Podcast Transcript: Getting the Classroom Ready to face Industry 4.0’s Challenges

Who are the orchestrators behind STEM curriculum accreditation within post-secondary education? How do they help the emerging workforce prepare for the demands of an ever-evolving industry? On this episode of Innovation in the Classroom, join host Dora Smith as she sits down with Michael Milligan, the CEO of ABET, an NGO dedicated to accrediting post-secondary educational programs in applied natural science, computing, engineering, and engineering technology.

Dora and Michael explore the intersectionality between academia and industry 4.0 as well as the at-large industry benefits of program accreditation. From discussing the implications of ethical concerns such as sustainability or globalization on the industry to the ramifications of the ever-present skills gap, listen as the pair discusses the most pertinent issues that the future of our workforce faces.   


Podcast Transcript:

Dora Smith: Welcome to Siemens Innovation in the Classroom Podcast series. I’m your host, Dora Smith. We’ve all heard about industry 4.0, and it’s clear that we’re living through a fast-paced technological revolution. It’s so fast, in fact, that it’s hard to know how to prepare. This goes for the current workforce as well as the future workforce still in school. The difference between previous industrial revolutions and this 4.0 that we’re living in is the warp speed of change. So, how do we anticipate the needs of a future that’s changing daily? Preparation for industry 4.0 begins in the classroom. And that’s why today I’m excited and honored to be joined by Michael Milligan, the CEO of ABET, a non-governmental organization responsible for crediting post-secondary education programs in applied natural science, computing, engineering, and engineering technology. Hi, Michael, welcome to the show.

Michael Milligan: Well, thanks for having me. I’m really looking forward to our discussion today.

Dora Smith: Great. So, can you tell us just a little bit about yourself and your journey to ABET?

Michael Milligan: My background is in engineering – I have formal education in Electrical Engineering – and I spent 25 years in the US Air Force; actually, a good 10 of those in the sort of in the academic world, when I was affiliated with the Air Force Academy. That was actually my first experience or engagement with ABET. I was in charge of putting together the accreditation for a brand new computer engineering program. And so, I went through that process, found it to be extremely helpful. And then, later on, got involved as a volunteer program evaluator, in a volunteer mode through IEEE, which is my member society. And then when I retired from the Air Force, I went to work at NASA for a few years and then ended up on staff at ABET and I’ve been there for 10 years. And I can tell you we do great work. I think I’m lucky because I have different perspectives on the whole accreditation and quality assurance perspective. Certainly, in the department of electrical engineering, where we were doing that work, I was in the industry, hiring people and using programs that are accredited by ABET as a kind of a standard in terms of recruiting and hiring. As a parent, I have two sons that just went through engineering school, both the University of Maryland, both at accredited programs, so understanding the importance to parents, of course, who want their children to be successful. And, of course, I’m paying the tuition as well and I want to make sure all that’s going to good use. And then I think nowadays, especially we have so many great challenges facing us globally, that we play a big role in helping prepare students to tackle those big challenges because they’ll be the ones that’ll do it this next generation of students.

Dora Smith: Yeah, we’re definitely going to talk about some of those challenges here in a little bit. Well, it’s great to hear that you have such a varied perspective, especially as a parent as well, of students in engineering school. So, why don’t we talk a little bit more about ABET as an organization? What do you feel is the overall role that ABET plays in education and why are accreditation and engineering programs important?

Michael Milligan: So, ABET, we’re all about quality and quality assurance. And so, we’re sort of that third-party organization that verifies quality assurance processes and commitments at institutions. So, we do this through accreditation, so we accredit college and university programs in STEM disciplines, including the applied natural sciences, computing, engineering, and engineering technology. We do it at all levels, the associate, baccalaureate, and master’s levels, so it all depends upon what’s the appropriate entry-level into the profession. So, we focus on making sure that students are prepared to enter the profession that they’ve chosen. So, an example of an associate degree, perhaps at the technician level, a bachelor’s degree, of course, is the typical entry-level for engineering and so forth. So, we’re all about inspiring confidence in the kind of work that we do. So, I know that students, parents, employers, institutions look to ABET to provide that confidence that, again, these students are going through programs that are constructed to ensure that they’re prepared to enter the profession.

