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Biological Systems Engineering Major

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The Biological Systems Engineering (BSE) major provides students with an opportunity to combine their interests in biology, chemistry, and engineering. The program offers many opportunities for professional development outside of classes, including undergraduate research, study abroad, and professional organizations. Most students also participate in internships or other work experience. The B.S. program in Biological Systems Engineering is accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET,

Students in the Biological Systems Engineering major can participate in five different pathways


Think about what you did today.  Did you use water from the faucet, eat breakfast, take prescription medicine, or put ethanol-amended gasoline in your car?  A biological systems engineer influenced every one of these activities. Biological systems engineers (BSEs) use the fundamental sciences of biology and chemistry to develop sustainable solutions to some of the most pressing problems our society faces:  sustainable energy sources, safe water and food supplies, and conservation of natural resources.

As the name implies, BSEs solve problems using biological systems.  These biological systems can be small, controlled microbial systems that produce a product, such as beer, biofuels, or pharmaceuticals.  BSEs may work with large biological systems, including streams, wetlands and watersheds, which provide environmental services to society, such as clean water.  A BSE uses concepts from biology and chemistry to develop new processes or to design new systems.  BSEs also work to protect existing natural systems, through sound planning and management.

  • pharmaceutical companies (Merck, MedImmune, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson)
  • chemical companies (DuPont, Dow, BP)
  • food-processing companies (Hershey, ConAgra, Nestle, General Mills, Frito Lay)
  • environmental consulting firms (CH2MHill, Williamsburg Environmental Group, Waterborne Environmental, TetraTech, United Research Services Corporation)
  • government agencies (Environmental Protection Agency, Consumer Product Safety Commission, Food and Drug Administration, Department of Environmental Quality, Department of Health, Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service),
  • nonprofit organizations (Waterkeeper Alliance, The Conservation Fund, Freshwater Institute, RiverKeepers, Peace Corps).

Biological systems engineering was originally called agricultural engineering and dealt with the engineering aspects of agricultural production, including machinery design, food processing, farm structures, waste management, soil and water conservation, and irrigation system design and management.  Today, BSEs continue to work in the agriculture industry, in addition to a broad range of other industries.

Biological systems engineering has strong ties to engineering, agriculture, and life sciences. In addition to typical teaching/research faculty, several of our faculty work with the general public through Virginia Cooperative Extension. Cooperative extension is a special part of all land-grant universities; therefore, BSE-type departments are only found at land-grant universities, such as Virginia Tech. Each state has at least one land-grant university.  The  University of Maryland, North Carolina State University, and Cornell University are all land-grant universities. In addition to the traditional teaching and research missions of all universities, land-grant universities have a special focus on sharing knowledge from the universities with society at large. This mission is generally carried out through the state cooperative extension service.

Priscilla Baker
Undergraduate Academic Advisor
307 Seitz Hall

Durelle Scott
Assistant Department Head for Undergraduate Studies
202A Seitz Hall
(540) 231-2449