Department of Biological Systems Engineering
AAPP Self-Study Report, February 2008
The Department of Biological Systems Engineering (BSE) is administrated by two colleges: Agricultural,
Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS) and Engineering and Architecture (CEA). The unit
has three established areas of emphasis with high societal impact. The Land, Air, Water Resources and
Environmental Engineering area addresses issues related to soil and water use and conservation, air
quality, and environmental protection, increasingly important
Focus on areas of high societal due to pressure derived from population growth, global
impact: water, land and air re- competition for resources, and climate change. The Food
Engineering area is concerned with the industrial processing and
sources; environmental pro-
production of a safe, secure, and nutritional food supply. The
tection; food safety and qual- Bio-energy and Bio-product Engineering area, experiencing
ity; and bio-energy and bio- rapid growth, is aimed at the development of technologies to
products. produce energy and products from renewable biomass. An
emerging area, Automated Systems and Sensors in Agriculture,
has also potential for significant growth, enabling specialty crop farmers to compete globally. All these
areas have strategic links with units within WSU, the nation, and beyond.
Based on departmental strategic directions and vision for the Our movement in strategic
future, BSE has made significant changes the last six years. These directions and vision has
included the discontinuation of its undergraduate engineering increased productivity and
degree due to low enrollment, and the transfer of non-engineering positioned the unit for
faculty and the undergraduate and graduate degrees they supported growth.
to other units in CAHNRS. These changes were intended to focus
BSE activities and energy on engineering research and graduate education, and have resulted in increased
productivity and positioned the unit extremely well for the future.
Based on data for 2003–07, the unit has a graduate program with
BSE was identified by the an average enrollment of 40 students (PhD/MS ratio of 3.2),
Yardley report as an area of competitive within the university and ranking among the top
strength in which the univer- units when evaluated on a per-faculty basis. With 7.25 average
sity should invest. faculty FTEs, BSE ranks 5th at WSU in PhD degrees awarded,
with a significant
number being placed in faculty positions at AAU universities. BSE focus is in graduate educa-
Among peer departments in the nation, BSE ranks first or tion, research and scholarship as
second in number of PhD students, third in number of WSU strives for AAU stan-
graduated PhDs, and first in the ratio of PhD to MS students.
The unit has a scholarly output that places it 6th out of 20 (FY
dards. In recent years, ten PhD
2004−05) peer departments nationally (3rd on a per research graduates have taken faculty po-
faculty basis), second in extramural to intramural funds ratio sitions in the US, seven of them
per FTE, and first in extramural funds spent per faculty FTEs. in AAU universities.
The report of the Yardley Research Group contracted by the
Graduate School in 2006 to evaluate WSU programs with respect to national peers indicated that BSE
was an area of strength in which the university should invest, concluding that BSE is clearly one of the
best programs in the comparative cohort and at WSU. A larger faculty and better infrastructure are needed
for national preeminence.
The mission of the Department of Biological Systems Engineering is to deliver high-quality engineering
research, teaching, and outreach programs to support the state, national, and global bio-economy, with
emphasis on applications in the agricultural, energy, and environmental sectors.
The department has an entrepreneurial faculty with the size, expertise, experience, and state-of-the-art
facilities to be one of the leading research and graduate education units at WSU and a top performer
among peer units nationwide.
BSE is a highly productive unit, with graduate teaching, research, and extension activities administered
within two colleges: CAHNRS and CEA. The areas of research and graduate education are Land, Air,
Water Resources and Environmental Engineering; Food Engineering; and Bio-energy and Bio-product
Engineering. An emerging area of emphasis that could grow rapidly is Automated Systems and Sensors in
Agriculture. The faculty of the department consisted of an average of 7.25 engineering FTEs during the
period covered in this self-study (FY 2003−2004 to FY 2006–2007). The faculty has the support of 4.25
technician FTEs, and 4.0 main office administrative and clerical FTEs. Other state-funded positions
include four graduate research assistants (2 FTEs). An average of 18 post-doctoral research associates, 2
externally-funded research technicians, 40 graduate students, and 6 to 8 visiting scholars per year have
conducted research and outreach activities led by the BSE faculty in the last several years.
A Unit Striving for Change to Achieve Excellence
BSE has made substantial changes during the last six years. These changes have affected positively the
direction and performance of the unit, greatly advancing the specialization of the department in
engineering research and graduate education, with particular emphasis on PhD students. In 2003, BSE
decided to eliminate the undergraduate engineering program due to low enrollment. The year 2005 was a
pivotal year of change: a) A graduate degree in Biological and Agricultural Engineering was approved by
the Faculty Senate, b) The engineering teaching faculty FTEs were transferred from CAHNRS to CEA,
and c) non-engineering degrees (and faculty who supported those degrees) were transferred to the
Department of Crop and Soil Sciences. Through targeted reallocation and minimal new resources, the
faculty is now composed of 11 FTEs and the unit has a finely focused program. Additional faculty growth
and much better infrastructure are now needed for BSE to reach national preeminence.