Dora Smith: Yeah, that was one question I had was, “What does accreditation mean to employers?” So, you emphasized that confidence. Anything else you would add to what you think it means to the industry?

Michael Milligan: Let me just back up for just a moment. And ABET was founded back in the 1930s, at the behest of industry because there was really at that time, the industrial revolution was transitioning and it was huge growth. And there was really an uneven sense for the preparation of students coming out at that time of engineering schools. And so, the industry wanted to have some sense that students were being exposed to appropriate topics, certain experiences, and so forth. And so, that’s continued on. We have a strong support of the industry. I always like to use indeed.com as an example. If you go to that website, it’s a job search function, if you just type in ABET and hit carriage return, you’ll end up with several thousand jobs pop up and in there somewhere that will talk about ABET accreditation required or preferred, and so forth. So, that to me is a nice kind of impartial kind of verification. But we have a lot of support through our industry advisory councils at the program level, as well as on our Board of Directors and we have a good 20% of our evaluators and what we call our teachers come from industry as well. So, I think all in all the industry recognizes the importance of the work that we do, the result of the work that we do in producing graduates that are, again, prepared to practice. Yeah, so I think, all in all, we have a really good relationship with the industry.

Dora Smith: Yeah, I can tell you I had reached out to our HR recruiting ahead of this call just to kind of see how we approach it and it definitely is a key criterion. Nearly all of the engineers we hire are coming from accredited universities. Hey, let’s talk a little bit about the ABET standards and you can kind of summarize at a high level that needs to be followed by universities and how do you kind of blend or how do they blend the theory and the practice to meet those?

Michael Milligan: So, we actually went through a kind of a revolution about 20 some years ago when we transitioned from what we had sort of looked at as what we call inputs-based accreditation to an outcomes-based approach. And really, the difference there is that everyone wants to know, are students leaving school with all the knowledge skills, abilities, experiences that we want them to have when they graduate, so they can be effective and successful and all that? And the best way to do that is not to count the number of courses they’ve had or the credit hours and that type of thing, but really to assess how well they’re learning. And at a high level, we want to understand our students effectively walking away from their programs with, again, the knowledge, skills, abilities, and all those things that we expect them to do. And you have to do that through formal assessment of adult learning. So, that’s been significantly different than the way things were done before. And I can tell you that that method and that approach has been adopted universally across all disciplines now, certainly in the US and generally around the world. So, everyone’s focused on outcomes.

Michael Milligan: So, we establish our criteria based on outcomes. We have 35-member societies and they represent a profession. So, we have IEEE for electrical engineering, we have ASEE for civil, we have CSF for computer science, and so on and so forth. So, these professional societies play a very important role in establishing our standards. They are responsible for helping develop them based upon what they understand the discipline needs, of course, and they also provide all of our reviewers. So, we like to ensure that in our peer review process that only practicing engineers or scientists are visiting institutions and programs because they’re the ones that are going to best understand what those programs are all about. We have eight to nine specific criteria, but really, they come down to what we call program educational objectives which is, what do we expect students to be able to do once they’ve graduated three to five years down the road? What about the specific outcomes, what kinds of skills should they be able to demonstrate when they graduate? And then it’s all tied around continuous improvement. So, we expect programs to have an ongoing continuous improvement process where they’re now setting up their own program, their own courses, their own requirements, and so forth, so they’re evaluating how well students are doing against those. And then they’re taking whatever corrective actions necessary in order to improve that process. So, that type of process is very familiar to most of us. It’s similar to an ISO kind of a process in terms of establishing processes and making sure we’re following and so forth. So, when we visit programs, really what we’re doing is we’re verifying the continuous improvement process that exists is being executed and is being run to the benefit of students. So, that’s kind of the idea about the criteria.

