Agricultural and biosystems engineering program ranked first in the nation


The Campanile and the carillon are frequently known as the “Bells of Iowa State.” The Campanile stands tall with 50,000 bricks and 50 bells.

Mia Wang

The graduate program in agricultural and biosystems engineering at Iowa State is now ranked first in the nation for the year 2021.

According to U.S. News and World Report magazine, Iowa State is no longer sharing the first-ranking seat with Purdue University in the field of biological and agricultural engineering. 

Steven Mickelson, department chair of agricultural and biosystems engineering, said after years of dedication and improvement, the graduate program is now in sole possession of the ranking.

“It’s been one of our major goals to become number one,” Mickelson said. “By getting our new facilities five years ago we know it’s going to put us in a better position. We are also growing our faculty numbers and graduate student numbers. The amount of research we do has really gone up.” 

The graduate program in agricultural and biosystems engineering at Iowa State was tied for first with Purdue University in 2017.  

“We are able to break the ceiling to the ranked number one all by ourselves,” Mickelson said. “We are thrilled. And that includes our alumni and retirees.”

For graduate program ranking, quality of graduate students, diversity of the research and funding are the main criteria.

“Our research expenditure is the highest compared to all our peers in the United States,” Mickelson said. “For our students, they are not only conducting research, but they are also writing peer review journal articles and presenting research presentations in professional meetings.” 

Mickelson said a graduate school’s ranking status can affect the department’s recruiting process.

“Being ranked number one helps us recruit and retain graduate student, top faculty and research staff,” Mickelson said. “My top priority as the department chair is to hire the very best and retain the very best.”

Students in agricultural and biosystems engineering also share the accomplishment of the department. 

Heather Tenboer, graduate student in agricultural and biosystems engineering, said the graduate program helps her target her passion and skills at the same time.

“It feels amazing to be in a number one program,” Tenboer said. “What makes it feel so good is that I really love this department. It’s not just a department that teaches what I want to learn. It also a department that really understands a learning culture.” 

Tenboer said it’s clear why the program is so highly ranked. 

“They are really student-oriented and learning-oriented,” Tenboer said. “It’s a department that values the learning environment rather than just giving lectures. Their intentions make them so much better than some, and their purpose is so clear.” 

The agricultural and biosystems engineering department also serves students to prepare them for their future.

Tenboer said her favorite thing to do in life is learn, but she didn’t know how to incorporate it into a job. When she started her graduate program, she said she soon realized if she wanted to learn for the rest of her life and get paid to do it, she needed to be a professor. 

“After making it clear that being a professor is my ultimate goal to the department, they have been exceptional at helping me build the passway to the success,” Tenboer said. “They just made the transition very smoothly for me.”