Continuous evaluation and adjustment to new conditions have
created a culture of appreciation of excellence and accountability The WSU prioritization pro-
within the department. BSE is a unit striving for excellence, gram is as an opportunity for
consistently sharpening the focus of its vision. The unit views BSE to achieve national
the WSU program prioritization as an opportunity to consolidate prominence.
its objectives. Growth of BSE will benefit the university in areas
of significant societal interest.
Current Position and Outlook
All areas of emphasis in the unit are linked to larger areas of activities within the university. The Land,
Air, Water Resources and Environmental Engineering area is closely integrated to water resources and
environment-related units and centers at WSU. The Food Engineering area works closely with the
Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. An entity such as a Food Science and Engineering
Institute, with participation of food engineering and food science faculty from WSU and University of
Idaho, would provide WSU with a platform for achieving national preeminence in this area. The Bio-
energy and Bio-product Engineering area is new in BSE and at WSU, but is experiencing rapid growth.
The BEBPE area is actively seeking cooperation with other units at WSU and with the WSU/PNNL
partnership centered at WSU Tri-Cities. An emerging area at BSE in Automated Systems and Sensors in
Agriculture, enabling specialty crop farmers to compete globally, has also potential for growth and close
collaboration with other units in CAHNRS and CEA.
BSE faculty numbers are presented in Table 1, showing an average of 7.25 faculty FTEs for the
evaluation period. This figure only includes engineering faculty (contributions of non-engineering faculty
who left in 2005 are not included in any data shown in this report). BSE national prominence is
constrained by the size of the faculty. BSE will unleash its full potential if provided with a larger faculty
embracing the culture of excellence and entrepreneurial spirit of the unit.
Although unit performance within WSU is important, the most
BSE is targeting national stat- significant indicator is performance compared to peers
ure. Two independent assess- nationwide, which is often not easy to measure. One excellent
ments indicate that the unit is data set is provided by the survey conducted by the American
competitive nationally. Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE), a
professional society that groups all BSE peer units in the
nation. Another piece is the report prepared by an external higher education consultant firm (Yardley
Research Group) contracted by the WSU Graduate School in 2006 to conduct an assessment of doctoral
programs at WSU.
ASABE surveys indicate that BSE is small in faculty numbers, 18th out of 20 among national
peers (Table 2), but top-ranked in amount of extramural funds. The unit ratio of funds-to-FTE is
above any peer department. Although appropriated resources available to the department place it 16th
out of 20 departments across the nation, the BSE ratio of extramural to intramural funds is second in the
nation, extramural funds spent per faculty FTE is first, number of PhD students is second, number of
graduate students per faculty FTE is first, and the unit places second in the number of high-impact
refereed publications per faculty FTE.
The Yardley report indicated that the performance indicators for BSE were primarily positive, with
reviewers’ belief that this was an area of strength in which the university should invest. They further
“The program was very small, about the size of the BSE program at the University of Wisconsin.
However, it has a doctoral enrollment four times the size of Wisconsin's, and has the highest
student-to-faculty ratio in the comparative cohort. It has also produced, over the last five years,
the same number of degrees as the University of California at Davis, which has a significantly
larger faculty. Program grant activity is equally impressive. On a per-faculty basis, it has the
highest average annual grant income in the cohort; and as a program, its total is exceeded only
by Iowa State University. The program's publication record is small, which is a function of
faculty size. On a per-faculty basis, the program is highly productive, performing at roughly the
level of UC Davis and the University of Illinois.”
The Yardley report concluded that BSE is clearly one of the best programs in the comparative cohort and
The available evidence, although not complete, reveals the potentially strong position of BSE in the
national arena. WSU investment in this unit will produce tangible benefits to the university. As a larger
unit, BSE would rank first in absolute measures as well on a per FTE basis. A larger size of the unit and
better facilities are required for national prominence.
Teaching and Learning
BSE contributes to WSU efforts to become a stronger research university and to achieve a profile similar
to AAU institutions. The unit does not have an undergraduate degree, but has a vigorous graduate
program with a 3.2:1 average PhD/MS student ratio for the period of evaluation. The unit also involves a
significant number of undergraduate students in research. BSE offers a well designed mix of courses
required of all BSE graduate students, required courses in each area, and a rich mix of elective courses.
The graduate program is interdisciplinary in nature, providing students the opportunity to take many
courses from other engineering and non-engineering units. Students from Civil and Environmental
Engineering, Food Science, and other units take some BSE courses, and the unit offers one service course.
