Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering Continuous Improvement Guide

The intent of this document is to assist faculty, staff, students, and constituents of the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering in understanding 1) the ABET accreditation process and 2) the continuous improvement model the Weldon School uses to monitor and improve our undergraduate curriculum.  Much of the information about ABET and the accreditation process was taken from the ABET web page: www.abet.org.

What is ABET?
ABET is a non-profit and non-governmental accreditor for college and university programs in applied science, computing, engineering, and engineering technology.  It is a federation of 31 professional and technical societies representing these fields.  The Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) is the lead society for the accreditation of biomedical and bioengineering programs; BMES joined ABET as a member society in 2003.

What is Accreditation?

Accreditation ensures quality in educational programs.  The process is voluntary, and is a means to determine whether certain criteria or quality standards set by the engineering profession (through the many societies which are members of ABET) are being met within a program.  Accreditation is not a ranking system.

There are two types of accreditation: institutional accreditation and specialized accreditation.  Institutional accreditation evaluates the overall institutional quality.  In our case, Purdue University has been accredited by North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA) since 1913.  Every ten years the university is visited by representatives of NCA for an accreditation review; our last review was during the 2013-2014 academic year. 

Specialized accreditors evaluate specific educational programs (e.g., medicine, engineering, etc.).  ABET is the organization which accredits engineering programs like ours.  ABET accredits undergraduate programs, not degrees, departments, colleges, or institutions.

Why is Accreditation Important?

  • Helps prospective students and parents choose quality college programs
  • Enables employers to recruit graduates they know are well-prepared for professional practice
  • Used by registration, licensure, and certification boards to screen applicants
  • Gives colleges and universities a structured mechanism to assess, evaluate, and improve their programs

Many engineers choose to become professional engineers (PE) at some point in their career; graduation from an accredited program is the first step to obtaining licensure for professional practice.  In addition, graduation from an accredited program is often required for those international students who graduate from a US university and choose to return to their home countries to work.

Important Terminology

Program Educational Objectives – Broad statements that describe the career and professional achievements the program is preparing its graduates to achieve in the first few years after graduation.

Student Outcomes – Statements describing what students are expected to know and be able to do at the time of graduation, including skills, knowledge, and behaviors.  The Student Outcomes are designed to foster the achievement of the Program Educational Objectives.

ABET Criteria for Engineering Programs

Accreditation is an external review process in which an educational program is measured against a set of criteria.  There are eight general criteria against which all engineering programs are evaluated:

  1. Students – The policies and requirements in place for student admission, maintenance in the program, and graduation.
  2. Program Educational Objectives – Defined expectations of skill and knowledge acquirement for graduates that are aligned with the mission of the school, needs of the constituents, and the ABET Criteria.
  3. Student Outcomes – Defined skills, knowledge, and behaviors that students develop while in an engineering program that prepares them to attain the program educational objectives after graduation.
  4. Continuous Improvement – The processes employed by the program to collect, assess, and implement plans of improvement to ensure that program educational objectives and learning mechanisms for student outcomes meet evolving needs of the discipline.
  5. Curriculum - A curriculum that supports achievement of program educational objectives, student outcomes, and objectives of the program and institution.
  6. Faculty – Competent faculty members to achieve the program educational objectives and student outcomes.
  7. Facilities – A teaching and learning environment which facilitates the program’s educational objectives and student outcomes.
  8. Institutional Support– Support and leadership at the university level to achieve the program educational objectives and student outcomes.

Within Criterion 3, each engineering program must demonstrate at a minimum that its students attain the following general Student Outcomes by the time of graduation:

1)    An ability to identify, formulate, and solve complex engineering problems by applying principles of engineering, science, and mathematics
2)    An ability to apply engineering design to produce solutions that meet specified needs with consideration of public health, safety, and welfare, as well as global, cultural, social, environmental, and economic factors
3)    An ability to communicate effectively with a range of audiences
4)    An ability to recognize ethical and professional responsibilities in engineering situations to make informed judgments, which must consider the impact of engineering solutions in global, economic, environmental, and societal contexts
5)    An ability to function effectively on a team whose members together provide leadership, create a collaborative and inclusive environment, establish goals, plan tasks, and meet objectives
6)    An ability to develop and conduct appropriate experimentation, analyze and interpret data, and use engineering judgment to draw conclusions
7)    An ability to acquire and apply new knowledge as needed, using appropriate learning strategies

In addition to the eight ABET criteria many engineering programs have program specific criteria determined by their program’s lead society that are associated with discipline specific curricular and faculty qualification requirements. The lead society for our program, BMES, has established the following program specific criteria with respect to curriculum requirements:

“The structure of the curriculum must provide both breadth and depth across the range of engineering topics implied by the title of the program. The program must prepare graduates to have: an understanding of biology and physiology, and the capability to apply advanced mathematics (including differential equations and statistics), science, and engineering to solve the problems at the interface of engineering and biology; and the curriculum must prepare graduates with the ability to make measurements on and interpret data from living systems, addressing the problems associated with the interaction between living and non-living materials and systems.”

