UB - University at Buffalo, The State University of New York Chemical and Biological Engineering

Process for Establishing Program Educational Objectives

A general schematic of our continuous improvement process is provided here. Formulation and review of our PEO are represented by Loop I. The discussion that immediately follows pertains to this loop.

Input to formulation and review of PEO

We draw upon constituency input to construct and periodically revise our PEO. Data are collected from constituencies in many ways, some formal and systematic, and some not. We have learned that some modes of input are much more effective than others in generating useful information, and we are constantly improving our processes for gathering input from constituencies in response to these experiences.

Current students. We do not consider input of our current students in the establishment and review of our PEO. Without knowledge or experience in the profession, we do not feel that this group is well positioned to provide information for PEO formulation.

Employers. Input from employers plays a key role in the formulation and review of the PEO. Employers are at the forefront of the practice of the profession, and they give us early indications of new trends in it. In addition, we find that they have general opinions about the preparation of chemical engineers as a whole, and this is useful in guiding the formulation of our PEO. We gather information from employers via both formal surveys and various informal activities. In these interactions with employers we inquire about their views on the “definition” of chemical engineering, and correspondingly what our goals should be in educating our students. Regular input from employers is obtained via the following interactions

  • Surveys: Prior to 2007 our PEO took on a significantly different structure than our recently revised version. In particular, the former PEO were considerably more detailed and verbose than the current. For several reasons we were not successful in regularly receiving useful information regarding our previous PEO via survey. Most problematic was that the PEO were constructed in a manner that led employers to commit to formal, attributable statements regarding their business interests, which many were reluctant to do. On top of this issue was the matter of gaining an employer’s attention for a long enough period of time to meaningfully assess our PEO. Given that our revised PEO are much more concise and address broader issues, we felt we had a better opportunity to elicit information via formal survey. To this end, we have constructed and disseminated a survey to several industrial representatives that have assisted us with our educational activities in the past. The survey is used to inquire about an employer’s thoughts regarding both the appropriateness and achievement (described elsewhere) of our PEO. In short, we present our PEO and ask the employer to rank the appropriateness of each on a 1 to 4 scale (1 = not appropriate, 4 = extremely appropriate). In the future, we plan to extend our survey efforts to a broader audience, including individuals that supervise our cooperative students, recruiters that visit campus, and direct supervisors of our alumni.
  • Focus groups: In lieu of a formal, regularly constituted advisory board dedicated to the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, we have elected to gain formal input from small ad hoc industrial focus groups, which periodically meet for short periods, and which again provide opportunities for a much more diverse and less parochial set of inputs. Short focus-group meetings are conducted every two to three years with a small set of local representatives from industry. These meetings provide employers with a more formal presentation of the Department’s program activities. The meeting considers various aspects of the undergraduate program, focusing particularly on the PEO, and whether the Program Outcomes are formulated well enough to bring them about.
  • Position profiles: Many companies construct and disseminate “position profiles” for their employees that enumerate the skills and responsibilities that accompany various positions (e.g. “Engineer II”, “Senior Engineer I”). These documents often provide an indication of the expected timeline for promotions from one position to another. Select companies have been kind enough to provide us with these documents. Such information provides us with an outline of the skills and aptitudes our students should master within a specified time from graduation. When reviewing our PEO we examine the consistency between our PEO and the competencies expected by our employers.
  • Recruiter visits: Department representatives have lunchtime or other discussions about the undergraduate curriculum with recruiters and visiting companies during UB’s semiannual Career Fair.
  • Local industries: The Department has strong research and educational interactions with a few local industries, and we interact regularly with representatives of these concerns. Employees of these companies sometimes contribute lectures to courses taught, and one company is deeply involved in the formulation and implementation of our process control course. These regular and often unstructured interactions provide many occasions to learn of the interests and priorities of these businesses.
  • Open house: Since 1999 the Department has hosted an annual open house in which local employers are invited to visit and discuss research and education over wine and cheese while our graduate students present posters of their research.
  • Co-op program: Faculty supervisors in the co-op program each year interact with industrial supervisors of our students. Part of this conversation considers the quality of the student's preparation, and the employers are questioned for their opinion on the suitability of the goals of the Department’s educational program.
  • Tours: Several faculty regularly arrange tours of local manufacturing plants as part of their courses. Through the tours and discussions with the hosts, the faculty visitors gain added knowledge of the needs of industry with regard to our graduates, and thereby contribute understanding needed to formulate our PEO.
  • Dean's Advisory Council: Undergraduate education is occasionally the focus of the semiannual visits of the Dean's Advisory Council (DAC), which have been conducted since 1995. In these cases the opinions and interests expressed by the Council, as they relate to chemical engineering or engineering in general, are noted. Notably, the DAC has expressed recommendations that coincide well with the philosophy of the ABET accreditation, namely that SEAS and its departments need to set objectives and develop a process and metrics to ensure that they are being met.

