May 7, 2023
What is BEE?
If you are interested in using biology, environmental science, and engineering tools to address some of the world’s most pressing issues around water, agriculture, energy, and human health, perhaps you should consider majoring in biological or environmental engineering here at Cornell! The biological and environmental engineering majors are housed in a common department often referred to as BEE. When deciding what field to pursue, it is essential to understand the differences and similarities between these disciplines.
What is the BEE department?
The BEE department encompasses Cornell’s biological and environmental engineering programs. It is housed in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), although both majors are joint programs between CALS and the College of Engineering. This joint program pathway is a source of confusion for many undergraduates and prospective students, so let us clarify it a bit.
Students wishing to major in biological or environmental engineering can enroll through either CALS or the College of Engineering. The choice of college does not affect the coursework, major requirements, or graduation outcomes–all biological and environmental engineering students will follow the course requirements and obtain a joint degree from CALS and the College of Engineering regardless of their initial enrollment. That being said, there are a few minor differences between which college you apply to.
Firstly, enrolling through CALS allows you to affiliate with the major in freshman year, whereas students in the College of Engineering must wait until sophomore year to officially affiliate with the major. The practical implications of this difference are few, as students will take the same classes in freshman year regardless of which college they are in. One potential implication is that freshmen studying BEE in CALS have access to support services from both colleges from the start of their time at Cornell because they are already affiliated with the major. Students in the College of Engineering will be able to access services from CALS if they choose to affiliate with the BEE department in sophomore year or later. Secondly, CALS is a public land grant college within Cornell so New York residents intending to major in BE or EnvE get a discount on tuition. The College of Engineering is a private college within Cornell and thus has a flat tuition for all students. Lastly, if you are an environmental engineering major in particular, the EnvE major is housed in different departments based on which college you are in. If you enroll through CALS, you will primarily be in the BEE department, which has a more biological and ecological focus. If you enroll through the College of Engineering, you can choose to affiliate in either the BEE or the Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) department, which has a stronger focus on sustainable construction and renewable energy. However, this has no impact on the coursework and EnvE students from either college can and will take classes in both departments.
What is Biological Engineering?
Biological engineering (or bioengineering) is the use of engineering principles to study or manipulate biological processes or systems. A presentation by Assistant Professor Chris Roh promoted the idea that bioengineering was the process of solving engineering problems with biological solutions using physics. The major can be further broken down to concentrations like bioprocessing, biotechnology, biomedicine, genetics, and environment. Projects in the field focus on predicting, modeling, and/or optimizing complex biological systems. In Cornell’s BEE department, Professor John March works on manipulating bacterial signal transduction in order to increase responsiveness to their surrounding environment.
What is Environmental Engineering?
Environmental engineering applies a wider suite of engineering principles to larger systems with a focus on preventing, mitigating, and restoring environmental damage. Some examples of environmental engineering topics are hydrology, water/wastewater treatment, energy, soil, and atmospheric systems. Some environmental topics and projects overlap with civil engineering–environmental engineering is also shared with the civil and environmental engineering (CEE) department in the College of Engineering–such as working on waste treatment facilities or sustainability applications in human-built spaces. While bioengineering focuses heavily on developing tools in biology and biochemistry, environmental engineering utilizes a broader set of tools in biology, chemistry, and physics to impact large-scale natural and anthropogenic systems. For example, Professor Peter Hess in the BEE department studies and teaches atmospheric chemistry while Professor Jillian Goldfarb’s research focuses on the use of biomass for fertilizer, fuel, and thus energy.
Side-by-Side Comparison of Biological and Environmental Engineering
To better see the difference between bioengineering and environmental engineering, we can compare them both in scale and core topics that these majors touch on. Bioengineering will have a larger focus on cells and biomaterials/biofluids. Environmental engineering touches on hydrology, water/wastewater treatment, energy, and regulatory framework. A more concrete example of the difference, as explained by Professor Beth Ahner, is that a bioengineer would use engineering principles to manipulate algae and plants to create high value medical products versus an environmental engineer, who would study the interactions between two species of algae to design a control for harmful algae blooms. While both majors are distinct, they show a lot of overlap.
Related Majors: Biomedical and Civil Engineering
Another major that is sometimes mentioned in comparison to BEE is biomedical engineering (BME). BME is a specialized area of bioengineering that focuses on improving human health. The major focuses on medical devices and human processes.
Civil engineering is a related major to environmental engineering, and the two majors comprise the CEE department in the College of Engineering. The civil engineering major focuses on building design and city planning–studying geological and pollution problems to make informed decisions on how to develop new infrastructure. Although there is significant overlap between civil and environmental engineering, civil engineering focuses more on the built environment while environmental engineering can choose to focus more on the natural environment.