To demonstrate attainment of components of the BME program specific criteria the Weldon School established four additional student outcomes:

8)    An understanding of biology and physiology
9)   The ability to address problems associated with the interaction between living and non-living materials and systems

The faculty and staff of the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering have created, and continue to evaluate, a curriculum which provides a well-rounded education with experiences in mathematics, physical science, engineering science, laboratory experiences, design experiences, and a broad general education.  In particular, the integration of design experiences in each semester of the curriculum gives students experience in applying engineering and life science principles to contemporary design problems.  In addition to the curriculum, these skill sets are integrated into many of the program’s extracurricular experiences, including the internship and Co-Op programs, the undergraduate research opportunities, the AEMB and BMES student chapter, etc.     

The ABET Accreditation Process

The accreditation process begins when a program declares its desire to be evaluated for accreditation purposes and appropriate documentation of this wish is filed with the university and with ABET.  A self-study process within the program reviews and documents the program in terms of the eight ABET criteria and the program specific criteria listed previously in this document, and the resulting document is submitted to ABET for review by a team of evaluators.  The review team visits the campus and evaluates the program against its self-study report and established program educational objectives and student outcomes.  Information gathered from the report and campus visit determine whether a program receives accreditation.  After a review, a program will either receive or be denied accreditation.  A program earning accreditation will be accredited for a maximum of six years, at which time the review process begins anew.

Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering Accreditation

The biomedical engineering program at Purdue University was ABET accredited in 2008. 

As part of our program’s continuous improvement plan, we have established a mission statement, a set of Program Educational Objectives, and Performance Indicators (Table 1) to measure the level of attainment of Student Outcomes against which we evaluate our curriculum and students on an annual basis.  This continuous evaluation will ensure a quality educational program and graduates.

Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering Mission Statement

To be the premier source of scientific discoveries and of well-educated biomedical engineers in the broad fields of biomedical devices, systems, materials, and tissue constructs, fostering strong academic, industrial, and clinical ties.

BME Academic Programs Mission Statement

To improve human healthcare worldwide by serving the University, College, and School in educating students to be highly skilled, innovative, and ethical biomedical engineers who serve as leaders in (biomedical) industry, government, and academia.

Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering Undergraduate Program Objectives

Within a few years of graduation, graduates of the BME engineering program will have:

  1. Demonstrated their technical and practical skills by solving open-ended engineering problems with biological, medical, or healthcare systems relevance in their field of expertise.
  2. Demonstrated their ability to understand, respect, and integrate contributions from multiple disciplines to address problems with biological, medical, and healthcare systems relevance.
  3. Demonstrated their ability to practice engineering in biological, medical and healthcare systems related fields or to continue their training in relevant professional and graduate school programs.

Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering Undergraduate Student Outcomes and Performance Indicators

Table 1.  Performance Indicators (PI) Used to Determine the Attainment of Student Outcomes (SO).



Performance Indicator Description



Apply advanced mathematics (including differential equations), engineering principles, and a knowledge of biological sciences and physiology to model, solve, or analyze biomedical engineering problems.


Identify an engineering problem relating to healthcare, medical, or biological applications.


Apply engineering and science techniques, skills, and tools at the biomolecular, cellular, tissue, or system level.


Select the appropriate engineering and science tools and techniques to solve a biomedically relevant problem.



Formulate appropriate and quantitative design specifications, with respect to realistic constraints derived from customer, regulatory and societal needs.


Evaluate potential design solutions in terms of realistic constraints.


Implement, test, and demonstrate that an engineered result meets design specifications.


Identify and apply regulatory guidelines to a biomedical engineering design solution.


Identify stakeholders and describe how their needs inform solutions to a healthcare, medical, or biological problem.


Formulate and write a problem description for a healthcare, medical or biological application that contains appropriate design specifications, with respect to the customer, regulatory, and societal needs.


Given a biomedical engineering problem description, generate a solution.


