Petit Scholar

Competitive research program launches opportunity for Mohamad Ali Najia.


Jerry Grillo
Communications Officer II
Parker H. Petit Institute for
Bioengineering & Bioscience

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Competitive research program launches opportunity for Mohamad Ali Najia.

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Competitive research program launches opportunity for Mohamad Ali Najia.

  • Mohamad Ali Najia - 2012 Petit Scholar and 2014 Goldwater Scholar Mohamad Ali Najia - 2012 Petit Scholar and 2014 Goldwater Scholar

For 15 years the Petit Undergraduate Research Scholars program has been like a gift that keeps on giving for talented young researchers, creating valuable opportunities for the next generation of leaders in bioengineering and bioscience. Take Mohamad Ali Najia, for example.

Najia, a Georgia Institute of Technology senior, was selected as a Petit Scholar in January 2012. Since then, he’s spent two successive summers in different corners of the United States at two of the world’s leading research institutions, he’s earned a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship (the most prestigious undergraduate award given in the sciences) and been named an Amgen Scholar. That last one, the Amgen honor, is the reason he spent this past summer at the University of California in Berkeley.

“I’m applying to grad schools, trying to figure out where I’d like to be, but after spending the summer at Berkeley, I think I caught the California bug. It was one of the best summers of my life,” says Najia, who expects to graduate in December.

So he may or may not wind up in California. Last summer, 2013, he was selected to participate in the MIT-Harvard Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics (BIG) Summer Fellowship Program. So he spent that summer in his hometown of Boston. The California summer, he says, was much more fun. Every morning at 6 a.m. he ran up the hill to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, getting into the California groove, so maybe he will run west. Or not. He’s got plenty of options, and has plenty of useful experience behind him, and he says the Petit Scholar program is the major reason for that.

“It made me more competitive for the Goldwater Scholarship, and having the Petit Scholar experience behind me, I think, really set me apart in becoming an Amgen Scholar at Berkeley,” he says.

But then, this is the kind of thing you might expect to hear from one of these Petit Scholars, according to program coordinator Colly Mitchell.

“Since completing the Petit Scholars program, Mohamad’s journey is a prime example of the doors that open for these highly motivated young researchers after a year of focused and purposeful research,” Mitchell says. “The connections he made put him on his path to a number of top-notch fellowship programs which will now allow him to choose from the best graduate programs in the country."

The program, which is open to all Atlanta area university students (i.e., not just Georgia Tech), provides a comprehensive research experience for a full year. Undergraduates can conduct independent research in the state-of-the-art laboratories of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience.

Since its inception in 2000, the program has supported over 200 scholars from Georgia Tech, Morehouse College, Spelman College, Georgia State University, Emory University, Agnes Scott College and Georgia Gwinnett College. These are elite undergraduate researchers who have gone on to distinguished careers in research, medicine and industry. Originally, it was a just summer program a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant awarded to the Georgia Tech/Emory Center for Tissue Engineering. But the program was expanded to a full year research opportunity that has grown from funding eight to 10 scholars per year to 19 scholars in 2014. 

Najia spent his program year working in Todd McDevitt’s lab, designing and working with biomanufacturing techniques to process and scale up production of stem cells for potential potential therapies. It’s an endeavor he was working on before becoming a Petit Scholar, and one he continues with.

“We want to make stem cells viable for medical therapy,” says Najia, who plans on pursuing a PhD in bioengineering. “Regarding longer term goals, I see myself as a principal investigator in some capacity. I stray back and forth between academia, industry and government, but that leaves plenty of room for exploration.”

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Wallace H. Coulter Dept. of Biomedical Engineering

Student Research, Research
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Bioengineering and Bioscience
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  • Created By: Colly Mitchell
  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created On: Aug 22, 2014 - 8:05am
  • Last Updated: Oct 7, 2016 - 11:16pm