Michael Milligan: Now, in terms of the theory versus practice, one of the most critical components of continuous improvement is feedback from constituents and the largest number of constituents in the STEM fields is going to be industry. So, typically, without exception, all programs will have some type of industry advisory council or committee or board that actually meets with that program on a regular basis and provides feedback to them on how well the students are doing once they graduate. They provide them information perhaps on the industry is going in this direction, we need these kinds of skills, we need this kind of exposure to technology, tools, so on and so forth. And so, again, that’s kind of where the practice gets fed back directly to the programs, is through the industry participation. Again, we put out high priority on that when we go and visit programs, we expect to see what the industry feedback has been. Of course, we also have our professional societies, they’re the ones who represent the professions in general, and so they have a sense for what is important in terms of new technologies and new requirements and sort of forward-looking in terms of the things that they think students are going to need to be exposed to over their college careers.

Dora Smith: I love that you mentioned technology tools – that’s obviously our sweet spot where we want to play a role in helping schools integrate that in their core curriculum. Since you mentioned ASEE and these knowledge, skills, and abilities, I just wanted our listeners to know about a new study that we had done on the corporate member Council of ASEE and you may have seen this skills gap study, Michael, we did about six months ago that came out. But it really was looking at fresh hires, who had been working in the last five years, and what was their feedback on the skills gap. Because we’ve had what industry is often telling academic and we really wanted to hear from those fresh graduates what their experience was and it was right in line with the ASEE’s TUEE program years ago, their KSA. So, let’s talk a little bit more about industry impact. When you look at adjusting to each of these preceding industrial revolutions, we saw that both the labor market and entire systems of education had to be altered and really forcing them to change how they operate. I guess from your perspective, can you point to maybe some specific effects you’ve noticed in education and how it’s adjusting to meet industry 4.0?

Michael Milligan: This is interesting because I think we all are witnessing how fast things change. The technology and the demand for new technologies and so forth is lightspeed. It’s something that’s really amazing. And so, how do we adjust to help support all that? One of the things that we’ve done directly is we have a convening once a year, what we call our ABET symposium, which is done in the spring of every year, and we really try to tie into what is the issue of the day, if you will. And so, in the past few years, we’ve really dealt, gone into depth in ethics, and what’s the criticality of ethics with respect to what STEM students are going through and what are they learning and their appreciation for that, and how will they deal with potential ethical dilemmas in the future. Sustainability, of course, it’s a huge topic; cybersecurity, just a couple of years ago that’s been something that we see every day more and more unfortunately about the need for having a secure environment in terms of electronic commerce and communications, and so forth. So, we’ve put a premium on that, we worked with a number of the industry including the National Security Agency and others to develop what we feel is a really strong model cybersecurity experience. And so, we are directly affecting that, and I think that’s going to be one that’s going to continue to grow more and more. That goes hand in hand with data science, I think data science is really exploding if you will. If you look at statistics, it’s kind of amazing, something along the lines of half the data that exists in the role was generated in the past three or five years or something crazy like that.

Michael Milligan: And so, how do we, how data science in general – and that kind of goes hand in hand with the other point I wanted to make about this increase for the interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches to all types of STEM education. It’s rare, probably, that doesn’t even exist where you have purely an electrical engineering job per se, where you just focused on those topics because there’re so many other things that come into play. And data science is a great example of that. We need students that are comfortable with dealing with data, understand how to use data and metadata, what are the tools and so forth that they can use. And so, all of this plays, I think, into this transition to industry 4.0 because, again, more and more things are becoming less clearly defined and there’s more and more overlap. And so, the way that we were set up in terms of our standards, and so forth does this really well because they’re non-prescriptive if you will. So, we don’t tell programs how to construct their experience in terms of what courses they should have and how many credit hours they should be devoting to particular topics. We leave that up to the programs because they are in a position to best grow and evolve to the current needs of industry, again, they’re their largest constituencies. So, we feel very good that we’re keeping track of what are kind of the seminal issues of the day and really allowing and encouraging programs to be innovative, do the kind of things that they think they need to do in order to meet the needs of the future graduate near term and long term. Yeah, I think we, through our partnership with both institutions and industry, especially, I think it really has gone a long way towards that.

