Biological systems engineering (BSE), an accredited engineering program in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, applies engineering principles to natural systems and machinery design that impact production of food, water, energy, and more. Uniquely positioned at the intersection of engineering and sustainability with multiple flexible study options to match a wide range of interests, students can follow defined tracks in natural resources and environmental engineering, food or bioprocess engineering, machinery systems engineering, or customize their classes using the general option.

Students benefit from a high faculty to student ratio and individualized advising that fosters teamwork. They have access to all resources for UW–Madison students in the College of Engineering, plus those available to students in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Admission is not competitive, meaning all students who meet the criteria are admitted. The program provides a broad education in physical sciences and engineering, but also teaching skills in fabrication, electronics, design, product development, and management.

The BSE program, like all undergraduate engineering programs on the UW–Madison campus, is accredited by ABET (the Accreditation Board for Engineering & Technology) and prepares students for licensure as a professional engineer. Students who graduate from the program are well prepared for research and engineering careers in industry or government, or to continue their studies in graduate school.

Learn through hands-on, real-world experiences

BSE offers hands-on courses and experiences. First-year and senior-level design courses challenge students to develop solutions, build and test prototypes, and analyze results. Students integrate practical work experience through co-operative education (co-op) programs where students earn full-time salaries while working for a firm or through for-credit internships (paid or unpaid).   

Build community and networks

The program fosters community building through advising, coursework, and outside activities. Students can join the UW–Madison student chapter of the professional American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) to meet professionals, tour companies, explore career paths, and participate in national design competitions. Additionally, the department hosts student events, such as our fall mixer or harvest meal, to allow students to get to know each other and the faculty. 

Customize a path of study

All majors take core engineering courses, then specialize in areas including machinery systems, natural resources and engineering, food engineering, or bioprocessing. Students can also develop their own customized focus areas. Many students also complete certificates in sustainability or renewable energy. 

Make a strong start

An introductory engineering design course allows students to make personal connections with peers and learn fabrication skills on various industry machines in the BSE shop. In all courses, instructors offer homework help sessions to support students and encourage the formation of study groups. 

Gain global perspective

Students can choose from study abroad options, including courses taught in English, offered through the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, the College of Engineering, or campus-wide opportunities. Recent students have traveled to China, France, Costa Rica, Africa, Ireland and more. Programs occur over full semesters or during summer and winter breaks. International internships, many with summer options, offer additional opportunities to gain global experience. Students can explore studying abroad as a BSE major utilizing the Biological Systems Engineering Major Advising Page. Students work with their advisor and the CALS study abroad office to identify appropriate programs.  


How to Get in

Entry to this professional program requires students to meet the five admission requirements detailed below. Students are admitted to the department as pre-Biological Systems Engineering until they meet the admission criteria. Admission eligibility must be confirmed by the department.

  1. Must complete a minimum of 24 degree credits.
  2. Must have completed a minimum of 17 graded credits of calculus, statistics, chemistry, computer science, statics, biology, and physics courses required for a BSE degree.
  3. Must have a math and science grade point average (M&SGPA) of at least 2.65 with a minimum grade of C in every course used to calculate the M&SGPA. The M&SGPA is based on: math courses numbered 217 and above (MATH 228 is excluded); statistics courses numbered 224 and above; all chemistry courses; any biology courses (courses with biological science breadth; maximum three courses, any required course must be included if taken); computer sciences courses numbered 302 and above (COMP SCI 402 is excluded); E M A 201; BSE 380; and physics courses numbered 201 and above. For any course that a student repeats, only the most recent grade will be used in the calculation. Any transfer course from another university that is included in the previous list must be included in the GPA calculation. 
  4. Must be in good academic standing—i.e., not on academic probation or dropped status.
  5. Must successfully complete introductory chemistry (CHEM 103 & CHEM 104, or CHEM 109, or equivalent) and math through MATH 222.

University General Education Requirements

All undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison are required to fulfill a minimum set of common university general education requirements to ensure that every graduate acquires the essential core of an undergraduate education. This core establishes a foundation for living a productive life, being a citizen of the world, appreciating aesthetic values, and engaging in lifelong learning in a continually changing world. Various schools and colleges will have requirements in addition to the requirements listed below. Consult your advisor for assistance, as needed. For additional information, see the university Undergraduate General Education Requirements section of the Guide.

