Biosystems Engineering Major Guide for 2011-2012

What is Biosystems Engineering

Today’s tightly-focused engineering specialties might amaze the great engineers of the past. Many of them were successful precisely because they understood a diverse range of engineering concepts, and could integrate that knowledge in new and startling ways.  Biosystems Engineering is the most “integrative” engineering discipline available today. It combines elements from biological, chemical, environmental, mechanical, civil, electrical, and other engineering disciplines to produce the broadest possible engineering skill set. This engineering background is complemented with a focus on biologically-based systems critical for solving problems involving energy, people, and the environment. Finally, Biosystems Engineering adds the peripheral skills needed to be successful in an engineering career: intensive design projects, computer and graphics training, presentation skills, engineering economics, and practical teamwork. With this broad foundation, upper-level Biosystems Engineering students are uniquely positioned to pursue almost any area of engineering that interests them. This may be biofuels, environmental systems, machine design and optimization, soil and water conservation, instrumentation and sensors, bio-reactors, waste treatment, or any of a host of other possibilities.

Career Opportunities in Biosystems Engineering

As a Biosystems Engineer, you can choose from an unusually broad range of job opportunities. You will be well prepared to lead a team as a project engineer because of your broad engineering background. You could also choose to design products or processes in a variety of agricultural, manufacturing, and service industries. You might consider working as a consultant, in product marketing, or for a management services firm. Government agencies and educational and research institutions also employ many Biosystems Engineers, or you may want to enhance your career by entering graduate or professional school. You will be particularly qualified to work at the interface of technology and living systems – whether in fuel, food and fiber production, environmental issues, or in a biological context.

High School Preparation

Successful Biosystems Engineering students typically have a good high school background in math, physics, and chemistry. Freshman admission to the program requires 3 units of math, including trigonometry and geometry, in addition to the general admission requirements of the University. A strong background in these areas will enable you to more easily begin your college work. If you are able to earn advanced placement credit in some of these areas, you may have additional options later in your degree program. These could include taking specialized courses that interest you, working in a lab, or contributing to a research project — providing valuable experience and improving your employment opportunities. Our students tend to be problem solvers who like to “figure out” how things work, and often have good spatial skills. Other useful traits are good communication abilities (both written and verbal), experience with computers, and technical hobbies. Admission chances are enhanced by high ACT/SAT scores and a solid high school transcript.

Transfer Student Preparation
The transfer students that do best in Biosystems Engineering come in with a strong background in Math and Science, having done well in the equivalent of Chemistry 1 and at least one semester of Calculus.  It is generally not an advantage to have taken most of the General Education Electives elsewhere, as those provide some flexibility in scheduling.

How to Major in Biosystems Engineering

The Biosystems Engineering program is housed in the Biosystems Engineering & Soil Science Department. Our faculty and students enjoy talking with prospective students. A faculty member (or a student, if you prefer) will be happy to guide you through our labs and answer your questions about the department.

Requirements for Biosystems Engineering

During the freshman and sophomore years, students are introduced to engineering in the award-winning Engineering Fundamentals sequence, as well as through a design apprenticeship. They enhance their writing skills and take a variety of foundational math and science courses that provide the building blocks for engineering and working with biological systems. They are also given basic skills in working with mass, energy, thermodynamics, rigid body dynamics and mechanics of materials. In the junior and senior years, the emphasis shifts to design and analysis of a variety of mechanical, natural resource, electrical, and life systems. This is augmented by general education electives, economics, technical writing, and speech. The culmination of the senior year is a two-semester capstone design sequence that completes a realistic engineering project in a team environment. Our curriculum is fully accredited by the national Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Students are encouraged to take the Fundamentals of Engineering exam as an initial step toward pursuing a professional engineering (P.E.) license.

Special Programs, Co-ops, and Internships

An internship is a structured 10-12 week work session, usually in the summer, in which you apply what you have learned in the classroom to real-life problems, while being mentored by a trained professional. Students are employed in paid full-time positions by industry, business, and government organizations, providing students with valuable experience and a competitive salary. The Biosystems Engineering program encourages all students to intern while in college. Can you see yourself developing systems to produce biofuels, building a constructed wetland for M&M Mars, designing skid steer loaders for John Deere, or monitoring irrigation systems in Colorado?

Highlights of Biosystems Engineering

Here are some additional reasons to consider Biosystems Engineering at UT:

  • An excellent student:professor ratio. This means more one-to-one time with professors for academic counseling and assistance with coursework. Graduates consistently rank our outstanding, caring faculty as one of the strengths of our department.
  • An award-winning tradition — both in national design competitions and in interdisciplinary UT engineering events.
  • Training in delivering presentations — through seminars, poster sessions, papers, and attendance at professional meetings.
  • Excellent scholarship support — Our students are eligible for scholarship money from both the University and the College.
  • An active student engineering club with extensive activities.

Ready for the World logoReady for the World

In addition to providing its graduates with a skill set that is needed around the world, Biosystems Engineering takes an international perspective in both its research and educational missions.  Departmental researchers have recently worked in or cooperated with researchers from countries ranging from Australia to Zambia, with countries in-between including Taiwan, Vietnam, Brazil, Ecuador, and many others.  Students have spent semesters abroad in countries from Sweden to Malta to South Africa, and have traveled with College trips to Thailand, Mexico, and Jamaica.  Finally, our student body includes students from Senegal, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, China, Colombia, and other countries.  Biosystems Engineering is not only ready for the world; it sees its mission as meeting needs throughout the world.  The Center for International Education is the clearinghouse for the many possibilities UT offers it students in making themselves ready for the world.

Learn more about UT’s Ready for the World initiative to help students gain the international and intercultural knowledge they need to succeed in today’s world.


The information on this page should be considered general information only. For more specific information on this and other programs refer to the UT catalog or contact the department and/or college directly.

Sample Curriculum

Freshman Year Credit Hours
Engineering Fundamentals  151/157, 152/158, 105 9
Mechanical Engineering 202 2
Design Apprenticeship  BSE 104 1
Math 141/147, 142/148 8
General Chemistry   120/128 4
Culture & Civ General Education Elective   3
English Composition   101/118, 102 6
Critical Courses: Math 141/147 and 142/148; EF 151/157 and 152/158; Chemistry 120/128  
Sophomore Year Credit Hours
BSE 201, 221, 231, 321 10
Math 231, 241 7
ME 231, 321, 331 9
Microbiology 210 3
ESS 210 4
Critical Courses: BSE 221, 321; ME 231, 321; Math 231, 241  
Junior Year Credit Hours
BSE 411, 416, 431, 451 13
Statistics 251 3
ECE 301 3
Math 200 1
Technical Elective 3
English 360 3
AE 341 3
Philosophy 244 3
Critical Courses: AE 341; ECE 301; BSE 411, 431, 451  
Senior Year Credit Hours
BSE 401, 402, 404, 444 14
Technical Elective 3
AREC 201 or Econ 201 4
Social Science Elective General Education 3
Arts & Humanities General Education 3
Cultures & Civilizations General Education Electives   3
Critical Courses: BSE 401, 402, 404, 444  

For More Information

Undergraduate Coordinator
Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science
2506 E.J. Chapman Dr
Knoxville, TN 37996-4531
Phone: 865-974-7266