Visit Team Members Share Their Thoughts:
Ever wondered what it is like to be a GAC Visit Team Member or Lead?
We brought together four experienced Visit Team Members to share their insights on participating in a peer review during GAC Visits:
Before we dive into the Team Members’ responses, here is a short overview of the GAC Visit:
The GAC Visit is the third and key step in the accreditation process. To accomplish this important step, GAC depends upon volunteers from both the academic and business communities to participate as a “ Visit Team” to conduct a “peer-to-peer review” of the applicant program. This three person team is composed of project management faculty from other academic institutions, as well as project management practitioners.
While onsite at the applicant program’s campus, the team reviews and verifies the submitted documentation as well as interviewing stakeholders such as students, faculty and administrators, to ensure that the program’s scale, scope and educational quality meet the GAC’s global accreditation standards.
GAC Visit Teams are essentially the eyes and ears of the GAC, evaluating universities’ and colleges’ academic degrees who are applying for GAC accreditation. But more importantly, they are the public face of the GAC to our stakeholders.
So, now that you know more about the process, let’s hear what our experienced Visit Team Members/Leads have to say about the experience:
GAC: Why did you decide to volunteer to be a GAC Visit Team Member?
Simona: I love to learn, to improve my teaching methods, to apply new and modern tools and techniques. What better opportunity for all these than a visit to prestigious universities where you are introduced to their insights?! I joined this program with the desire to learn new things and it never let me down: I always leave with at least a new idea that I can implement at my university, a new book to recommend to my students, a new teaching technique I can use, new friends that I can fall back on in case of academic need.
Joe: I volunteered for a few reasons. First, I wanted to learn more about the accreditation process from the inside out, if you will. I knew what it was like to be at a University that was accredited, but I wanted to see and experience the Reviewer’s side. Second, I wanted a practical way to volunteer and give back that aligned with my own interests and professional goals. I had always thought of the GAC as an important organization, and this was a great way to get involved. Third, I will mention an unanticipated benefit, as it didn’t motivate me to begin volunteering, but it is one of the reasons I continue to volunteer. On every visit, I learn new best practices and approaches from the programs we review, and this provides fresh insight for my own growth as a faculty member and program administrator.
Kim: I thought that it would be a good chance to look at other PM programs from the inside and to learn many things about how to set up and run PM degree programs. I was curious about what other schools were doing with their PM education in terms of facility, curriculum, faculty development, student selection, teaching methods, interactions with the community and practitioners, etc.
Yvan: When I first volunteered to be a GAC onsite visit team member, I was director for an already accredited project management post-graduate program. We were three years prior to re-affirmation and it allowed me to better understand the assessment and onsite visit process.
GAC: Can you describe the experience of participating in a visit?
Kim: I remember a phrase from a famous movie, Forrest Gump, that "life is like a box of chocolate. You never know what you gonna get when you open it." The same words can be applied to participating in a GAC onsite visit. Every school has different characteristics and colors in the way they operate the program, i.e., in terms of curriculum, teaching methods, faculty, staff and students, etc.
Every time I go on a site visit, I have mixed feelings of anxiety, excitement, and expectations. The anxiety is due to the responsibility that I should do my job well, to meet the expectations of GAC and the university program. At the same time, I am excited to meet new people and to see other unique PM education programs.
Joe: The experience of participating is fairly straight forward. The team always has a few prep meetings by tele-conference to review the materials in preparation to arrive onsite. Once onsite, the visits follow a planned approach to speaking with key people and viewing key documents in person. We will meet various stakeholder groups: faculty, administrative support, University and College leadership, students, advisors and alumni over a two and a half day visit. It can be quite intense, as you have to speak with these different stakeholders to validate what has been submitted in the University Self-Assessment Report. Thankfully, a very collegial approach is encouraged and followed in the onsite visit, which makes these meetings helpful for the program being evaluated. You have the opportunity to learn, expand your network, and give back.
