Mission Statement and Chronology History

Mission Statement

The Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science brings broad engineering and scientific expertise to issues of sustainable development and resource stewardship.  Specific topics include productive and sustainable agriculture, soil and water resource management, impacts of climate change, machines and systems for optimized performance, construction science, and fuels and value-added products from renewable resources.  We produce well-prepared and motivated graduates (BS through PhD), discover new knowledge through research, and share that knowledge by engaging with scientific communities, industries, agencies, and individuals throughout Tennessee and the world.      


Records portraying the evolution of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Department of Agricultural Engineering began in 1916.  This historical account is an effort to record major events pertaining to formation and growth of the department.  To enhance understanding of the evolutionary process, and to facilitate later inclusion of inadvertently omitted items, events are arranged chronologically.  Sources of information include:

  • University Announcements, from the Special Collections section of the Main Library;
  • Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletins and Agricultural Extension Service Annual Reports in the Agriculture-Veterinary Medicine Library;
  • Departmental files;
  • Agricultural Engineering Journals; and
  • Personal contact.

Unless otherwise stated, dates and events pertaining to curricula were obtained from University Announcements.


According to the June 8, 1967 edition of the Knoxville News-Sentinel, Mr. Tom H. Troxel, a Scott County surveyor, scholar, and 5/8th AsQuaw Indian, spent four years at UT studying agricultural engineering before World War I.  However, University Announcements, which listed names of all students in those years, did not include that name.

Statement under RURAL ENGINEERING in 1916-17 Announcements: “The courses outlined below are given in the Engineering Department but are  planned to meet the needs of students in agriculture.  They are elective in the Junior and Senior year.”  (5) Forging, (6) Woodworking, (7) Land Surveying, (8) Farm Mechanics (the application of engineering to farm life.  The course includes study of the steam engine and boiler, gasoline engines, the transmission of power, development of small water power, means of securing running water for the house, electric lighting, house-wiring, dynamos, sanitation).

Agricultural Surveying offered in Civil Engineering.

RURAL ENGINEERING not one of 4 Engineering Departments listed.

College of Agriculture listed Engineering electives as:  Farm Mechanics, Forge Shop, Surveying, and Wood Shop.

RURAL ENGINEERING appeared as in 1916.

Surveying and Farm Mechanics required in College of Agriculture (Agricultural Education and Horticulture).


“This group is not offered in 1920-21.”

(Same as 1919).


Professor ——.

Course listing similar to traditional:  Elementary Surveying, Forge and Wood Shop, Farm Structures, Concrete Construction, Land Drainage and Surveying,  Farm Power Engineering.

2. In College of Agriculture:


Not offered, 1925-26

First reference to Agricultural Engineering as a Department of Instruction in The University of Tennessee Register (Catalog)

One Agricultural Engineering freshman in College of Engineering.

1. In College of Agriculture:


See Engineering curricula.

2. College of Engineering


Instructor:  Frank D. Jones, B.S. in A.

The College of Engineering, cooperating with the College of Agriculture, offers a four-year curriculum leading to the B. S. Degree in Agricultural Engineering.  The curriculum is primarily engineering but contains enough work in agriculture to give a proper background for the engineers who wish to do their work in rural communities.  Laboratories and shops are equipped to give instruction of special value to students registered for Agricultural Engineering and also to other students of Agriculture who may elect courses in Agricultural Engineering.

Harold A. Arnold, B.S., Instructor in Agricultural Engineering

In The Univ. of Tenn. Agricultural Experiment Sta. Annual Reports:  “Pulverizing Limestone on the Farm.”  F. D. Jones.  Tests conducted by the Engineering Experiment Station in cooperation with the Agricultural Experiment Station.

One Agricultural Engineering freshman in College of Engineering.

One Agricultural Engineering freshman in College of Engineering.

One Agricultural Engineering sophomore in College of Engineering.

Andy T. Hendrix, B.S., M.S., Asst. Prof. of Agricultural Engineering (College of Engineering).

Twelve courses listed in Announcements.

Agricultural Extension Service Annual Report shows Rural Engineering Department.

  • Report by G. E. Martin, Extension Agricultural Engineer, on erosion control and rural electrification.
  • Report by Max H. Falkner, Architect, on relocation service for families in the Norris Dam area.

James C. Hundley listed (named) as junior in Agricultural Engineering.

Freshmen were:  Barry R. Cecil, John E. Martin, George R. Woodruff.

Marlay A. Sharp, B.S., M.S., Head of Department.

Faculty:  Andy T. Hendrix, B.S.M.E., B.S.E.E., M.S.M.E.; Earle K. Rambo.

James C. Hundley awarded B.S. Degree in Agricultural Engineering.