Michael Milligan: Interestingly, in this time of COVID, our last symposium was on this topic of data science and our keynote speakers were from Johns Hopkins University. They have a center for systems of science and engineering within the Department of Civil and Systems Engineering. They’re the ones that developed that everyone understands the dashboard that’s been used to kind of talk about the extent of infections and deaths and so forth around the world. And so, this JHU project was really interesting because it was born out of this civil engineering department where they’re really looking at civilization engineering, and how do we support civilization. And then there were three graduate students, Ph.D. students, that basically constructed this whole thing, and now it’s used pretty much universally. So, I think that’s a really good example of data science and being really relevant to these sorts of challenges with COVID.

Dora Smith: Yes. So, you mentioned a number of engineering fields there. Any others you didn’t speak to that you have seen large shifts in curriculum because of just these evolving global workforce needs?

Michael Milligan: Well, of course, the whole area in computing – that changes; and computing in all aspects is embedded in everything that we do now. And it doesn’t matter what kind of field that you go into, we see the computing areas sort of exploding in the kinds of programs and the topics that are discussed. Traditionally, we would look at a pure computer science program that was a BS maybe in computer science that was offered either in an engineering college or maybe in the natural sciences, but now there are all kinds of different flavors of computing that are out there. And so, understanding what students really can do and can bring to the table, if you will, as an employer in the computing area is really important. We see all kinds of boot camps. There’s these software boot camps and coding boot camps and those kinds of things. We don’t really know much long-term how well those are really doing, but we see this tremendous need for people with computing skills. And so, how can we change education in general to kind of support that? That’s a big challenge. And again, it doesn’t really matter what you study nowadays, you’ve got to be able to have some sense of computing, competency algorithms, understanding a little bit of coding, or what have you. So, that’s the other big area that we see.

Dora Smith: Yeah, coding is going to be very, very important. And I had pushed my sons into some of those early grade school kind of coding camps. They didn’t enjoy them as much, but now that they’re in high school and using a little bit more advanced and seeing the effects and seeing what they can do with that data that they’re coding is pretty cool.

Michael Milligan: Well that’s the key, it’s what can they do with it. And if you can make it so you can actually do something meaningful, that’s the key to making it successful in getting students interested.

Dora Smith: So, you talked about innovation, Michael, and we often hear at some of the different industry events, academic events that you and I attend as well, some of the educators or academic executives will say that change is really hard due to accreditation requirements. Yet others say ABET provides great flexibility in how criteria is met. Can you help set the record straight?

Michael Milligan: Well, thanks for asking that question first of all because it is something that we hear from time to time. First of all, change is difficult regardless of what business you’re in and anything else in any aspect of life. But I don’t really think that ABET is a hindrance to meaningful innovation, either in educational delivery, or how well or assessment of student learning and so forth. I think that when I’ve challenged people that have said that it’s rare that anyone’s ever given me a concrete example – it just doesn’t exist. You as employers, want to make sure that students coming out of programs have a certain foundation so that they can be successful, they can do the things you want them to do or you expect them to do. But I do think this idea of accreditation sort of being a hindrance. Certainly, it’s an outdated, misunderstood view, I think of what we’re all about.

Michael Milligan: I had mentioned earlier about this transition to outcomes-based education assessment. And our criteria really support programs developing what they feel is the best in order to prepare students to enter the profession to have what I would think is flexibility. Let me give you a simple example. One of our criteria, okay, for engineering – so this is not computing but just the engineering now – is that students must be able to identify, formulate, and solve complex engineering problems by applying principles of engineering, science, and mathematics. Seems pretty straightforward, it seems like something you would want, right? And there’s nothing in there that says how you have to do that, how many classes you need, what topics are required. No, it says, you need to be able to do that. So, programs have a lot of ability to kind of construct their experience for students in different ways and we see that all the time. Everything from this implementation of project-based learning which has now really taken off to a lot more flipped classrooms to additional virtual teaching and laboratory tutorials, all those kinds of things. And we applaud that.