General Education
  • Breadth—Humanities/Literature/Arts: 6 credits
  • Breadth—Natural Science: 4 to 6 credits, consisting of one 4- or 5-credit course with a laboratory component; or two courses providing a total of 6 credits
  • Breadth—Social Studies: 3 credits
  • Communication Part A Part B *
  • Ethnic Studies *
  • Quantitative Reasoning Part A Part B *

* The mortarboard symbol appears before the title of any course that fulfills one of the Communication Part A or Part B, Ethnic Studies, or Quantitative Reasoning Part A or Part B requirements.

College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Requirements

In addition to the University General Education Requirements, all undergraduate students in CALS must satisfy a set of college and major requirements. Courses may not double count within university requirements (General Education and Breadth) or within college requirements (First-Year Seminar, International Studies, Science, and Capstone), but courses counted toward university requirements may also be used to satisfy a college and/or a major requirement; similarly, courses counted toward college requirements may also be used to satisfy a university and/or a major requirement.

College Requirements for all CALS BS Degree Programs

Quality of Work: Students must maintain a minimum cumulative grade point average of 2.000 to remain in good standing and be eligible for graduation.
Residency: Students must complete 30 degree credits in residence at UW–Madison after earning 86 credits toward their undergraduate degree.
First year seminar1
International studies3
Physical science fundamentals4-5
General Chemistry I
Chemistry in Our World
Advanced General Chemistry
Biological science5
Additional science (biological, physical, or natural)3
Science breadth (biological, physical, natural, or social)3
CALS Capstone Learning Experience: included in the requirements for each CALS major (see "major requirements")

Named Options within the Major

Students may complete the Biological Systems Engineering General Program or select a Named Option. The course requirements on this page represent the general program. Students are encouraged to consider one of the Named Options (Food and Bioprocess Engineering; Machinery Systems Engineering; or Natural Resources and Environmental Engineering). Links to learn more about these options, including the course requirements, are included below.

Major Requirements

Major Requirements
Common Requirements53
General Program Classes and Technical Electives43
Total Credits101

Common Requirements

The Biological Systems Engineering program requires completion of a minimum of 125 credits to be eligible for graduation. Note that this is higher than the minimum for other CALS programs.
Mathematics and Statistics
MATH 221 Calculus and Analytic Geometry 15
MATH 222 Calculus and Analytic Geometry 24
MATH 234 Calculus--Functions of Several Variables4
MATH 319 Techniques in Ordinary Differential Equations3
or MATH 320 Linear Algebra and Differential Equations
STAT 324 Introductory Applied Statistics for Engineers3
Select one of the following:5-9
Advanced General Chemistry (Recommended)
General Chemistry I
and General Chemistry II 1
BSE 349 Quantitative Techniques for Biological Systems3
One additional Biological Science breadth Course; the following courses are preferred choices: 22-5
Introductory Biology
Introductory Biology
General Botany
Animal Biology
Introduction to Animal Sciences 2
Principles and Practices in Crop Production 2
General Microbiology 3
Biology of Microorganisms 3
E M A 201 Statics 43
PHYSICS 202 General Physics5
BSE 270 Introduction to Computer Aided Design3
BSE 380 Introductory Data Science for the Agricultural and Life Sciences (preferred)3
or COMP SCI 310 Problem Solving Using Computers
BSE 310 Project Economics & Decision Analysis (preferred)3
or I SY E 313 Engineering Economic Analysis
BSE 249 Engineering Principles for Biological Systems 53
or CBE 250 Process Synthesis
BSE 365 Measurements and Instrumentation for Biological Systems3
BSE 308 Career Management for Engineers1
Total Credits53-60

Taking the combination of CHEM 103 and CHEM 104 instead of CHEM 109 may increase the total minimum number of credits required to complete the program.


Machinery Systems students may select AN SCI/​DY SCI  101 or AGRONOMY 100 to also satisfy the Production Agriculture requirement. Any biological science course of 2 or more credits is accepted. Additional courses taken may be counted as Technical Electives.


MICROBIO 101 or MICROBIO 303 required for Food & Bioprocess Engineering specialization.


 E M A 201 Statics is an acceptable prerequisite for PHYSICS 202 General Physics.