Agricultural Engineering courses taught in Morgan Hall.

Three-story frame dairy barn constructed in 1899 converted to house Agricultural Engineering Department (located about 50 feet north of present office complex).

In Agricultural Extension Service Annual Report:

  • G. E. Martin – Rural Engineering – Tenn. Agri. Ext. Service.
  • M. T. Gowder – Mechanical Erosion Control – Tenn. Agri. Ext. Service,  TVA.
  • M. M. Johns – Rural Electrification – Tenn. Agri. Ext. Service, TVA.

Rural Engineering Extension moved from house on “Hill” to trailer near Morgan Hall.

Agricultural Engineering appears in College of Agriculture listings.

Graduate courses listed (Research, Special Problems).

RURAL ENGINEERING GROUP [forerunner of Agricultural Mechanization curriculum].

Agricultural Extension Service publications

  • Orchard Terracing.  M. T. Gowder, Asst. Ext. Rural Engr., W. C. Pelton, Ext. Hort.
  • Running Water in the Farm Home, G. E. Martin.

Department faculty listed in The University of Tennessee Agricultural Experiment Station – Bulletin No. 170:  M. A. Sharp, Agri. Engr.; H. A. Arnold, Asst. Agri. Engr.; J. C. Cole, Oil Processor; Brantford Elliott, Asst. in Agri. Engr.; J. E. Jones, Asst. Engr.; A. L. Kennedy, Asst. Agri. Engr.; J. F. Leahy, Assoc. Engr.; R. A. Southerland, Asst. Chemist; R. Brooks Taylor, Industrial Engr.

Using WPA labor, construction began on the “New” Agricultural Engineering Building.

ASAE Student Branch report in Agricultural Engineering Journal.

Graduating students only listed in Announcements.

“New” Agricultural Engineering Building completed.

Article in Agricultural Engineering Journal:  A Simple Dynometer, M. A. Sharp.

Department and Tennessee Section hosted ASAE National Annual Meeting.

Harold A. Arnold and Marlay A. Sharp developed a new castor bean huller that could speed up production of castor oil, needed as a lubricant for aircraft engines, hydraulic brakes, shock absorbers, and other mechanisms.  This discovery aided America and her allies during World War II.  Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin No. 179, A New Castor-Bean Sheller by H. A. Arnold and M. A. Sharp gave published results of this research. 

Machinery Building, one story frame structure, located about 50 feet northeast of present office complex, constructed from dismantled World War II military building.

101 students in Agricultural Engineering.

TVA constructed Quonset Building (at southeast corner of current parking lot 67) and leased it to the University for three years, after which the University gained ownership of the building and equipment for Agricultural Engineering research only.

Mechanized Agriculture replaced Rural Engineering.

Faculty: Marlay A. Sharp, Head; H. A. Arnold; A. L. Kennedy; J. B. Liljedahl; E. J. Matthews; A. H. Morgan; W. C. Wheeler

James L. Butler, Willis E. Huston, and Herbert D. Sullivan awarded M.S. Degree in Agricultural Engineering.

Dr. C. W. Bockhop, Head of Department.

Teaching and research faculty:  H. A. Arnold, D. O. Baxter, E. K. Boyce, A. L. Kennedy, A. H. Morgan, M. A. Sharp (India program), C. H. Shelton, R. B. Stone (USDA).

Extension faculty:  M. T. Gowder, M. H. Falkner, E. B. Hale, D. H. Luttrell.

Hayri Berberoglu of Turkey awarded M.S. Degree in Mechanized Agriculture.

John M. Johnson, Leader of Agricultural Engineering Extension.

Marlay A. Sharp Memorial Student Loan Fund established.

Dr. James H. Anderson, Head of Department.

Dr. John J. McDow, Head of Department.

B.S. Degree in Agricultural Engineering accredited by the Engineers’ Council for Professional Development.

Department heavily involved with Second National Grassland Field Day and Conference at the Middle Tennessee Experiment Station.

Ph.D. Degree in Agricultural Engineering authorized.

Dr. Houston Luttrell, Leader of Agricultural Engineering Extension.

Mechanized Agriculture curriculum changed to Agricultural Mechanization.

The department’s first computer, an Electronics Associates, Inc., TR-20 analog computer, purchased for $3500.00.

Ph.D. Degree awarded to Rex D. Haren.

The first direct departmental access to digital computers provided by a leased teletype terminal and telephone modem located in the Agricultural Engineering Building.  This slow (110 baud) system permitted direct access to a UTCC computer for programming, data input, and printed output.  This marked the beginning of computer use in undergraduate teaching activities of the department.

Dr. Houston Luttrell, Head of Department.