Michael Milligan: I also like to use this idea of laboratories. Students have, and I’ll tell you this, what we say about that, we say students must have an ability to develop and conduct appropriate experimentation, analyze and interpret data and use engineering judgment to draw conclusions. Again, that’s something that you would say, of course, students ought to be able to do that. But again, we don’t say what kind of lab equipment, we don’t say how many lab courses they need or anything else, we leave that up to the program. So, really, I guess what I’m saying is there’s nothing prescriptive really about what we’re doing here. We want to provide confidence, again, from an employer’s point of view that students have that foundation. If they’re a mechanical engineer, or computer science or whatever they happen to be, yet they have the ability to kind of implement their program the way they see fit. I think one of the – certainly in the United States – great strengths of higher education in the US is the diversity. And it cuts across all areas, whether there are large research universities, teaching colleges, we have faith-based institutions, military academies, I’m sure there are others. They have engineering programs, computing programs, the applied science programs, they can all meet our criteria and do well. But certainly, their programs are all going to be slightly different based on the needs of their constituents and how the institutions are set up.

Dora Smith: Well, we do certainly recommend Siemens technology for that lab equipment, criteria piece. But yeah, I have had many former ABET evaluators stress the flexibility that is there. So, that shouldn’t be any excuse for not changing.

Michael Milligan: No, as a matter of fact, let me just say one last thing on the innovation. We have an annual award that we go to every year for innovation whether it’s in the program in the instruction if it’s a group, individual, whatever, but we really want to promote this idea of innovation. So, we stand behind that by recognizing outstanding innovators every year.

Dora Smith: So, Michael, are some of the award winners, do you guys feature those on your blog, that we could point people to some best practice examples?

Michael Milligan: Yes. Actually, after every award, we do a piece on that, certainly; also on our website – you can come look at our website and learn about that. We introduced the Innovation Award maybe five years ago, something along those lines, and it’s really taken off globally. So, we have nominations from all over the world in many different areas. We don’t really want to define what innovation looks like, but when you read them, you know that’s what it is.

Dora Smith: It comes in all shapes and sizes, right?

Michael Milligan: Indeed, it sure does.

Dora Smith: Speaking of your website, on your website you guys devote a lot of space to the importance of diversity and inclusion, particularly in terms of the creativity and breadth of ideas that come from people with different backgrounds. Can you talk about why this is such an important value and how you guys are starting to approach it in your criteria?

Michael Milligan: Well, first of all, the main point is the very best solutions come from those diverse teams, people with different perspectives and backgrounds and upbringings and so forth. And so, that’s kind of an obvious thing. But our overall goal really is to make the world a better place. And you can’t make the world a better place if you don’t have everybody participating. I mean, it’s pretty straightforward in that regard. Now, unfortunately, historically, we haven’t had really a level playing field in terms of people being able to seek different kinds of educational degrees, and so forth. And so, we really need to promote this idea of encouragement of students having experience with diverse teams, and whether that means geographical diversity, whether that’s gender diversity, whether it’s ethnic diversity, and so forth. All of that is important. And certainly, I always like to use examples of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Big problems, complex problems can require lots of effort by lots of different people. And for every single one of those goals that’s on that list, it is tied back to STEM education in some way. And even more importantly, it’s going to require diverse approaches to solving those. So, there are so many reasons why diversity, inclusion, equity, all of that is so important. Obviously, it’s the right thing to do, but it’s necessary. And so, we feel like we’re at a point where we can really promote that at the educational level. So, you will see that on our website, as you mentioned, and there are discussions currently about how to best integrate that into the criteria so that programs – well, most programs already really have some diversity inclusion initiatives that currently exist, but really highlighting that as an important aspect of an accredited program, I think is what we can bring to help promote that and accelerate this idea of expanding opportunities for STEM education to all kinds of people.

