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UH Biomedical, Petroleum Engineering Undergrad Programs Earn Accreditation

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Jeanie Kever

The University of Houston’s petroleum engineering and biomedical engineering programs – the two newest for the Cullen College of Engineering – have been accredited by the Accrediting Board for Engineering Technology, or ABET, which focuses on college and university programs in applied science, computing, engineering and engineering technology.

All eight UH undergraduate engineering programs now have ABET accreditation.

The petroleum engineering program started in 2009 at the request of energy companies who needed graduates for their workforce. The biomedical engineering program became a freestanding department in 2010, when internationally known researcher and educator Metin Akay arrived as founding chair.

Programs aren’t eligible for ABET accreditation until they have been established long enough to produce graduates.

“This puts you on the map,” said Tom Holley, founding director of the petroleum engineering program.

Paula Myrick Short, senior vice chancellor/senior vice president for academic affairs and provost for UH, said accreditation is an important measure of a program’s quality.

“This step offers assurance that the Cullen College of Engineering’s newest academic programs, in biomedical engineering and petroleum engineering, are producing graduates ready to make a difference in these critical fields, which play a major role in the economies of Houston, Texas and the nation,” she said.

Akay, John S. Dunn Endowed Chair professor of biomedical engineering, noted that ABET examiners found no deficiencies or concerns after their study of the program and made no recommendations for change.

Akay recruited new faculty and revamped the biomedical engineering curriculum after his arrival. With more than 220 undergraduate students, the program focuses on three emerging academic and research fields: neural, cognitive and rehabilitation engineering; biomedical imaging and bionanoscience.

Sergey Shevkoplyas, director of the undergraduate biomedical engineering program, said that focus better prepares students for internships and, eventually, the workforce. Among the new courses are those in emerging technologies, including regenerative medicine, global health care, systems biology, biocomputng, genomics and proteomics engineering.

With health care expenditures now expected to reach $10,000 per person in 2015 and an aging population poised to push spending even higher, Akay said biomedical innovation and engineering holds promise for improving diagnostics and treatment, as well as cutting health care costs.

“This highly trained workforce will play a critical role in the development of precision medicine, intelligent drug design and delivery, the detection and treatment of diseases at its earliest stage and the design of sensors, prosthetics, artificial organs and skins,” he said.

The undergraduate petroleum engineering program has undergone a similar transformation, restarted about six years ago at the request of energy companies searching for talent. It has grown rapidly, with about 1,000 undergraduate students enrolled this fall, and Holley said the program earned the accreditation on its first try.

UH long has had a master’s degree program in petroleum engineering, and a Ph.D. program has since been established.

Despite the current slowdown in industry hiring because of low oil prices, Holley said many companies remain committed to hiring new graduates, and student interest in the program is strong.

ABET accreditation will help with recruiting, he said. It also speeds up qualifying for the Professional Engineer (PE) exam. Rules vary by state; in Texas, graduates of ABET-accredited programs can take the exam after working in the field for four years, while those from non-accredited programs must wait eight years, according to the Texas Board of Professional Engineers.

“It’s a great milestone for the program,” Holley said.

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