Deedie Bise first woman to be awarded B.S. Degree in Agricultural Engineering.

ASAE Student Branch made a “clean sweep” of awards at the annual Engineers’ Day competition among student clubs from all engineering disciplines.  Deedie Bise and Doyle Luttrell won first place in the undergraduate or small group competition.  Joel Walker and Fletcher Armstrong placed first in the graduate or large group competition.  These exhibits, with three other Student Branch displays, earned the overall Winner’s Trophy for the Department.

Offices and classrooms moved to “Old” Agricultural Engineering Building, Morgan Hall, Fiber Lab and Spinning Lab to prepare for new building construction.

The department purchased its first digital computer, a Charles River Data Systems MF 11/2, for $8500.

Lawrence D. Gaultney, first son of a UT Agricultural Engineering Department  alumnus (William L. Gaultney, BSAE 1949) received BSAE.

Quonset and Machinery Buildings razed to make space for new Classroom/Laboratory Building.

A second digital computer, a DEC PDP 11/03, purchased.  It became the heart of an agricultural tractor instrumentation system.

Work completed on new Classroom/Laboratory Building and renovation of Office Building for a total area of 70,000 square feet.

“Old” Agricultural Engineering Building razed.

College of Agriculture Microcomputer Laboratory established in Room 270, Agricultural Engineering Laboratory Building.

The College of Agriculture Microcomputer Teaching Laboratory established in  a classroom of the Agricultural Engineering Laboratory Building.  It was initially equipped with seven IBM personal computers.

A word processing system (dedicated computer) purchased ($12,000) for use by all four secretaries in the department.

Department and Tennessee Section ASAE hosted National Annual Meeting.

A database of departmental alumni started.

Three secretaries in the department provided with IBM/XT computers for word  processing and other secretarial activities.  These have since been upgraded or replaced such that each secretary now has a computer for exclusive use.

All faculty offices provided with personal computers, IBM PC or PC/XT, and  direct access from the PC’s to the UTCC computer systems.  These units, with many capabilities not available on the Original Charles River system, cost about $2500 each.  Continued additions, improvements, and upgrades have been made since that time.

The transition to semesters resulted in major changes to all academic programs.  In addition, the Agricultural Mechanization undergraduate program was dropped and the graduate program was renamed Agricultural Engineering Technology.

The College of Agriculture Microcomputer Laboratory received special equipment funds for a major upgrade.  It was also moved from Room 270 to Room 276, Agricultural Engineering Classroom/Laboratory Building.

Dr. Fred D. Tompkins was appointed Department Head.

A list of the department’s faculty and staff in 1991 is here.

Dr. C. Roland Mote was appointed Department Head.

The department’s name was changed to Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering to reflect the broader scope of our work.

Dr. Luther Wilhelm was appointed interim head of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering when Roland Mote was appointed Assistant Dean of The Agricultural Experiment Station.

Dr. Ronald Yoder was appointed Department Head.

The department’s name was changed to Biosystems Engineering & Environmental Science to reflect the addition of about a dozen soil and climatology faculty and staff from the former Plant and Soil Science Department.

Construction was begun adjacent to the laboratory/classroom building on a bridge to link the Agricultural campus with the Main campus, and on the new Biotech building across the street.

The second floor and basement of the office building were substantially remodeled to provide additional office space to allow faculty to move over from Ellington Hall. Extensive changes were also made to rooms along the central hall in the laboratory/classroom building.

Construction was finished on the bridge. 

Dr. D. Raj Raman was appointed interim Department Head.

The department’s name was changed to Biosystems Engineering & Soil Science to better reflect the primary disciplines represented in the department.

Dr. John I. “Ike” Sewell was appointed interim Department Head.

Dr. George F. Grandle was appointed interim Department Head.

The official Fall 14th Day undergraduate enrolment in the department exceeds 100 students for the first time.

Dr. Eric C. Drumm was appointed Department Head.

First students enrolled in the Construction Science and Off-Road Vehicle concentrations in the ESS degree. First BESS student to participate in the Environmental Soil and Water Program study  abroad program at Katholieke University in Leuven, Belgium offered in conjunction with the Texas A &M Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering.

Dedicated the Athan J. Sterges Learning and Innovation Hub laboratory, thanks to a gift from his daughter, Ms. Tula Sterges. Professor Sterges was a member of the faculty from 1948-1962. The official Fall 14th Day undergraduate enrollment in the department exceeds 200 students for the first time.

100th Anniversary of Agricultural Engineering (Rural Engineering, the predecessor to Ag Engr and then Biosystems Engr, first appeared in 1916-1917 academic year). 

Dr. Julie Carrier was appointed Department Head.

Contributors: Cora McCann and others