By Tara B. Hayes
Accreditation Manager Ellen Stokes will retire this October after nearly 38 years of service to ABET. She’s been with the organization through two headquarters moves, accreditation criteria changes and more, flawlessly organizing the July Commission Meetings year after year.
Before she joined the ABET team, Stokes worked as a keypunch operator in the computer room for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), which was located in the United Engineering Center in New York City along with many other societies, including ABET. She sought a different position when ASME made the move to Fairfield, New Jersey in 1984.
In order to stay in New York City, Stokes applied for the open administrative assistant to the associate director position at ABET, and she started work on December 3, 1984. She was already an established pillar at ABET when Joe Sussman, current chief accreditation officer, joined the team as a program evaluator in 1987. “We took an instant liking to each other because she kept me out of trouble,” Sussman said. “She would put her arm around me and say ‘The way we do things is this.’ And forever, we’ve been soulmates, trying to get good things done for ABET.”
In 1996, former Executive Director George Peterson decided to move ABET to Baltimore. Rent prices were rising in New York and many of the other societies had already moved to the DMV area. After meeting with a friend of Peterson’s who was already living in Baltimore, Stokes agreed to make the move. Stokes moved with her kids to the apartment she still lives in today.
Stokes started in her current position of accreditation manager on October 1, 2001. In this position, she manages commission meetings for ABET, which provides her the opportunity to work closely with ABET staff members as well as volunteers. “I love what I do and I love the people who I work with: the ABET family, the staff and, most of all, the volunteers,” Stokes said.
Well-known by her co-workers as a people person, Stokes’ favorite ABET activity is the July Commission Meeting because it gives her an opportunity to interact and connect with the ABET volunteers. “You can talk to a person on the phone or email, but when you’re there face-to-face, you can learn more about their personality,” Stokes said. “Then you will get to know that person really well.” Stokes also enjoys the annual ABET Awards Celebration to recognize those who have done so much for ABET.
Around the office, Stokes exudes warmth, always lending a helping hand to those who need it. She’s known by staff and volunteers as “Miss ABET” for her lovely, sunshine-spreading smiles followed by a warm “Good morning, how can I help you?”
“I met Ellen on my very first day of work — attending an ExCom meeting at a hotel in downtown Baltimore. I got there really early in the morning and had no idea where to go or what to do,” said Jane Emmet, ABET’s senior director of accreditation operations. “I did not know anyone! It was confusing, overwhelming and intimidating! She made me feel so welcome and put me completely at ease. I knew it was all going to work out!”
Stokes was born the oldest of 13 children and raised by her grandmother in Charleston, South Carolina. After graduating from high school, she moved to New York to attend Hanover Institute where she received her certificate as a keypunch operator. After she retires, Stokes plans to continue advancing in her ministry as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, traveling, learning Spanish and improving her sign language. She also hopes to spend more time with her three children and two grandsons as well as extended family still living in South Carolina and New York.
Stokes will be missed at ABET for her warmth, counsel and friendship. “I don’t have a favorite memory, I have broad, expansive memorable experiences, one after the other,” Sussman said.
“When I first became the director of accreditation, I told Ellen that she could never leave ABET because I would never know enough to do my job without her. The next six years she completely had my back — always available to talk something through, always available to answer questions and to guide me,” Emmet said. “When she told me she was retiring, I let her know she could now go because she got her job done with me.”
After decades of hard work and dedication to ABET, Stokes’ retirement is well deserved, although leaving it all behind may be difficult for her. “If ABET needs me to help, I’ll be there,” Stokes said.