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Redefining A Biological Engineering Undergraduate Curriculum: Profits, Pitfalls, And Practicality

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Biology in Engineering

Tagged Division

Biological & Agricultural

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.1072.1 - 11.1072.10



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Paper Authors


Mark McConkie Utah State University

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Mark is currently a doctoral student in the department of Instructional Technology at Utah State University specializing in the representation of declarative knowledge for systems that improve recall of textual material, and also the field of open content.

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Timothy Taylor Utah State University

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Timothy Taylor is a Principal Lecturer of Biological Engineering. His recent research has focused on cellular physical property changes to plant cells grown in suspension culture with processing. He teaches classes in the areas of engineering quantification of biological processes and biological engineering design. He is currently a Co-Principle Investigator for an NSF Planning Grant in the Department Level Reform Division.

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David Britt Utah State University

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David Britt is an Assistant Professor of Biological Engineering. His research interests focus on renewable polymers, molecular imprinting, and biofilm formation. He is currently the Principle Investigator for an NSF Planning Grant in the Department Level Reform Division.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Redefining a Biological Engineering Undergraduate Curriculum: Profits, Pitfalls, and Practicality


Over 10 years ago Utah State University introduced the Biological Engineering program as a replacement to the Agricultural Engineering program because of declining enrollment. In reality, however, not much had changed to the program but the name, and consequently, initial enrollment gains began to erode. With the addition of dedicated biological engineering faculty and serious commitment to a new curriculum, the Biological Engineering program is now growing and joins a number of other programs in the country based on biology, with its breadth of applications, as a science-based discipline. We describe here the history of our transition and highlight our emphasis on the alignment of planning at the discipline, curriculum, and course levels.


The discipline of biological engineering has been emerging for nearly thirty years1 with a rapid increase in departments and programs under various names adopting curricula in the past ten years. The programs that were derived from agricultural and natural resources backgrounds traditionally have degree names such as biological engineering, biological and agricultural engineering, biological systems engineering, or bioresource engineering. Those that have evolved in conjunction with human medicine are generally called bioengineering or biomedical engineering. In the past there was a fairly clear distinction between programs that had emerged from agricultural and natural resources backgrounds and those that were developed around applications for human medicine. These differences are blurring as faculty in both types of programs and faculty in other programs realize that biological engineering is becoming a discipline based on a fundamental science foundation rather than just an application based field. Theories and techniques are not limited by traditional research boundaries and instead can be applied to a wide variety of biological based areas.

As biological engineering programs such as the one at Utah State University develop that attempt to bridge the gap between these traditional programs by representing the full breadth of potential education and research interests in the discipline of biological engineering, questions and issues arise about what should be included in the curriculum of a biological engineering undergraduate degree. Addressing and redefining biological engineering curriculum content also presents a prime opportunity to address the status of undergraduate engineering and science education teaching practices. Because biological engineering encompasses such a broad area, the challenge arises of how to create a broad and flexible engineering curriculum without compromising fundamentals, and doing so in a way that incorporates what we have learned about effective educational practices. We outline here critical steps we have taken following a departmental name change and point out the potential profits, pitfalls, and practicality of dramatic curricular restructuring. We will describe our efforts as they apply to the field of biological engineering in general, the department’s overall curriculum, and specific educational / instructional activities.

McConkie, M., & Taylor, T., & Britt, D. (2006, June), Redefining A Biological Engineering Undergraduate Curriculum: Profits, Pitfalls, And Practicality Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--1322

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