Students selecting the Food & Bioprocess Engineering option who plan to enroll in CBE 310 Chemical Process Thermodynamics and CBE 320 Introductory Transport Phenomena must take CBE 250 here as a prerequisite. Students selecting the Food & Bioprocess Engineering option who plan to enroll in M E 361 Thermodynamics and M E 363 Fluid Dynamics are recommended to take BSE 249 here.

General Program Requirements

M E 361 Thermodynamics 13
or CBE 310 Chemical Process Thermodynamics
Select one of the following: 13-4
Fluid Dynamics
Fluid Mechanics
Introductory Transport Phenomena
BSE 464 Heat and Mass Transfer in Biological Systems3
E M A 303 Mechanics of Materials3
or M E 306 Mechanics of Materials
Select a minimum of three of the following:6-9
Land Information Management
Engineering Properties of Food and Biological Materials
Renewable Energy Systems
On-Site Waste Water Treatment and Dispersal
Intelligence and Automation in Agriculture
Biorefining: Energy and Products from Renewable Resources
Food and Bioprocessing Operations
Sediment and Bio-Nutrient Engineering and Management
Water Management Systems
Engineering Principles of Agricultural Machinery
Engineering Principles of Off-Road Vehicles
Small Watershed Engineering
Select a minimum of 9 credits of coursework numbered 300 or above non-BSE engineering courses9
Total Credits27-31

Take BSE 249 and M E 361 and M E 363, or take CBE 250 and CBE 310 and CBE 320.

Technical Electives

Select courses from one or more of the following four technical elective categories to bring the total number of credits in the General Program Area or in the selected specialization area to 43. See the BSE Undergraduate Student Handbook for a list of recommended technical electives for various areas of specialization.

A. Introduction to Engineering Courses (first-year students only)

INTEREGR 170 Design Practicum3
BSE 170 Product Design Practicum2

B. Independent Study/Instruction Courses

CALS or CoE courses with a 001, 299, 399, or 699 course number.  No more than 3 credits of coursework in this category can be used to meet technical elective requirements.

C. Upper-Level Courses

Part 1. Upper-Level Engineering Courses

This includes BSE courses not taken to meet other curricular requirements. This does not include independent study/instruction courses.

Any Engineering course numbered 300 or above
E M A 202 Dynamics3
or M E 240 Dynamics

Part 2. Upper-Level Science Courses

This includes BSE courses not taken to meet other curricular requirements. This does not include independent study/instruction courses.

Advanced biological, natural, and physical science courses (i.e., courses with a B, N, or P designation)
CHEM 341 Elementary Organic Chemistry3
CHEM 342 Elementary Organic Chemistry Laboratory1
CHEM 343 Organic Chemistry I3
CHEM 344 Introductory Organic Chemistry Laboratory2
CHEM 345 Organic Chemistry II3
CHEM/​M S & E  421 Polymeric Materials3
AGRONOMY/ATM OCN/SOIL SCI 532 Environmental Biophysics3

D. Lower-Level Science and Engineering Courses, Breadth Courses

Elementary and intermediate biological, natural and physical science courses except elementary and intermediate math courses; College of Engineering courses numbered 100 through 299; College of Agricultural and Life Sciences courses, Institute of Environmental Studies courses, and/or School of Business courses. Independent study/instruction courses cannot be counted in this category. No more than 12 credits of coursework in this category can be used to meet technical elective requirements.


BSE 508 Biological Systems Engineering Design Practicum I2
BSE 509 Biological Systems Engineering Design Practicum II 13
Fundamentals of Engineering Exam 1

Grades for BSE 509 will not be posted until proof of examination is presented.

University Degree Requirements

Total Degree To receive a bachelor's degree from UW–Madison, students must earn a minimum of 120 degree credits. The requirements for some programs may exceed 120 degree credits. Students should consult with their college or department advisor for information on specific credit requirements.
Residency Degree candidates are required to earn a minimum of 30 credits in residence at UW–Madison. "In residence" means on the UW–Madison campus with an undergraduate degree classification. “In residence” credit also includes UW–Madison courses offered in distance or online formats and credits earned in UW–Madison Study Abroad/Study Away programs.
Quality of Work Undergraduate students must maintain the minimum grade point average specified by the school, college, or academic program to remain in good academic standing. Students whose academic performance drops below these minimum thresholds will be placed on academic probation.