Dora Smith: You and I were both at that last Engineering Deans Institute and I found – I think it was in your ABET Q&A that you do annually with the deans – a discussion on the need actually for ABET’s voice and role in this conversation that back to what we were just saying do criteria inhibit or drive change and it seemed the deans were saying, “We need ABET’s guidance on this and that’s the only way we’ll be able to drive change in our institutions.” I found that quite fascinating.

Michael Milligan: Yeah, we actually received a letter from the big 10 engineering deans, which is a – the big 10 conference – but beyond that, there’s a number of other institutions and they represent I think a huge number, percentage of engineering grads. And the letter basically said that we fully support the inclusion of diversity principles into the ABET criteria. And it was really nice to hear that because oftentimes we get, again, as you’d mentioned earlier about the hindrance to innovation, sometimes we get criticized for putting these in the criteria. Here was one that was saying, “Hey, please, let’s go and do this and we fully support you.” So, that was really good to hear that from the deans.

Dora Smith: Yeah, it’s such a different perspective when we look at real-world competitions that we want to support – the ones that are global in scope and can have students on teams from all different backgrounds and countries, those students come away with a whole different perspective and view of the world and are going to do much bigger things when they graduate. Alright, so let’s talk a little more about the future. I just kind of wanted to get your perspective on some trends that you see happening. You mentioned the UN sustainability goals and I think you published an article recently, titled Socially Conscious Engineering. Can you talk a little bit more about what you shared there? I think you noted the engineering for one planet framework as a tool and overall, I think that the focus was actually on the criteria around ensuring access to water and sanitation for all. But can you give us just your perspective on that or other trends you see that we need to address?

Michael Milligan: Well, I do think that there has been a substantial increase in terms of this whole idea of sustainability and the importance of it in all aspects of STEM education. I know that when I was an undergraduate, we would be provided a problem or a challenge and we had to design a solution. But really nowhere in there did any aspect of sustainability come into play, it was all about what was the best technical solution. But unfortunately, I think most well, for sure, I think most of us understand that the best technical solution isn’t ultimately the right solution because there can be a lot of ancillary effects, the secondary effects that we just don’t think about when we’re trying to come up with the best technical solution. So, having students when they graduate to understand that, okay, it’s not just the technical aspect but we have to understand where it is in the world that we’re doing, what is our impact on the environment, what about natural resources, what about recycling? I mean, nowadays, everything is about electrification and that’s going to go a long way towards solving the challenges of greenhouse gases and so forth. But what do we do? How do we recycle our lithium batteries? And how do we mine them in a sustainable and right way to do that? And so, there’re all those kinds of things that students need to be aware of.

Michael Milligan: And so, I like to use the UN SDGs as examples because I think oftentimes in the classrooms students can get kind of overwhelmed by this idea of, “Oh, we need to learn about sustainability.” And by the way, that is in our criteria, sustainability. But I think the UN SDGs are great because they’re specific examples. So, if I’m civil engineering or environmental engineering my focus really is on water, clean water, and sanitation and that’s the goal that I can focus on. And you can dig deep, and you can find data that talks about how we’re progressing towards meeting these goals and things along those lines. And so, I think, using the SDGs as specific examples is great. And again, as I mentioned earlier, if you look across those 17 goals, a solid foundation especially in STEM education, I think goes a long way towards achieving each and every one of those goals and it doesn’t matter which one it is. So, I feel very strongly that we’re in a good place. I also like students to think about that, and also the professors. The ones that have the greatest influence during a student’s education are in the best position to influence them. So, using goals such as outlined by the SDGs or our national academy, US National Academy grand challenges too, using those as examples in the classroom of ways to solve problems and to consider, again, the impact of those I think is really important. So, I’m quite happy to use those as means to communicate and try to encourage faculty.

