<![CDATA[Brianna Jones Awarded UNCF Scholarship]]> 28153 Former Project ENGAGES student Brianna Jones has been awarded a UNCF (United Negro College Fund) STEM Scholarship, and just in the nick of time – Jones is a freshman this fall semester at Hampton University, where she’ll begin the next chapter in her quest to impact the healthcare industry.

“This is exciting, and it’s beginning to feel real,” said Jones. “I have Project ENGAGES to thank for getting me a long way down the road. It really helped me determine the direction I want to go in.”

When she was a young child, Jones imagined what it would be like to be a doctor, because she loved the idea of helping people with their health care needs, and because it incorporated two of her favorite subjects, math and science. But there was one critical drawback to her daydream, something that gnawed at her.

“I had to be realistic,” she says. “I don’t like to deal with or see blood, and that’s a huge disadvantage for anyone who thinks they want to be a doctor.”

So she began exploring different career paths as she immersed herself in the engineering class at Benjamin Mays High School in Atlanta.

“I learned about biomedical engineering,” she says. “My high school biology teacher told me about Project ENGAGES, and it sounded like a great opportunity.”

She applied, got accepted into the program, and for two years during high school, her junior and senior years, Brianna was part of a Project ENGAGES cohort based in the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience at the Georgia Institute of Technology, working in the lab of Andrés García.

Through García, she learned about a summer pre-college engineering program at Hampton, and she’s been able to establish relationships with faculty there, something she’s managed to with self-assurance, “because I felt prepared, thanks to Project ENGAGES, which immersed me in different environments with different people,” Jones says. “It gave me the confidence I need to go out and make my way in the real world of science and research – it helped me establish a networking system.”

This fall at Hampton (a private, historical black university in Hampton, Virginia), she’ll begin pursuit of her undergraduate degree in chemical engineering. After that, she plans to get a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering.

The UNCF STEM Scholars Program is a 10-year initiative designed to identify and provide scholarships and academic support for a total of 500 African American high school students who aspire to earn STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) degrees and pursue careers in STEM fields.

Scholars receive up to $2,500 per academic year for freshmen and sophomores, $5,000 for juniors, seniors, and fifth-year students. Scholarships are renewable for five years, and also include a $5,000 stipend based on a STEM-related project or internship.

“Ultimately, I’d like to have an impact on improving health care and helping patients,” Jones says, adding, “but not deal with the blood!”


]]> Jerry Grillo 1 1565277054 2019-08-08 15:10:54 1565284222 2019-08-08 17:10:22 0 0 news Former Project ENGAGES Student gets STEM support to attend Hampton University

2019-08-08T00:00:00-04:00 2019-08-08T00:00:00-04:00 2019-08-08 00:00:00 Jerry Grillo
Communications Officer II
Parker H. Petit Institute for
Bioengineering and Bioscience

624144 624144 image <![CDATA[Brianna Jones]]> image/jpeg 1565276879 2019-08-08 15:07:59 1565276879 2019-08-08 15:07:59
<![CDATA[ENGAGES Grad on Personal Quest]]> 28153  

Natasha Stallings is on a personal quest to cure breast cancer, and it’s taking her from Atlanta to Washington, D.C., where she’ll study at George Washington University beginning this fall. But the former Project ENGAGES student’s journey included an important, recent stopover in Chicago, where she participated in a panel discussion with former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, at the KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit.

“What an amazing whirlwind,” said Stallings, trying to wrap her mind around everything that has happened to her the past two years.

Stallings, who graduated in May from KIPP Collegiate High School in Atlanta, spent the past two years in the Project ENGAGES program at the Georgia Institute of Technology, doing breast cancer research in the lab of Krishnendu Roy, a researcher in the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience (which is headquarters for Project ENGAGES).

This spring, Stallings got what might be the most important phone call of her life so far. She knew what she wanted to do, but didn’t have the resources to make it happen.

“I’d been stressing about how I was going to pay for school,” she said.