The Bottom Line
Still trying to decide which major to pursue? Look at your goals and interests. If you have varied interests that cover an array of topics and scales, perhaps starting with a broader major like bioengineering is better suited for you. If you are interested in larger scale biology and sustainability, look into environmental. And if you are more interested in medicine, head over to BME and check out their major. You can also compare the majors more intensely by looking at the required coursework and seeing which classes you are most excited about taking. Every one of these fields is important and each offers unique opportunities for exploration. If you want to learn more about the BE or EnvE majors, see the links below to find all the resources and faculty mentioned in this blog post!
Faculty and Resources mentioned in this blog:
Alondra Rosario is a biological engineering major in the class of 2025.
Jiaming Yuan is the events coordinator for Hive and an environmental engineering major in the class of 2026.
April 15, 2023
The College Transition
Hello, my name is Jatin Mukerji. I’m a sophomore studying Biological Engineering from Potomac, Maryland. I serve as the secretary for HIVE, and it is my pleasure to welcome you to the first blog post of the semester! Our topic today: perspectives on the college transition.
Starting college marks a turning point in most of our lives. We shed the commitments of high school and home life that we’ve been carrying for the better part of two decades and find, in their place, a wealth of new freedoms. It can feel overwhelming, as no two people have had the exact same upbringing. Experiences that are brand new to one incoming student could be old news to another.
What I found most interesting about my experience as a new student was how easy it is to meet interesting people at Cornell. Coming into freshman year, I was very nervous about the prospect of making a whole new social circle out of complete strangers. The friends I had in high school were people I’d known since elementary school.
The realization I had, though, was that everybody else was in the same boat as I. Everybody was new to Cornell and also looking to meet new people. That, combined with the many orientation events, extracurriculars (including BEE Hive!), and classes created an environment extremely conducive to forging new bonds here.
It’s natural to be nervous about major changes in our lives. But take it from a jaded sophomore: the exhilaration of new freedom and opportunity will outweigh and outlast any fear you may have about fitting in here. Plus, if you’re in biological or environmental engineering, you’ll always have friends here in Hive!
Hey there, I’m Coco! I’m from Las Vegas and I’m currently a freshman in the class of 2026 studying bioengineering. I’m also the social media manager for Hive! Coming to college might seem daunting at first. It might seem like everyone has their lives put together way more than you do, or like your peers all seem to be three math classes ahead of you. Trust me though, no one really knows what they’re doing, and I only know like two people that are that far ahead in math. Point is, it’s going to be okay.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that the college transition is different for everyone. People learn differently and live differently and are coming into this whole thing with vastly different experiences. At the same time though, everyone is going through the same thing. We’re all in a completely new environment, adjusting to living on our own, and figuring ourselves out, step by step. Let’s break the college transition down into its three main parts: academic, social, and independence.
As BEE students, we have to take some tough classes, some of which start in the first semester. While they’re challenging for almost everyone, there are a ton of resources to help you through them. One of the biggest adjustments for me was learning how to take advantage of them and finding what works best for me. You have complete control over your schedule, so it’s going to be your responsibility to set yourself up for success.
I’m going to preface this next part by saying that I’m an incredibly introverted person, so my social adjustment was a little slower than others. I definitely didn’t get out as much as I could have, and I spent a lot of time calling my friends from home (which isn’t a bad thing, it just didn’t exactly help my social situation here). My biggest advice is to put yourself out there in the first couple weeks. Get your classmates’ phone numbers or social media, ask your neighbors to go to the dining hall together, and go check out that random club. (Also come to Hive!) Not everyone you meet is going to be your best friend, but that’s totally fine! Sometimes it’s nice to just have people to talk to or to see a familiar face around campus.
The last thing is independence. On one hand, you’re living on your own. On the other hand, you’re living on your own. It’s thrilling yet boring, stressful yet freeing, scary yet comforting, and ultimately, it’s whatever you want it to be. The college transition isn’t an easy one, but you’re not alone and there’s help around every corner should you need it. Best of luck to you in your journey, and if you find your way to Hive, come say hi!
Coco Poopat is the social media manager for Hive in the class of 2026.
Jatin Mukerji is the Secretary for HiVE and part of the BEE class of 2025.
The Ithaca Farmers Market is a great weekend activity! I went with my parents during move-in.
There are a ton of fun events happening all throughout the semester! This was taken at the homecoming concert, headlined by lovelytheband.
An obligatory sunset picture! The sunsets here are always so incredible that my camera roll is full of them!