Michael Milligan: I think one of the biggest challenges faculty have many times is, well, first and foremost they’re educators, but many times they kind of see themselves as specialists. I’m an expert in digital signal processing or in whatever that happens to be, but in fact, if you expand a little bit, you are that but in addition, you’re an educator. So, how do you get your students to be effective learners and what other things can you talk about? We did a symposium a few years back on ethics and it was right after the Volkswagen emissions scandal came out and the team from West Virginia University that discovered that Arvid Thurman Gautam – he’s the professor there – and his team of graduate students discovered those anomalies and so he told his story and so forth. But we use that as an example of professors, instructors in classes can talk about ethics. They don’t need to be specialists, they don’t need to be experts in ethics, they don’t need to say “Oh, well, the philosophy department is going to take care of the ethics discussion.” Students are going to be probably increasingly faced with ethical dilemmas as they practice their professions and so they need some experience. So, it’s okay to talk about stories that appear in the paper or personal experiences when it comes to ethics. At least let students know that this is important. So, that’s an example, but again, across the board, the whole SDGs, you pick any of those talks, about any of those as examples, and I think that would go a long way towards really preparing our students better.

Dora Smith: And that is something we always emphasize about this is where they can lean on the industry. That educator doesn’t need to know everything. Bring in subject matter experts, let them share scenarios situations are facing.

Michael Milligan: And students love to hear what the industry’s thinking for sure, right? They want to know because they’re so focused on the academic experience. What the practical part can look like when I graduate? And what are the expectations for me? So, hearing those and reinforcing those will go a long way, I think, towards making sure that they’re really in a good spot when they graduate.

Dora Smith: So, let’s talk about another recent trend. I wanted to get your take as ABET. So, we’ve been seeing a lot of these non-degree credentials becoming more popular with learners, industry, employers both as an alternative to and a pathway towards traditional degree programs. What do you see is ABET’s role in that? Were you guys headed down the road to accredit those programs, or what’s your viewpoint?

Michael Milligan: Well, that’s another good question. Because I think in my personal experience, what my story was when I graduated and started working, the first thing I realized is how much I didn’t know and how much I needed to supplement my undergraduate education with other professional development, and so forth. So, everyone, I think, understands that. The altered credentials are interesting because of the demand. You used coding camps earlier in our discussion, and that’s obviously a demand that’s out there and will continue probably indefinitely. And it’s always a trade because one of the things that we feel very strongly, I feel very strongly about is that the traditional undergraduate education, you really develop the foundation to be successful throughout your working career. I think most people would agree, I think there’s a statistic out there that says, after five years half of what you learned in your undergrad, the technology is outdated, and so forth. That’ll always be the case. But it’s the foundation that you experience and you learn that allows you to evolve and to improve and to increase your skills. I think the one part with the altered credentials as a standalone or as a substitute for maybe that undergraduate experiences is that a lot of those skills will be short-lived. And so, I don’t know how much foundation students will take away from that. Certainly, they’re going to learn some good skills and as a supplement, maybe to other education they have that’s great. I mean, I’ve taken some courses myself as a way to expand. So, I think there’s that. In terms of ABET’s role, that I think is still to be determined because we were founded in 1932, we’ve got an excellent process for the kind of work that we do. We’re continually growing in both our reach and the number of discipline areas and geographical areas, so that’s going to continue. This is a whole new territory, and so, how do we ensure the quality of that, maybe that shorter experience students will go through? That’s something that we are looking at very closely but we don’t really have an answer to that yet. I think it potentially could be very important because there’re so many available and for students that really don’t know. If I was a student and I just didn’t really choose the traditional path of an undergraduate program and thought maybe I’d just go ahead and take some short courses or some of these credentialing courses. How do you pick and choose when there are so many things out there available? And which ones can you walk away from knowing that, “Yeah, I got a good experience and it’ll make me employable? And it was a good investment in my time, and money and so forth.”? So, there is a need for that, people want the confidence, again, that they can walk away from those and be prepared. But I think it’s going to take a little bit of time because it’s so different and it’s changing so rapidly also. That’s the other thing, it’s pretty amazing.

Dora Smith: Yeah, it would definitely be a big scope. But when you guys are ready, go ahead and accredit lifelong learning. I can see the need.