She’d applied for the KPMG Future Leaders Program, which supports growth opportunities for top female high school seniors across the country, through college scholarships and leadership training. But she hadn’t heard anything. Meanwhile, her high school classmates and fellow ENGAGES students at Georgia Tech were getting good news about scholarships and college plans.

“Everybody else was excited, and I wanted to be happy, but I thought I’d be in debt for the rest of my life,” she said. “It was really weighing on me. Then I got the call, and it was like a huge weight had been lifted off of me. I started crying immediately.”

Tears of joy. The KPMG scholarship will pay for GWU and allow Stallings to continue her research in college. That’s important, because Stallings is serious about wanting to change outcomes for women battling breast cancer. She knows the scenario from first-hand experience.

Stallings entered Project ENGAGES the summer of 2016, not long after her mother, Katherine, was diagnosed with stage three triple negative breast cancer. As the youngest of four children, she was the only one still living at home.

“I was there for the whole process, the chemotherapy, the radiation,” she said. “I shaved my mother’s head for her. It’s hard seeing someone you love go through that experience. I was going to stay home that summer and take care of her, but she kept encouraging me to go get a job. Then I remembered seeing this flyer at school for Project ENGAGES the week before. The application was due in three days.”

After interviewing with Manu Platt, co-founder and co-director of Project ENGAGES, and Lakeita Servance, who manages the program, “I felt like it was meant to be.”

She was selected as part of the cohort of students (from six Atlanta area high schools that serve predominantly African-American populations) that began in 2016, and found a perfect lab mentor in Alexandra Atalis, a graduate student and researcher in the Roy lab.

“I still vividly remember Natasha from her interview with me during the ENGAGES mentor selection process,” Atalis recalled. “She spoke with a lot of energy and passion. We shared a very similar story, with both of our mothers having battled cancer. She was inspired to work in the biomedical industry to help cancer patients, which was also my motivation.”

Together, Stallings and Atalis worked on research entitled, “Investigating Inflammatory Markers That Stimulate Breast Cancer Metastasis Into Lymphatics.” Basically, they were identifying immunological signaling molecules that induce or inhibit breast cancer cell migration.

“I couldn’t just leave this research, because this is a passion,” Stallings said. “So I’m taking my research to George Washington University. I’m really excited that it didn’t just end with my Project ENGAGES experience.”

Long range, who knows? But Stallings has given it some thought.

“She is a big dreamer,” said Atalis. “We would talk a lot about her college and career aspirations and she had a lot of great ideas, mostly centered around helping patients. What helps her stand out is her ability to empathize and connect with others. That is what will help her go far.”

Someday, she’d like to start a rehabilitation center for patients undergoing chemotherapy. And though she’s considered working in the biomedical industry, Stallings is thinking now that she’d like to pursue a career in medicine.

“I know that I want to have patient interaction,” said Stallings, who would like to somehow combine her research skills with whatever clinical future may be waiting.

That future, supported by the KPMG scholarship, will continue taking shape at Stanford University (July 15-17), where she’ll meet the 19 other KPMG scholars from across the country at the annual KPMG Future Leaders Retreat. And as the nation was celebrating Independence Day, Stallings was still glowing from her experience the week before, in Chicago, with Condoleezza Rice, KPMG’s ambassador for the leadership program.

Part of the program included the premiere of a video about Stallings, produced by KPMG (and shot in Atlanta), as well as a speech from Rice, and opportunities to meet other KPMG scholars.

“It was incredible,” said Stallings. “The video came together perfectly, Condoleezza Rice’s speech was so empowering and inspirational, and it was really great to see the other girls and learn their stories. My mother loved the whole experience. I mean, to get off the plane and have a car waiting for you? We felt like royalty.”