Table 3 shows the number of graduate students in BSE as reported in the institutional research database
and also based on BSE data. Departmental PhD and MS degrees have been offered only since 2006.
Previously, students have earned PhD in Engineering Science and MS Engineering degrees, which are
college-wide multidisciplinary degrees in CEA, but most of the degrees were awarded to BSE students.
The statistic shows the size of our graduate student population fluctuating between 39 and 43 students.
The number of PhD and MS degrees awarded (Table 4) indicates a vigorous BSE graduate program,
particularly when data are analyzed on a per faculty FTE basis. Based on the institutional research data,
BSE is ranked 5th at WSU in PhD production, but is 1st on a per- faculty FTE basis. Based on FY 2006
Delaware Faculty Data from institutional research, student credit hours per tenure track FTE were 138 (57
when calculated using all BSE faculty FTEs, not only instructional faculty as reported), which compares
favorably with a national average of 26. In terms of instructional expenditures per student average annual
FTE, BSE ranks 25 out of 88 units at WSU, but is the lowest-cost unit among engineering programs. At
$7,044 direct instructional expenditures per annual average student FTE, BSE cost is lower than the
national average ($10,800) and the WSU peer 50th percentile ($13,254).
BSE graduates are sought out by private, government, and
academic employers and have no problem finding jobs. In recent years, ten PhD
Although many of our students are international and are graduates have taken faculty
returning to their countries with jobs in academia or industry, positions in the US, seven in
increasingly BSE is placing students in US faculty positions, AAU universities. More than
R&D industrial positions, or post-doctoral associate positions in ten others took positions in
top US universities. In recent years, at least 10 PhD graduates
have taken faculty positions in US universities, seven of which R&D centers and major inter-
were hired by AAU universities. More than 10 other PhD national companies.
graduates took positions in R&D centers of US and major
international companies. Several PhD graduates have taken post-doctoral research associate positions in
US universities, and several of the post-doctoral research associates that BSE recruits to support its
research work have taken US faculty positions.
Current trends indicate that demand for the BSE program will remain strong into the foreseeable future.
The BSE graduate program is unique in the state and highly relevant nationally and globally. Prospective
students form the US and abroad will continue to make up the bulk of applicants to the program. BSE is
developing innovative recruitment programs to further improve the quality of the student population and
increase the fraction of domestic students in the program. For the fall 2008 semester, BSE has already
evaluated over 40 applicants and admitted 17, 11 of which are to be funded from extramural funds
awarded to BSE faculty. The remainder of the applicants is self-funded.
Scholarship and Research
The BSE program is unique in the state, using engineering and science principles to provide research and
scholarly output in support of agricultural and natural resource systems of the state, region, and beyond.
BSE research in areas of bio-energy and bio-products, recycling of agricultural waste (e.g., anaerobic
digestion), climate change impact on agriculture, carbon sequestration, and other research are affecting
policy in the State. Research and scholarly output in Food Engineering has impact and recognition
nationally and beyond. Microwave sterilization technology developed at BSE is being considered for
FDA approval, a truly unique achievement. Computer programs for water erosion (WEPP) and
agricultural systems (CropSyst) developed or refined by researchers at BSE are well known and used in
applied research worldwide. BSE research and scholarship have a demonstrated positive impact on
WSU’s reputation as a research university. Our faculty has a high level of collaboration with faculty
within other units at WSU and other national and international institutions, leading to high quality
Table 5 summarizes the scholarly output of BSE faculty, which is highly ranked among peer units in the
nation. Faculty members at the professorial rank have a large number of citations (above 650, with two at
1000), with 75% of professors having an h-index (see Web of Science) of 14 and above (two of them at
18 and 19, respectively), which are high for the discipline and very competitive nationally. BSE ranks
high at WSU and nationally in terms of expenditures from extramural funds. Each year of the evaluation
period, nearly all program faculty members were called upon to
BSE faculty members at the serve on national review panels and as journal editors. Within
professorial rank have large the past three years, nearly all program faculty members have
been invited to visit other research universities to discuss
number of citations and a high
research/scholarship, provide a seminar, or teach short courses;
h-index. and several faculty members have been called by mass media
and other influential sources to provide expert opinions. Nearly all BSE faculty members currently have
active collaborations with colleagues at other research universities within and outside the US resulting in
international collaborations and joint research products.
BSE faculty members are sought out to join and lead multidisciplinary teams at WSU. They have active
collaborations with colleagues from other WSU units resulting in joint publications and other scholarly
output. Within the past three years, nearly all program faculty members have been invited to provide a
seminar describing research/scholarship to other programs within the University. Nearly all program
faculty members conduct research/scholarship that contributes to areas of excellence. As discussed above,
BSE research and scholarship have a measurable competitive advantage over similar programs of peers in
nationally recognized institutions.
