Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences recently named Mary Leigh Wolfe of Blacksburg, Va., head of the Department of Biological Systems Engineering.

“Dr. Wolfe has been providing outstanding leadership as interim head of the Department of Biological Systems Engineering since December 2009,” said Alan Grant, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “We are excited that she will continue her oversight of the department’s research and educational programs in the areas of land and water resources engineering and bioprocess engineering, as well as its Extension and outreach programs.”

The biological systems engineering department — with undergraduate programs in the College of Engineering in addition to research and outreach programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences — is one of the oldest departments at Virginia Tech, having been established in 1920 as the Department of Agricultural Engineering.

Today, the department’s programs integrate the biological sciences and engineering to solve agricultural, biological, and urban problems, supported by more than $6.5 million in external research funding every year. The graduate program is currently ranked seventh nationally among similar programs by U.S. News & World Report, while the undergraduate program ranks ninth.

Wolfe’s research and teaching efforts focus on hydrology, nonpoint source pollution control, and watershed management. She also conducts research related to engineering education and was a co-principal investigator on a National Science Foundation grant for department-level reform of undergraduate engineering education, titled “Reformulating General Engineering and Biological Systems Engineering Programs at Virginia Tech.”

Wolfe is the U.S. project director for a student exchange and faculty mobility grant funded by the Department of Education and the European Commission. She has been active in engineering accreditation since 1991 through service to ABET, the accreditation organization for applied science, computing, engineering, and technology degree programs.

Through the course of her career, Wolfe has received numerous awards, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary’s Honor Award, the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) Fellow Award, and the Virginia Cooperative Extension Natural Resources and Environmental Management Flagship Award. She serves on the board of directors of the ASABE Foundation and ABET.

Wolfe earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agricultural engineering from Virginia Tech, followed by a doctorate in agricultural engineering from the University of Minnesota. She began her career at Virginia Tech as an associate professor in 1992 and has served as the assistant department head for teaching since 2005.