Questions & Answers

A Conversation with Dr. Tracey Richardson, of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Master of Science in Project Management about their Project Management Programs

Tracy Richardson, Ed.D., Associate Professor and Director of Academic Programs, College of Business, Department of Decision Sciences, Worldwide College of Business Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Tell us a little about your program and the students you serve.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Master of Science in Project Management (MSPM) is offered through the Worldwide Campus’ College of Business. It provides the opportunity for working professionals to gain masters level knowledge and experience in planning and executing complex projects. Working within a variety of organizational contexts, this program enables graduates to undertake increasing roles in the leadership and management of projects within corporations as well as across corporate, cultural, and international boundaries.

While the MSPM is not written toward the aviation professional, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University attracts aviation enthusiasts. Our student population is representative of the aerospace industry, the U.S. Military, the contingent of medium and small organizations who support the Department of Defense. We also attract students from the healthcare, services, and energy industries.

Can you relate an experience that occurred after your program was GAC accredited, that you can directly attribute to GAC accreditation?
I am often asked about the significance of GAC accreditation by our industry partners, students (both current and prospective), and our students’ employers. Since many of these stakeholders support the global aviation industry, they are familiar with ISO (International Organization for Standardization certification. I explain that an ISO certified organization means that the organization is committed to a customer focus and to a continuous improvement mentality. The organization subscribes to a set of globally accepted standards, documents an in-depth self-assessment, and hosts a team of external auditors to validate the organization’s alignment to ISO standards. The steps to ISO certification are very similar to the steps to GAC accreditation. The GAC establishes global Standards for Accreditation, much as ISO establishes global standards. A University chooses to seek GAC accreditation as an organization chooses to seek an ISO certification. The University undergoes an in-depth self-assessment to determine an alignment with the GAC standards. The study is documented in a report presented to the GAC Board for review. Once reviewed, an Onsite Team of project management educators and industry representatives are sent to audit the University’s program, processes, and procedures. This GAC accreditation experience mirrors an organization’s pursuit of ISO certification. For stakeholders who are familiar with the level of effort to achieve (and maintain) an ISO certification, this explanation puts accreditation into terms they are more familiar with.

For those stakeholders who have military experience, I compare the GAC accreditation process to an IG (Inspector General’s) Inspection. An IG team is sent to inspect a military unit’s ability to perform its mission. In many ways, the GAC process validates that a University’s project management academic program is performing its mission. By explaining the GAC process in military terms, the significance of GAC Accreditation is better understood and held is a very high regard.

By sharing these examples with our stakeholders, it reemphasizes our university’s dedication to performing our mission for our customers and with a continuous improvement mindset. The GAC Accreditation provides a new level of respect and credibility of our project management program.

What was the most challenging aspect of the GAC accreditation process?
Thinking back, the hardest part was the Letter of Intent (LOI). Not because of the required level of detail or the volume of writing, but because it signified a formal commitment to the process. When we submitted the LOI, it started a clock and established a timeline to complete all of the requirements. The ‘clock was ticking’ and with it came the feeling of being under pressure.

The formal commitment was a big deal for us. We put it off for 8-10 months because we were making curriculum improvements, examining processes, and coordinating with the many offices involved with our students’ success along the pipeline.

As an aside, it was this deep examination of our program, the curriculum gap analysis, and mapping of learning that was the true benefit of the GAC Accreditation process. As a faculty body, we renewed our commitment to the curriculum and looked at it through a different lens. We changed from a lens of course stovepipes, and began to see the program as a holistic journey we provided for our students to learn and master the integrated nature of project management. During this time of discovery, we saw so many opportunities to improve.

Looking back, it was the pursuit of perfection that delayed our LOI. What I now realize, it is the constant continuous improvement that is the point. We waited to submit the LOI thinking we’d do it when we were done. The reality is, we will never be done. We are always looking for ways to improve our student experience so we will never be done.