BSE generates more revenue than state investment. Table 6 shows grant awards and Table 7 shows
expenditures from sponsored projects. Compared to Permanent Budget Level (PBL), expenditures from
extramural funds are one and a half times larger. Only 10% of BSE graduate students are supported with
state GRAs, with the remainder supported by extramural funds or self-supported. BSE regularly uses
external funds to enable the acquisition of equipment needed for research/scholarly activities and supports
a large number of post-doctoral research associates (18 to 20 during the evaluation period).
BSE Outreach and Engagement
The unit conducts significant outreach activities that complement and provide feedback to research and
scholarship and provide service to the state and beyond. BSE programs address important societal issues
including land and water resources and conservation, climate change, bio-energy alternatives, greenhouse
emissions, innovative and nutritional food products, new bio-products, labor-saving technologies in
agriculture, value-added for agriculture, and others. BSE faculty members regularly engage stakeholders
with interest in these topics. The actual impact on people is reflected by the frequent number of contacts
initiated by stakeholders (governmental and non-governmental agencies, industry representatives, and
individuals) and significant funds (non-competitive ear-marked funds) from agencies and industry in
support of targeted research within the unit. BSE outreach and engagement are cost-effective activities
considering the small amount of PBL invested for this purpose. Given the nature of BSE research and
scholarship, which is heavily grounded to the development of the bio-economy of the state, region, and
nation, there is great potential for societal impact and recognition to WSU if the unit were to grow.
Table 1. Engineering faculty FTEs
Fiscal Year Faculty Size
Table 2. Department rank for selected benchmarks from the 2004 and 2005 survey of the American Society of
Agricultural and Biological Engineers.
Benchmark 2004–05 2005–06
(n=20) (n = 27)
Faculty FTEs 18 27
Staff FTEs 13 18
Total PBL 16 22
Research PBL 14 18
Total Space Allocation 16 18
Expenditures from Extramural Support 6 7
Extramural / Intramural Funds Ratio 4 2
Extramural Funds Spent / Faculty FTEs 1 1
Total Number of Graduate Students 6 10
Number of PhD Students 1 2
PhD / MS ratio 1 2
Number of Students per Faculty FTE 2 1
Number of Students Graduated (Mean of last 3 Years) 11 12
Number of PhDs Graduated (Mean of last 3 Years) 3 3
Number of Graduate Students / State GRAs 2 1
Number of High-impact Refereed Publications (*) 6 (*) 9 (*)
High-impact Refereed Publications / Research FTEs 3 2
Number of Active Grants 2 3
(*) WSU is only counting published publications. It is unclear what others are doing.
Table 3. Number of BSE graduate students based on Institutional Research and BSE data
WSU Institutional Research Data
Fall 2003 Fall 2004 Fall 2005 Fall 2006
Ph D 35 39 33 33
M.S. 9 6 6 7
Total 44 45 39 40
Average per FTE 7.3 6.4 5.6 4.4
Ph.D./M.S. Ratio 3.9 6.5 5.5 4.7
2002-2003 2003-2004 2004-2005 2005-2006
Ph D 31 30.5 33.5 27.5
M.S. 8.5 9.5 9.5 11.0
Total 39.5 40.0 43.0 38.5
Average per FTE 6.6 5.7 6.1 4.3
Ph.D./M.S. Ratio 3.6 3.2 3.5 2.5
Table 4. Number of degrees awarded based on Institutional Research and BSE data
WSU Institutional Research Data
FY 2003 FY 2004 FY 2005 FY 2006 FY 2007
Ph D 4 6 7 7 8
M.S. 2 2 2 4 3
Total 6 8 9 11 11
2002–2003 2003–2004 2004–2005 2005–2006 2006–2007
Ph D 4 5 7 7 8
M.S. 2 2 1 4 3
Total 6 7 8 11 11
Table 5. BSE faculty scholarly output
2003 2004 2005 2006
Total 35 39 46 34
Peer-reviewed articles Average 5.8 5.6 6.6 4.3
Total 8 6 0 12
Other publications Average 1.3 0.9 0.0 1.5
Total 3 4 6 2
Books (Author/Editor) Average 0.5 0.6 0.9 0.3
Total 3 3 12 5
Book chapters Average 0.5 0.4 1.7 0.6
Total 59 40 41 62
Presentations Average 9.8 5.7 5.9 7.8
Table 6. Grant awards received by BSE faculty
Year Total ($) ($/FTE)
2003 1,494,404 249,067
2004 1,698,541 242,649
2005 2,437,665 348,238
2006 2,263,067 282,883
Table 7. BSE expenditures from sponsored projects
Year Total ($) Average ($/FTE)
2003 2,304,709 384,118
2004 2,432,953 347,565
2005 2,817,093 402,442
2006 2,295,749 286,969