Alumni Spotlight - James Barsness

November 21, 2023
James Barsness wears a gray polo as he smiles for a professional headshot

James Barsness, an alumnus of the University of Minnesota, graduated with a Bachelor of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering in December 2006.

Currently serving as the Director of Engineering at Donaldson Company, Inc., James oversees the Global Media and Materials Qualification team. In this role he is responsible for developing and executing qualification and test plans for material and process changes that impact the company's diverse product line. Donaldson, a global filter manufacturing company, with revenue exceeding $3.4 billion and over 13,000 employees, relies on James's leadership to stay ahead in the competitive market.

James's academic journey was shaped by interests in engineering and natural resources. During freshman orientation, he discovered the major, Paper Science Engineering. It felt like a perfect fit for him, encapsulating science, technology, and renewable resources. Intrigued by robust job prospects and strong starting salaries for graduates in the field, James was drawn to the small college feel of the St. Paul campus, and low faculty-to-student ratio in the department. As the department underwent transitions, evolving into Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering, James moved with it, becoming the first undergraduate to receive a degree from the program.

James's typical day involves setting high-level strategies, ensuring accountability, and fostering partnerships both internally and externally. A significant portion of his time is dedicated to communication, project prioritization, technical reviews, and employee development. James's leadership extends beyond the corporate realm, promoting a healthy work-life balance and cultivating a vibrant company culture at Donaldson.

Dan Little, James Barsness, Michael Burns sit around a table at the U of M

Reflecting on his education with BBE, James acknowledges the pivotal role it played in securing his first engineering role and building a strong foundation in science and engineering. He takes pride in being an alumnus of an institution with a world-renowned reputation.

His contributions extend beyond the corporate sphere. James played a key role in securing funding from the Donaldson Foundation to support the BBE Scholarship program, emphasizing his commitment to the mission of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering. Additionally, he developed a training program for the Pulp and Paper Merit Badge as part of Scouting Education Day, showcasing the practical application of skills gained during his BBE days.

For aspiring engineers, James offers some advice: prioritize work experience, uphold personal integrity, focus on environmental, health, and safety issues, maintain a growth mindset, and approach all tasks (big and small) with excellence and a positive attitude.