Fairmont State professor named as evaluator for ABET

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Fairmont State University’s James Vassil has been named a program evaluator for ABET, a global accreditor of college and university programs in applied and natural science, computing, engineering, and engineering technology. 

Vassil is an associate professor of Civil Engineering Technology and the ABET coordinator for the University. He has been involved with ABET since 2017 and continues to bring more knowledge and expertise for moving the university forward. 

“This means that I’ve been selected as a volunteer who goes to different schools to review their programs and make recommendations for their program accreditation,” he said. “I’ve been able to use my experience from that training and looking at other programs to implement some of the best practices here at Fairmont State.” 

As an accreditation officer, Vassil said he wants to not only see the programs comply but to continuous improvement and excel. 

“We’ve kind of been into this continuous improvement plan that allows us to really get meaningful data about our students and use it to make significant changes in their experience on campus,” he said. “I realized is when a student takes a course it’s really part of an experience they have. The experience includes the curriculum, starts at advising, enrollment, and orientation and continues through career placement.” 

When it comes to continuous improvement, it’s not just what can be done in the classroom but what can be done together as a whole to make the college experience the most useful to the students.

“We’re really focused on their whole career here at Fairmont State and beyond. That’s why we bring in a lot of companies to campus, we’re heavily driven by an Industrial Advisement Committee, which is important because the things we are doing aren’t unilateral decisions,” he said. “They are run through industry representatives who not only help us make curricular decisions but help us make practical, experiential projects.” 

Vassil stated that this allows students to gain similar experience to what’s expected when they graduate. Since the University is engaged with the industries, the companies know what the students have been learning in classes and internships or summer employment. 

“These companies come once a year to talk about curriculum and projects so they know what we’re doing in class,” he said. “Now they come back and hire our students because they know what they’re going to get upon graduation.” 

With his experience with ABET, Vassil has brought different ideas to the table to work on continuous improvement, but he said with the help of his colleagues they’ve really been successful. 

"A lot of what I promote in the department works because we focus on what I call harmonization, less work, but meaningful work,” he said. "Instead of all the data dumps, if we can cut through and look at what’s really going to impact a student’s experience and focus on that, success follows and it has."

Merri Incitti, Associate Vice President of Institutional Effectiveness and Strategic Operations, said Vassil takes his roles with ABET and the University accreditation very seriously. 

“For someone who has been in assessment and accreditation for many years and tackled that hard job, it’s a pleasure to have a faculty member that has truly found a way to move beyond the usual ‘check the box’ for accreditation,’” she said. “James has used his knowledge gained through ABET’s training to begin changing the culture in our Engineering Technology and our campus.” 

Vassil will be a part of a faculty team presentation on Feb. 14th entitled “Culture Shift: From Compliance to Continuous Improvement” open to everyone. Vassil and Abby Chapman will be doing this preliminary presentation before they take it to the ABET Symposium in April.