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NMSU’s fundamental physics program receives country’s first ABET accreditation

The Department of Physics at New Mexico State University has received accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) for its Bachelor of Science in physics, becoming the first ABET accredited fundamental-physics program in the nation.


Physics students working
Esther Thompson and Sean Tierney are current students in the Department of Physics that is home to the first ABET accredited fundamental physics program in the country. (NMSU photo by Josh Bachman)
Girls and boys working in lab
Esther Thompson and Dominick Gonzales, speak with Sean Tierney in a lab in the Physics building. (NMSU photo by Josh Bachman)

ABET is a nonprofit, ISO 9001 certified organization that accredits college and university programs in applied and natural science, computing, engineering and engineering technology. ISO 9001 is the international standard that specifies requirements for a quality management system. Organizations use the standard to demonstrate the ability to consistently provide products and services that meet customer and regulatory requirements.

“The biggest benefit is we now have a system to judge the educational value of our program,” said Stephen Pate, one of two NMSU physics professors who led the accreditation process. “The accrediting agency requires you to establish standards for your program, and then determine if you are meeting your standards.”

The criteria for ABET accreditation are based on student performance, student outcomes, continuous improvement, curriculum, faculty, facilities, institutional support and most importantly, program educational objectives (PEOs).

“With the help of our External Advisory Board, we identified three PEOs for our Bachelor of Science in physics program: competitiveness, adaptability and collaboration and leadership,” said Heinz Nakotte, a physics professor who led the NMSU’s physics accreditation process with Pate.

“These PEOs are not necessarily limited to careers in physics. More specifically: competitiveness - our graduates are competitive in internationally recognized academic, government and industrial environments; adaptability - our graduates exhibit success in solving complex technical problems in a broad range of disciplines; collaboration and leadership - our graduates have a proven ability to function as part of and/or lead interdisciplinary teams.”

As the first ABET accredited fundamental-physics program in the U.S., NMSU physics graduates in the College of Arts and Sciences are likely to have a competitive advantage for jobs compared to those who graduate with a B.S. in physics from other universities.

“Many companies prefer to hire graduates with a B.S. in physics for their engineering jobs since those graduates show much larger versatility compared to straight engineering majors,” said Nakotte. “However, many companies require a degree from an ABET-accredited program for their advertised engineering jobs, and graduates with a B.S. in physics from a non-ABET-accredited program cannot apply. Therefore, ABET accreditation increases the number of potential career opportunities for our graduates.”

NMSU graduates who earned a bachelor’s in physics as far back as fall 2017 are considered to have graduated from an ABET accredited program.

The fundamental physics program is NMSU's second ABET accredited physics program. NMSU’s engineering physics program, also ABET accredited, is offered jointly by the College of Engineering and NMSU's Department of Physics.

ABET currently accredits 4,144 programs at more than 812 colleges and universities in 32 countries. For more information about ABET and the accreditation criteria used to evaluate programs please visit www.abet.org.