Learning Outcomes

  1. Identify, formulate, and solve complex engineering problems by applying principles of engineering, science, and mathematics.
  2. Apply engineering design to produce solutions that meet specified needs with consideration of public health, safety, and welfare, as well as global, cultural, social, environmental, and economic factors.
  3. Display effective communication with a range of audiences.
  4. Recognize ethical and professional responsibilities in engineering situations and make informed judgments, which must consider the impact of engineering solutions in global, economic, environmental, and societal contexts.
  5. Display teamwork skills, functioning effectively on a team whose members together provide leadership, create a collaborative and inclusive environment, establish goals, plan tasks, and meet objectives.
  6. Develop and conduct appropriate experimentation, analyze and interpret data, and use engineering judgment to draw conclusions.
  7. Acquire and apply new knowledge as needed, using appropriate learning strategies.

Four-Year Plan

Sample Biological Systems Engineering Four-Year Plan—General Program

Students must complete at least 125 total credits to be eligible for graduation.

First Year
MATH 22115MATH 2224
CHEM 10925BSE 170 or INTEREGR 1702-3
Biological Science Course3BSE 3103
Humanities3LSC 100 (or other COMM A)3
 Ethnic Studies3
 16 15-16
Second Year
E M A 2013BSE 3081
MATH 2344BSE 3493
BSE 2493MATH 3203
BSE 2703PHYSICS 2025
BSE 3803BSE General Program Elective3
 16 15
Third Year
M E 3063INTEREGR 397 (or other COMM B)3
M E 3613M E 3633
STAT 3243BSE 3653
300 level or higher non-BSE engineering course3BSE 5082
Technical Elective Course3BSE General Program Elective3
Elective3CALS International Studies3
 18 17
Fourth Year
BSE 5093BSE 4643
300 level or higher non-BSE engineering course3300 level or higher non-BSE engineering course3
Technical Electives4Technical Electives4
BSE General Program Elective3Elective Course3
 16 13
Total Credits 126-127

MATH course dependent on placement score and transfer credit evaluation.


If CHEM 103CHEM 104 are taken in place of CHEM 109, it is suggested to take CHEM 103 in the fall semester and CHEM 104 in the spring semester of the first year, and move BSE 310 to the fall semester of the second year. 

Advising and Careers


All students are assigned an advisor when they join the department. First-year students work with a professional staff advisor; more advanced students transition to a faculty advisor in their specialization area. The BSE department promotes personalized advising through accessible appointments and requires advising meetings at least once each semester. 

Career Opportunities

BSE graduates have great careers developing new products, processes, and systems to protect soil, air, and water quality while meeting demand for food, materials, and energy. Alumni hold positions in research and engineering in organizations developing off-road equipment, food production, renewable energy systems, animal housing, environmental control systems, irrigation and drainage systems, and with engineering consulting companies. Earning a BSE degree puts students on track to become a professional engineer and take the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, the first step toward licensure which opens even more career opportunities. 


First contact for prospective students is Betsy Wood, Academic Advising Manager/ Student Services, (608) 262-3310, betsy.wood@wisc.edu. Schedule an appointment with her via Starfish or send an email with suggested times.


Neslihan Akdeniz, Robert Anex, Christopher Choi, Matt Digman, Sundaram Gunasekaran, Awad Hanna, Margaret Kalcic, Krishnapuram Karthikeyan, Brian Luck, Mallika Nocco, Xuejun Pan, Douglas Reinemann, Troy Runge, John Shutske, Paul Stoy, Anita Thompson, and Zhou Zhang 


Kody Habeck, Jeff Nelson, and Shubham Attri. 

Student Advisor

Wisconsin Experience

Student Organizations

The American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) Pre-professionals Club connects students to professional development opportunities.

UW–Madison offers many other student groups to encourage networking and development of leadership skills. Some cater to agricultural interests, while others focus on engineering and biosciences. Many food and bioprocess engineering students are active in the Food Science Club. Other options include Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences, Engineers for a Sustainable World (UW–Madison Chapter), and more. Many student organizations exist to support engineering students who identify as Native American, Black, Latinx, or part of the LGBTQIA+ community in professional development and academic success.

Find more student organizations.