Recognize regulatory agencies and how they impact research or product development for medical devices.



Construct a logical and articulate in written format from independent collection of information that is appropriate for the intended audience.


Construct and deliver a logical and articulate oral presentation based on independent collection of information that is appropriate for the intended audience.


Evaluate and provide feedback on oral and/or written presentations for clarity and content


Organize and represent data collected in a form such that it clarifies and enhances the ability to interpret it.


Record procedures, observations, and results of an experiment in a manner which allows for independent replication.



Recognize and describe professional and ethical codes of conduct, and ethical dilemmas which pertain to a practicing biomedical engineer.


Explain ethical considerations relevant to experimentation with animal and human subjects.


Justify selection of a biomedical engineering process in research or product development based on an economic analysis.


Identify and/or describe how biomedical engineering solutions affect society.


Recognize contemporary issues impacting biomedical engineering.



Identify key technical capabilities needed of team members in order to create a multidisciplinary team with shared leadership to solve a biomedical engineering design problem.


Educate, respect, compromise, and collaborate with diverse individuals from different perspectives to solve a biomedical problem.


Create a scheduled plan to implement a design solution for a medical or biological application with subtasks for implementation.



Outline a directed approach to explore concepts or hypothesis related to biological or medical systems using safe and appropriate experimental methodology and validation.


Conduct investigational protocols and procedures to measure, record, and analyze signals and data from living systems.


Statistically support or refute a hypothesis based on experimental data.


Interpret and comprehend scientific information and/or data represented in graphical or tabular format.


Use quantitative metrics to describe and interpret observations and data from a living system and draw conclusions.



Collect and synthesize relevant technical information, data, and ideas from multiple sources.


Identify and explore multiple career pathways that are available to biomedical engineer.


Recognize skills and opportunities that enhance professional career development.



Recognize and describe biological and physiological processes/systems.


Examine a molecule, material, integrated medical device, or schematic representation thereof and explain the relationship between its structure and function and how this relationship is useful in biomedical engineering applications.



Recognize, identify, and describe the need for an engineering solution to address current challenges in life sciences and medicine.


Describe the challenges associated with interactions between living tissues or cells and engineered devices or materials and propose strategies to overcome these challenges.

The Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering Continuous Assessment Model

The faculty and staff of the Weldon School evaluate the undergraduate program on a continual basis.  To facilitate this process, a set of Performance Indicators (Table 1) have been established to measure student abilities and achievement in the biomedical engineering curriculum.  Each Student Outcome has one to seven Performance Indicators associated with it, describing specific and measurable skills; by measuring and demonstrating student achievement of these indicators we demonstrate achievement of the Student Outcomes.

Each undergraduate BME course (including the elective courses) is mapped to the list of Performance Indicators (i.e., each instructor has indicated the Performance Indicators with his/her courses).  From the mapping data, a comprehensive and strategic assessment plan was created by the BME Undergraduate Curriculum Committee (BME UCC).  In other words, based on the mapping, the committee asks for particular assessment data from each course.  This strategy ensures data collection for each Performance Indicator at multiple points in the undergraduate curriculum, and further allows us to monitor student achievement during their time in the program.

Along with their normal course evaluations (i.e., test and homework grades), instructors are asked to collect data related to the strategic performance indicators which map to their course.  Our program requires instructors of undergraduate courses to assess student attainment of performance indicators once every three years.  During an evaluation cycle, the instructor creates a Faculty Course Assessment Report (FCAR), which summarizes the assessment data, reflects on student performance and teaching/assessment strategies, and proposes strategies to improve upon the course.  The information reported in FCARs are summarized in an assessment report that is presented to the BME UCC at the end of each academic year.  The assessment report also includes information collected throughout the year from our program’s constituents, which include current students, alumni, and the industrial advisory board, on the quality, and appropriateness and effectiveness of our program’s educational objectives, curriculum, advising, and facilities.  The assessment report is used by the BME UCC to identify and propose plans of actions to address issues that were identified by course instructors, such as low achievement of performance indicators and changes in constituent needs with respect to the program educational objectives, curriculum, advising, and facilities. The findings made by the BME UCC from the assessment report and the recommended plans of action are presented to the faculty as a whole for approval and implementation at the start of the following academic year.  The progress on implemented plans of action are documented and monitored by the BME UCC through the yearly assessment report. 

This continual assessment and improvement process ensures faculty competency in the curriculum and well-thought and meaningful curriculum modifications, which translates to an exceptional learning environment for our undergraduate students.