Department of Biomedical Engineering sunsets ABET accreditation

The Science and Engineering Complex is pictured on Dec. 3, 2020. Nicole Garay / The Tufts Daily
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The School of Engineering announced that it is sunsetting the ABET accreditation for its Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering program in an email sent to BSBME students on Sept. 19 

The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology is a voluntary accreditation program that evaluates engineering and applied sciences degree programs and ensures they meet the standards for the professions they feed into. 

The sunsetting process will happen over the next four academic years and will not impact students currently pursuing a BSBME. The Class of 2026 will be the last to receive ABET-accredited BSBME degrees from Tufts. 

According to Sergio Fantini, the interim chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, the department has been reviewing the value of ABET accreditation to BME students over the past three to four years. 

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“We have consulted with our BSBME alumni and with employers of our alumni, and not once did we hear that the ABET accreditation of their BME degree was considered in their job interviews or in their applications to graduate school, medical school, or other professional schools,” Fantini wrote in an email to the Daily. 

According to Fantini, the department found that an ABET accreditation was not as valuable to biomedical engineering as it is in other engineering fields. 

Fantini emphasized that sunsetting the accreditation will provide more opportunities for innovation within the degree program, most notably with senior capstone projects, which were heavily based on engineering design in order to meet ABET requirements. 

“The opportunity of performing a research-based, year-long senior capstone project will allow students to participate in world-class research performed within the department and beyond through interdisciplinary collaborations,” Fantini wrote.

Fantini argued that a research-based capstone project will be especially valuable to students intending to pursue graduate school or professional health care degrees. Justin Wang, a co-president of the Biomedical Engineering Society and a junior in the BSBME program, is one of these students. 

“With the previous iteration of the capstone, a lot of it was essentially like ‘you need to take on a design component,’” Wang said. “If there was research going into what you are trying to make, it takes kind of a backseat to the actual design of the experiment.” 

Wang pointed to his background as the reason he prefers a research-based capstone project. 

“After doing summer research this year and having a bunch of things not work … my worry is that it is easier to get stuck in the design aspect than getting stuck in the research aspect,” Wang said. “In the research aspect, you don’t have to necessarily apply and create something with the proposition of it working.”

Yashas Basavarajappa, a member of the Biomedical Engineering Society, supports the decision to sunset the accreditation. He believes the sunsetting process allows students to take advantage of the interdisciplinary nature of BME. 

“With such a large field I think students need to be allowed to pursue research opportunities that interest them … and students may be able to take more classes in the sub-specialties that interest them,” Basavarajappa, a junior, wrote in an email to the Daily. 

 Despite the benefits, Basavarajappa and Wang shared similar concerns that students interested in industry jobs may be more affected by the loss of the ABET accreditation. 

“Some companies care about an ABET accreditation to ensure their new hires are fully prepared for their profession,” Basavarajappa wrote. 

Still, both are confident that the BME program will continue to meet a high academic standard even after its sunsetting process.  

Fantini assured students the department will retain processes that worked well under ABET. 

“The BME department… carefully considered the positive impact on the program that is associated with the procedures for assessment, evaluation, and continuous improvement that we have in place as part of the process for ABET accreditation,” Fantini wrote. “We plan to continue these procedures beyond the ABET sunsetting period to retain our current process of continuous review and improvement of the program.”

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