Michael Milligan: Yeah, well, that’s one place industry can really help us in that regard, help guide us along what’s important to you, and how would you use it. I think that’s maybe one takeaway from our conversation today from industry, is how you can help us in that regard.

Dora Smith: So, let’s talk a little bit more about that. I mean, I was going to ask you what impact the industry has on ABET accreditation and you spoke a little bit to it earlier. But if you want to emphasize that. There’s probably small and big companies in our listener base. What can they do to support and engage with ABET?

Michael Milligan: They can do a number of things. I think one of the more obvious ones is certainly providing people to act on various industry advisory boards that individual programs will have because that’s your direct connection to probably institutions where you might have recruited, or are in the local area or whatnot, or you could be a graduate, be alumni. So, that’s a pretty common thing. One area that industry could really help us though, is we have a pretty large number of what we call volunteer experts. They’re the ones who go out and actually review programs. So, they learn about the criteria, they go to the program to get a chance to talk to faculty, students, staff, look at facilities, tools, and so forth. And we could really use more evaluators from the industry because they bring a unique perspective. They understand the challenge in the industry, what’s happening, what kind of students they need, what kind of experiences they should really have. And the benefit to those people and the industry that they come from is pretty unique because they get a chance to get inside the programs and see how are students learning, what are students learning, what kind of tools, what kind of methods, and I guarantee you that when you go in there, your view will be entirely different than when you were an undergraduate student. Because education has changed so rapidly.

Michael Milligan: So, having that understanding of how students are being taught, what they’re being taught, what’s being emphasized, and so forth, I think is invaluable to the industry. Because they can use that later to either feedback to the programs or make that part of their hiring and recruiting. And they’ll understand what graduates are exposed to, maybe what the expectations will be. So, really could use more evaluators from the industry. And the way you do that, of course, is you can come to our website, there’s a place to become a PEV and application and you go through your professional society, again, whether it’s an IEEE or an ASEE or what have you. So, we can always use those. The trick there though, I guess, is the industry at a high level to support it. So, provide people with time to do the reviews. Our reviews typically take, well, generally three days and then travel on either side, so it can be up to five days and it’s usually over a weekend, that type of thing. But the industry has to be able to support allowing their employees to take the time to go ahead and do those reviews. Because that’s really what we’re asking people for is their time and their expertise. So, that would be a great way. And then, we have an industry advisory at our board level. So, getting information back in more of a strategic view to the Board of Directors is critically important. And we try very hard to have a very diverse representation of the industry, large industry, small industry, types of industry, telecommunications, automotive, municipalities all kinds of the industry too. So, there’re lots of opportunities, I think, for the industry to partner with ABET, and again, those are I think the primary ways.

Dora Smith: We need their time, talent, and treasure if they can…

Michael Milligan: That’s exactly right. You couldn’t have said it better. That’s exactly right.

Dora Smith: Oh, great. So, I’ve saved the hardest question to last, Michael. I wanted to find out, what new hobby you’ve taken up during the pandemic?

Michael Milligan: Well, actually, typically in any year, I’m usually on the road three to four months of the year. So, with COVID that was flipped upside down, I haven’t been anywhere. And I have to tell you, I’ve really enjoyed it. And so, I like being at home and the one thing I’ve increased is my cycling. I like to cycle a lot. I bought a new bicycle. It took me a year to get it because of the supply chain challenges with COVID. But I finally got my bicycle and I’ve been doing a lot of biking every day. So, that’s been really nice, very enjoyable.

Dora Smith: Well, Michael, I can’t thank you enough for your time today, just appreciate your perspective and insight. And I want to thank all of our listeners for tuning in. If you enjoyed this podcast, be sure to subscribe and listen to more Innovation in the Classroom.

Michael Milligan: Dora, thanks so much. I really appreciate this opportunity.

Innovation in the Classroom

Innovation in the Classroom

Innovation in the Classroom by Siemens explores best practices to empower the next generation of digital talent. In this podcast series, Dora Smith takes you through discussions with leading voices from the world of engineering education who are preparing future engineers in Academia 4.0 to shape the world of innovation.

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