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BSE Alumnus Essex Finney standing with a cow

The Department of Biological Systems Engineering (BSE) was established under the original name Agricultural Engineering in 1920 to provide support for the food and fiber industry. 

The department began by offering teaching, research, and extension programs in three areas: Soil and Water Conservation Engineering, Power and Machinery, and Rural Electrification. The first undergraduate degrees were awarded in Agricultural Engineering in 1926. In 1939, the department moved into the newly constructed Seitz Hall, built under the supervision of the Professor, Founder, and first Department Head, Charles E. Seitz. Seitz Hall was built with a $50,000 state appropriation and Works Progress Administration (WPA) labor. The department graduated its first woman in 1976, and welcomed its first female faculty member in 1989. The department established its Ph.D. program in 1986. In 1992, a landmark decision was made by the faculty to focus the program into two areas: Land and Water Resources and Bioprocess Engineering. In conjunction with this change, the faculty enhanced the biological content of the curriculum and changed the department name to Biological Systems Engineering.

Ag Eng Tillage
Fincastle, Virginia: Disc blades work on clover and lespedeza mulch, showing weight needed to cut Groseclose soil for eroision control. Photo courtesy of Virginia Tech's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (1944)

Department Leadership

  • C. E. Seitz (1920 - 1954)
  • E. T. Swink (1954 - 1969)
  • J. P. H. Mason (1969 - 1979)
  • C. G. Haugh (1979 - 1986)
  • J. V. Perumpral (1986 - 2003)
  • S. Mostaghimi (2003 - 2009)
  • M. L. Wolfe (2009 - 2018)
  • R. Grisso (2018 - 2019)
  • D. Edwards (2020-current)
Laboratory (1949) [Currently Metabolic Engineering Laboratory]