URBANA, Ill. -- The undergraduate program in agricultural and biological engineering at the University of Illinois has been ranked the best in the United States by U.S. News and World Report.

The 2007 edition of "America's Best Colleges," published each year by U.S. News and World Report, placed Illinois in the top spot, followed by Texas A&M and the University of California Davis.

"We're always in the top five," said K.C. Ting, ABE department head, "so our program has always been strong."

U.S. News ranks undergraduate programs accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology based solely on the judgments of deans and senior faculty from participating colleges, who rate each program they are familiar with on a scale from 1 (marginal) to 5 (distinguished). U.S. News also asks for nominations of the best programs in specialty areas (such as ABE); those receiving the most mentions are ranked in the publication.

Although Ting points out that it is difficult to prove exactly what contributes to a ranking such as this one, he said, "We have developed a very clear picture of what we want to do. As a department, we are very well-balanced and we have some exciting things going on in various areas of activity."

Those areas include:

  • Agricultural automation: "Farming will continue to rely on intelligent machines to be productive and competitive," said Ting, "and we have been recognized for constantly providing leadership in exploring new technical areas relevant to our discipline."

  • Bio-energy and bio-products: "Our department has been a major leader in bio-energy research, including ethanol production from corn, conversion of biomass to crude oil, and characteristics of bio-diesel and their effects on engine performance," Ting explained.

  • Biological engineering: "We are building the biological engineering field, and it's gained a lot of momentum," he said. "We have three new hires in this field, and our program will emphasize biological engineering issues as related to agriculture, food, environment, and energy."

  • Sustainable environment: Targeted areas of teaching and research include improving and protecting the quality of water, air and soil; developing technologies to provide productive environments for animals, workers and plants; and reducing the adverse environmental impact from biological production facilities.

  • Systems analysis and integration: "The quantity and quality of information we have is immense, and with today's communication technologies, it is relatively easy to access," said Ting. "The real challenge is how to sort and synthesize the information for beneficial use."

  • Ting concluded, "In the last year-and-a-half, ABE developed a strategic plan that stated as its vision, 'We will be the best agricultural and biological engineering department in teaching, research, and outreach.' The whole department came behind that plan, and as a result, we are becoming more effective and efficient in doing what we do."

    SOURCE: University of Illinois news release.