Alumni. This constituency provides input vital to the formulation and review of our PEO. Alumni were a long-neglected constituency by our department, but over the past several years we have taken substantial steps to increase our interactions and contact with them. This remains an ongoing process, but the advances made in recent years have been substantial. Alumni have (usually) one alma mater, and generally have good will and interest in helping it to improve, and generally do not have legal and business concerns in providing candid written input. We inquire with alumni regarding opinions about changes being considered in the curriculum, their success in their careers and the suitability of the preparation they received in their education, advice they have to current students, and what they do in their careers. Some of this information is useful to our current students and is made available to them directly. Regular input from alumni is obtained via the following interactions

  • Surveys: For many years we have used surveys to solicit various types of information from our alumni. Prior to our curriculum revision (completed in early 2006), we requested considerable information from them related to proposed changes to the curriculum. After completing revisions of both our curriculum and PEO, we recently shifted our focus to a more general survey. Akin to the employer survey described above, the alumni version inquires about an alumnus’ opinion regarding both the appropriateness and the attainment (described elsewhere) of our PEO. Again, we present our PEO and ask the alumnus to rank the appropriateness of each on a 1 to 4 scale. The survey also includes a section to provide open comments, which alumni often use to provide feedback on various aspects of the program.
  • Newsletter: The Department has since 1999 produced a semiannual newsletter in which we describe current goings-on here, with the idea that alumni informed of our events and activities will be better positioned to provide advice and input regarding our undergraduate program. From time to time the newsletter describes modifications and information related to the undergraduate educational program. We have found that the newsletter often motivates students to send us their opinions regarding a wide range of issues. When appropriate, this information is incorporated within the review of our PEO.
  • Department website: The CBE website contains a section that is devoted to the exchange of information with our alumni. Alumni are encouraged to tell us how well their education has served them, and what might be done to better prepare our students today. Vehicles are also provided for alumni to tell our current and prospective students what they wish they knew when they were studying for their degree (or when deciding what to major in) and to provide answers to the perennial question: “What do chemical engineers do?”.
  • AIChE reception: For the past nine years we have held a reception for alumni at the Annual Meeting of the AIChE. Discussions related to the CE undergraduate program naturally stem from this setting, and, again, when appropriate, this feedback is incorporated within the review of our PEO.
  • AIChE student chapter visits: The student chapter of AIChE is very active in soliciting alumni to return to the UB campus for a discussion/presentation regarding their career activities. These visits provide students with perspective on the day-to-day activities of individuals employed within select industrial sectors. During these alumni visits faculty often take time to visit with former students and solicit their opinion regarding various departmental issues.

Graduate education institutions. Graduate education institutions are generally the easiest constituency for us to collect input. All of the faculty in the Department are actively engaged in research, and most have close and regular contacts with colleagues at other academic institutions. Moreover, each year our regular seminar series brings at least 10 external academic research faculty to our department to interact with us for a full day. Naturally the topic of graduate education arises in these discussions, and this collective input is used to formulate the PEO as they pertain to the needs of graduate education institutions.

2007 revision of Program Educational Objectives

After our general review in 2002, ABET introduced substantial changes in how PEO are defined, and we found that the PEO that ABET approved in 2002 did not conform to the new format. As a result, we significantly restructured our PEO in early 2007. We have also revised our plans for periodic collection and review of constituency input. Our development and review of the new PEO proceeded as follows

  1. Using the constituency input described above, the Chair and Director of Undergraduate Studies drafted new PEO in January 2007.
  2. The first draft of the PEO was reviewed by and slightly altered based upon feedback from the CE Undergraduate Studies Committee.
  3. A second draft of the PEO was distributed to the entire CBE faculty and select industrial representatives that we work with closely. Again minor modifications were made, after which the new PEO were finalized.
  4. In the Spring of 2007 the new PEO were published in the UB undergraduate catalog.
  5. The PEO were reviewed by the CBE faculty at a retreat (> 95% attendance) in January 2008. The faculty collectively decided that no revisions to the PEO were necessary.
  6. During the Spring of 2008 we conducted our revised approach to employer and alumni surveys to solicit input regarding the appropriateness and attainment (see below) of our PEO.
  7. In May 2008 the CBE faculty met to review the survey data (described below), and a collective decision was again made to maintain the current PEO.

Schedule of activities for collection and review of constituency feedback regarding PEO appropriateness

The PEO are formally reviewed by the CBE faculty every two years (2010, 2012, etc.). As described above, we solicit feedback from our constituents via various formal and informal mechanisms. Below we outline formal activities that are scheduled to acquire information from our constituents

Current students. We do not solicit the opinion of current students regarding the appropriateness or attainment of the PEO.

Employers. We use the employer survey described above to collect information from employers. Specifically, we solicit information from the following groups on a regular basis

  • Co-op supervisors: Each summer 5-10 CE students participate in our co-op program. Students work at an industrial site and are supervised by a member of the company. These supervisors typically have several years of experience in the chemical engineering profession. We contact each of them and invite them to complete the survey. These individuals are first contacted via phone, and if they are agreeable to completing the survey, an email is sent with the survey site.
  • Recruiters: Our Career Services Office tracks recruiters that visit campus (e.g. a Career Fair Luncheon held semiannually) and otherwise interact with our students. We obtain contact information for recruiters that interact with our students each year and phone them to invite them to complete our survey.
  • Supervisors of alumni: Via our alumni survey we request contact information for an alumnus’ direct supervisor. Upon receiving such information we invite the supervisor to complete our employer survey.
  • Focus groups: We convene ad hoc focus groups (nominally every three years) to consider educational and other issues, with the appropriateness of our PEO being one of the topics under consideration.

Alumni. We use the alumni survey described above to collect information from alumni. Every two years, graduates three and six years removed from our B.S. program are contacted. By adopting this approach we solicit feedback from each graduate at least once within six years following graduation.

Graduate education institutions. We connect with this group through informal means only.

Assessment and evaluation of PEO appropriateness

The information collected from this process serves as the primary input for assessment and evaluation of the appropriateness of our Program Educational Objectives.