First ag engineering program offered at a Christian university

March 29, 2018

Northwest Nazarene University is pleased to announce that the Department of Engineering will add agricultural to the concentrations available for students pursuing a bachelor’s degree in engineering. This new area of study will begin in the 2018 fall semester.

“Agricultural engineering is a great fit for Idaho and NNU,” said Dr. Steve Parke, Chair of the Department of Physics and Engineering. “Many students in NNU’s region come from an agricultural background and want to be involved in the rapid, high-tech transformation of agriculture and food processing. We’re in exactly the right place for educating future ag. engineers to enhance the productivity of the region’s orchards, vineyards, seed crops and food processing industry. Moreover, it’s a NNU mission fit. We will be able to apply these skills to help people around the world.”

“We’re in exactly the right place for educating future agricultural engineers.”
This new concentration is oriented towards the use of GPS, sensors, and robotic actuators known as precision farming. “Precision agriculture enables the plants to tell the farmers what they need for optimum production. This allows us to be good stewards of God’s creation,” said Dr. Duke Bulanon, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering. With this robotic focus on agriculture, NNU’s program is unlike most ag. engineering programs in the nation, which are predominately biologically oriented, and is the only one available in Christian higher education.

Ag. engineering uses robotic automation for labor-intensive agricultural production such as planting, picking, pruning, irrigating, spraying and food processing. This is important in solving the growing problem of farmworker shortages. Besides making these processes less work intensive, robotic automation is environmentally beneficial. “It dramatically minimizes the use of water and pesticides by direct application as well as air pollution by moving towards all-electric farm vehicles,” explained Parke.

For this degree, students will take courses in mechanical engineering, geographic information systems (GIS), and agricultural automation as well as complete a senior project tailored toward this area of study. The coursework complements the ongoing department research projects in agriculture, giving students opportunities to gain hands-on experience innovating agricultural technology for local farmers.

This concentration builds on the past years of highly successful ag. engineering research by Dr. Duke Bulanon and Dr. Josh Griffin. Having earned a PhD in Ag. Engineering, Bulanon brought an agricultural focus to the Department of Physics and Engineering when he joined NNU’s faculty seven years ago. Now NNU is doing US Department of Ag., Idaho Department of Ag., and NASA sponsored research involving drones and IdaBot, an autonomous robot that can perform time-intensive farm tasks.

The department has also done ag. engineering mission trips such as designing and building a smart greenhouse in Argentina in 2015 (pictured). “Using our engineering skills for the kingdom of God is a part of our DNA at NNU,” said Parke. “One of the exciting new ways we can contribute is in the area of agriculture.”