Competitive Teams

The BSE department is the home of several engineering design teams that compete in one of several National Student Design Competitions through the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE). The Quarter-Scale Tractor Team designs and builds a small-scale tractor judged by industry experts and put to the test in performance events against other national and international university teams. The Robotics Student Design Competition allows students to develop skills in robotic systems, electronics, and sensing technologies by simulating a fully autonomous robotic solution to a common agricultural process.

Many BSE students participate in or hold leadership positions in other engineering design competition teams, such as Formula SAE, SAE Clean Snowmobile, ASCE Concrete Canoe, Human Powered Vehicle Challenge, Collegiate Wind Power Competition, Baja Team, and UW Hybrid.


Internships are an excellent way for students to ground what they have learned in practical applications. Students also participate in co-operative (co-op) education programs where they earn full-time salaries while working for a company. The program supports students in finding co-ops and internships and provides flexibility in class plans for opportunities that occur during fall or spring semesters. Students learn of pre-professional internships through on-campus career fairs — primarily by those hosted by the CoE and CALS — and through regular email announcements. Students also have opportunities to intern with professors performing research over the summer. Although not a program requirement, school credit may be earned for internships.

Research Experience

Many professors in BSE and across campus provide opportunities for students to gain hands-on experience in research labs. Undergraduate researchers learn how knowledge is constructed, gain independence, and increase their self-confidence. These benefits are an advantage in any career path. BSE students are sought out by research groups across campus and governmental agencies because of their unique research experiences.

Global Engagement

The program supports study abroad and international experiences with flexible scheduling. In addition to study abroad programs and internships, students can volunteer with student organizations like Engineers Without Borders. Students can choose to fulfill their International Studies requirement with an appropriate study abroad course.

Community Engagement and Volunteering

BSE students participate in campus-wide volunteer programs like Badger Volunteers, offering their expertise in education, sustainability, and public health to support community organizations. In addition, BSE students volunteer through student organizations to work on special projects related to engineering. Past projects included the fabrication of bioreactors for communities in Uganda or Habitat for Humanity projects in Madison.

Resources and Scholarships


Students in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences receive more than $1.25 million in scholarships annually from a standard application.

Each year dozens of outstanding Biological Systems Engineering students are awarded scholarships from funds designated exclusively for this major. These funds seek to support students based on many different criteria, such as financial need, specific academic interests, extracurricular involvement, and academic success.


BSE students have full access to the resources of both the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and the College of Engineering, including Career Services, Study Abroad programs, access to specialized engineering software, and computer labs.

The Biological Systems Engineering Shop provides students hands-on experience with machining equipment commonly used in industry. Students can learn machining and metal fabrication techniques, as well as woodworking skills, and improve their understanding of design and assembly processes. Training and support are available for all skill levels. In addition, BSE students have access to all College of Engineering fabrication shops and the UW Makerspace.

Other resources in the Agricultural Engineering Building include a dedicated student computer lab and a student lounge available for group study or individual work. Department-wide social events are also held here.


Accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET, https://www.abet.org, under the commission’s General Criteria and Program Criteria for Agricultural and Similarly Named Engineering Programs.

The Biological Systems Engineering Program has historically been accredited under the Program Criteria for Biological and Similarly Named Programs, but due to an error during the 2018 ABET Review, the program has been listed as meeting the Program Criteria for Agricultural and Similarly Named Engineering Programs.  We are currently undergoing a change to correct this error with ABET.  

Program Educational Objectives for the Bachelor of Science in Biological Systems Engineering

The Biological Systems Engineering Department recognizes that our graduates will choose to use acquired knowledge and skills to pursue a wide variety of career and life goals. Whether they choose a professional career, pursue further education, or engage in volunteer work, our graduates will:
  1. Develop exceptional problem-solving, leadership, teamwork, and communication skills in the intersecting fields of biological systems and engineering, covering various scales, from microbial to global.
  2. Utilize skills to make meaningful contributions to communities in addressing pressing societal and ecological challenges.
  3. Be prepared for professional licensure and career development in the public, private, or nonprofit sectors.

Note: Undergraduate Program Educational Objectives and Student Outcomes, number of degrees conferred, and enrollment data are made publicly available at the Biological Systems Engineering Undergraduate Program website. (In this Guide, the program's Student Outcomes are available through the  "Learning Outcomes" tab.)