certain services to these agencies to help them develop their own accrediting policies, procedures and activities. At the present time, ABET has 12 memorandums of understanding with accrediting organizations around the world.
The third category is substantial equivalency visits to universities in foreign countries where ABET does not have a mutual recognition agreement and there is currently no recognized accrediting agency in existence in that country. In general, ABET does not accredit programs outside of the United States; instead, the programs are evaluated to determine if they are substantially equivalent to similarly named programs in the United States. Currently, ABET has recognized 107 programs at 20 universities in 10 countries as being substantially equivalent to similarly named programs in the U.S. For comparison, in the U.S., ABET accredits over 2,700 programs at almost 600 institutions of higher learning.
As president of ABET, I cannot actively participate in either the domestic accreditation or international substantial equivalency activities because of the policy-setting nature of the position. However, I look forward to becoming re-engaged in these activities when my term as president is completed.
What are your responsibilities in your position as principal engineer with Somat Engineering? What kind of projects do you work on?
My role is primarily a technical role. I was previously president of Somat, however, I stepped down from that role so that I could devote more time to my volunteer activities, primarily in ABET and ASCE. I am the senior mentor and reviewer to our technical staff and I have overall technical responsibility for the firm. Some of the projects that I have been actively involved with over the last couple of years include the design and construction of the billion-dollar Midfield Terminal development project at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, the design and construction of Ford Field Stadium, the new home of the Detroit Lions in downtown Detroit, Mich., and the design and construction of several large combined sewer overflow projects for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. In addition, I have been actively involved with the design and construction of tunnels, industrial and commercial developments, groundwater projects, and expert witness assignments. //