Virginia Tech's Department of Biological Systems Engineering (BSE), which resides in both the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Engineering, incorporates research and hands-on experience into its undergraduate curriculum. This engagement of undergraduate students in all facets of its interdisciplinary program has helped BSE earn the distinction of a University Exemplary Department.
One program of major impact is the National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experience for Undergraduates program that the department has conducted each summer since 1997. The program creates an environment for guided independent discovery and develops students' interests toward research careers. "This program has effectively linked undergraduate education with research and scholarship, impacting not only our graduate program, but those of many other universities," said Saied Mostaghimi, BSE department head.
The BSE department engages a large number of its undergraduate students in research during the academic year. This is accomplished both by hiring a significant number of undergraduate students to work in the department's research laboratories and by providing unpaid internships for other students. Student nominators stressed the importance of the faculty-student interaction.
Another aspect of linking research and undergraduate education in BSE is the concerted efforts to enhance its curriculum. As an example, several BSE faculty members developed a collaborative proposal with faculty in the Engineering Education department and education/academic assessment to develop a Department-Level Reform proposal for NSF. The group was recently awarded $1 million to carry out this initiative. In August, U.S. News & World Report published its undergraduate ranking for 2004-2005. The BSE undergraduate program is ranked 11th in the nation by the U.S. News & World Report magazine. This is the second highest ranking of any program in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech.