ECU’s engineering school earns accreditation|Most of graduates working in eastern third of the state

Published 7:16 pm Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Daily News Correspondent

Call it a small-scale reversal of the regional “brain drain” — a reversal that’s reportedly paying dividends for the area by keeping talented college graduates nearby.
East Carolina University’s Department of Engineering recently received accreditation from the national Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.
“ABET accreditation is assurance that a college or university program meets the quality standards established by the profession for which it prepares its students,” ABET’s Web site reads.
The honor enhances the credibility of a program that is keeping some professionals in a region that needs their expertise, some area leaders said.
“It’s extremely important in today’s economy to have well-trained engineers in almost every discipline,” said Tom Thompson, director of the Beaufort County Economic Development Commission.
Thompson said he’s long been an advocate for more state investment in every higher-education discipline east of Interstate 95.
The majority of North Carolina’s impoverished counties are east of that highway, he pointed out.
“I think it’s an excellent arrow in the quiver in eastern North Carolina to continue our effort to try to improve the economy,” he said.
More than 50 percent of the engineering school’s graduates become employed in the eastern third of the state, said Paul Kauffmann, chairman of the department.
“That’s a major part of the reason we’re here,” Kauffmann commented.
Incoming industries are beginning to cite the school as a reason for locating operations in the area, while existing industries are seeking interns through the department, he related.
Kauffmann added that an official with Flanders Filters of Washington recently contacted the school to express an interest in co-operative programs and internships.
ECU was notified Aug. 31 that its engineering school had been approved for accreditation, said Washington resident Jim Hackney.
Hackney, who holds two engineering degrees and is a licensed professional engineer, is vice chairman of the engineering school’s external advisory board.
“It is a very broad-based engineering program,” he said. “In other words, (students are) exposed to a little bit of all the different disciplines.”
Like general practitioners in the medical field, the department’s graduates emerge as “generalists,” Hackney said, “which really prepares them to be the jack of all trades to eastern North Carolina.”
The school also offers four areas of specialization within the general engineering degree, he said.
The relatively new engineering school admitted its first class in 2004, Hackney said.
That first class started with 34 students and produced 22 graduates in 2008, he said, adding that the attrition level is about average in a college of engineering.
Some of the students transferred to other curricula, he said.
“The accreditation process is very involved,” Hackney noted.
The school first had to turn out a graduating class then submit an application with “a very, very comprehensive report,” he said. “I’m talking about a couple of very thick notebooks with documentation on the program.”
After a site visit, the accreditation group issued a report resulting from a review of documentation as well as interviews with graduates and advisory board members, Hackney said.
The report covered the program’s strengths and weaknesses and allowed ECU an opportunity to respond to those points, he said.
“Actually, as it turned out there were very few weaknesses that they pointed out in their report,” Hackney added. “They were very minor.”
Hackney also praised the department for its efforts to encourage a collegial atmosphere.
“There’s a great deal of interaction within the faculty and the students,” he said.