Yvan: The onsite visit team is typically composed of three members, a mix of academics and industry representatives. There is generally a new volunteer joining two more experienced members. We first have to qualify by taking a number of online courses.
The members then have to review the Letter of Intent and the Self-Assessment Report from the applying university program. Team members try to identify areas where they would like to get additional information or would want clarifications during the onsite visit.
During the 2.5 days of the visit, the team evaluates the program against GAC Accreditation Standards by meeting: program director, school and university management, faculty, students, alumni, recruiting firms, external bodies, etc. My experience so far has been that the visits are done in a friendly rather than inquisitive manner.
Simona: The preparation, unfolding and closing of an onsite visit are not trivial processes. They require time, attention, patience, commitment, and last but not least, empathy. I appreciate very much the fact that GAC did its best to define these processes in detail, so that we have a reliable guidance in following them, it facilitates the achievement of our main goal which is to support the programs in reaching its maximum of potential.
GAC: As an Visit Team Member or Lead, what did you find the most rewarding part of the Visit Process?
Simona: The most rewarding part – and I admit that I didn’t see it coming – is the camaraderie built between the members of the onsite visit team: in quite a short period of time we learn a lot about each other, about our strengths, about our passions and about the different perspectives we have, perspectives that always enriches and makes our joint experience more enjoyable.
Joe: This is difficult. I very much enjoy learning new practices and seeing the different foci and cultures of the programs at the different Universities. You see where different programs have really unique strengths in certain areas, which can very much open your eyes or sharpen your thinking. I also find the relationships and connections to be quite rewarding, as well. Over the few days, you get to know your fellow team members quite well, given the brief amount of time, and you also develop connections at the hosting University. Also, there is a strong sense of giving back and participating in something larger than your own program or classroom when you participate. I have encouraged different colleagues to participate as a team member, as I think it helps expands one’s perspective, while raising the level of the profession and academic dialogue related to project management.
Kim: It provides a great benchmarking opportunity for the PM degree program at my school. Most applicant programs for GAC onsite visits are high level in terms of quality in the world. I can see details of the applicant program, and there are a lot of good things I can learn from the materials, from the site visits, and from the interactions with the people. When I get back to my school, I try to use and apply what I learned from my onsite visit experience.
Other than benchmarking for our PM program, participating in the onsite visits helps me to grow professionally. I learn how to work with other team members in a more systematic way and also how to cooperate with people from different backgrounds and cultures. The GAC has developed an excellent and very systematic way of conducting onsite visits. By following the GAC onsite visit process one step at a time, I feel that I am applying PM skills and becoming a more mature project manager and team member myself.
Yvan: The most rewarding part of the onsite visit process is the contact with the other universities sharing similar interests and challenges. After visits, I always come back home with new ideas on how to improve our program. This serves as a benchmark.
GAC: Do you have any other comments you would like to share?
Yvan: When I did my first onsite visit we went to a university offering all of their courses online. We were in the process of developing online and blended courses ourselves. This was extremely useful to see that it did work very well and that the students were satisfied with the program.
Simona: There is a moment that I have experienced several times during onsite visits that I always look forward to. Let me explain: Universities are used to facing audits, usually from their regulating bodies, and we all know that these audits are not the most exciting experiences. Somehow, the host programs expect the GAC onsite visit to be something similar and therefore, as amiable they are, you can still feel a sort of reluctance. It is in the air… And then, usually on the second day of the visit, the program realizes that this visit is nothing less than a very collegial learning experience, carried on by fellow teachers, genuinely interested in supporting the program in becoming a better one. At that specific moment you can feel and almost see how the atmosphere relaxes and the host program starts enjoying the experience as well as we, the onsite visit team, do!
As you can see, the onsite visit provides many benefits for both professional and personal growth. To learn more about this important volunteer role please visit the Volunteer area of the GACPM.Org website or contact [email protected].