]]> Jerry Grillo 1 1530836975 2018-07-06 00:29:35 1530903368 2018-07-06 18:56:08 0 0 news Natasha Stallings wins KPMG scholarship, serves on leadership panel with Condoleezza Rice  

2018-07-05T00:00:00-04:00 2018-07-05T00:00:00-04:00 2018-07-05 00:00:00 Jerry Grillo
Communications Officer II
Parker H. Petit Institute for
Bioengineering and Bioscience

607539 607540 607539 image <![CDATA[Natasha and Condoleezza]]> image/jpeg 1530836438 2018-07-06 00:20:38 1530836438 2018-07-06 00:20:38 607540 image <![CDATA[Natasha and Alexandra]]> image/jpeg 1530836543 2018-07-06 00:22:23 1530836543 2018-07-06 00:22:23
<![CDATA[Georgia Tech Project ENGAGES Striving for Excellence]]> 28153 Now in its sixth year, Project ENGAGES at the Georgia Institute of Technology has been around long enough to have some established traditions. For example, at the end of every academic year, ENGAGES students, families, mentors, faculty, and staff are treated to inspiring presentations from national thought leaders in the world of scientific research.

This year, ENGAGES leadership outdid itself, bringing two of the nation’s most influential leaders in their respective fields to the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience in the past month.

First, Myrtle Potter, named one of Fortune magazine’s Most Powerful Women in Business three times, shared the story of her rise to becoming one of the nation’s foremost healthcare leaders and innovators at a special event in April. Then, at the annual ENGAGES Senior Celebration on May 7, Raphael Lee, a pioneering and entrepreneurial surgeon, researcher, and biomedical engineer gave the keynote address.

“The success of this program is critically important for all of us,” Lee told a packed atrium in the Petit Institute. “You’re setting a trend for many of institutions around the country.”

ENGAGES (Engaging New Generations at Georgia Tech through Engineering & Science) is a high school science education program that was developed at Georgia Tech, partnering with six minority-serving public high schools in Atlanta (Coretta Scott King Young Women's Leadership Academy, B.E.S.T Academy, KIPP Atlanta Collegiate, Benjamin E. Mays High School, Charles R. Drew Charter High School, and South Atlanta High School).

The program is co-directed by Bob Nerem (founding director of the Petit Institute) and Manu Platt (associate professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering), and managed by Lakeita Servance, who said Project ENGAGES, has reached more than 100 students. “Each year seems to get better than the one before and I’m so happy to see our students flourish beyond what they imagined,” she said. “We’re excited to celebrate our newest graduates from the Class of 2018 and their acceptance into top universities.”

This year’s group of 17 departing high school seniors have been accepted into 10 different universities, where they’ll pursue a wide range of academic interests:

• Gabriel Brown, Georgia State University (GSU), majoring in public health

• Diamond Clark, University of Georgia (UGA), biology

• Jasmine Coley, New York University, computer engineering

• Nzinga Hammonds-Wyatt, Georgia Tech, computer science

• Zaria Hardnett, Georgia Tech, neuroscience

• D’Angelo Howard, GSU, mechanical engineering

• Amanda Jeter, UGA, mechanical engineering

• Jasmine May, University of Pennsylvania, psychology/pre-med

• Marsha McCray, Depauw University, engineering

• Kaiya Mitchell, Georgia Tech, biomedical engineering

• Ty Price, GSU, engineering

• Tatiyanna Singleton, Vanderbilt University, engineering

• Clinton Smith, Georgia Tech, biomedical engineering

• Natasha Stallings, George Washington University, biomedical engineering/pre-med

• Percie Thompson, Agnes Scott College, international relations

• Sanyu Watson, Georgia Tech, mathematics

• Akeen Williams, Georgia Tech, engineering

Looking at the graduates and their families, Lee thought back to more than 50 years ago, when he was graduating high school in Charleston, South Carolina, one of the first students to participate in federally mandated desegregation. And he thought of the poem by Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken, a life path that Lee says he is familiar with.

“You’ve also chosen a road not often taken, and that’s a very important decision,” Lee told his audience, though he was speaking directly to the graduates and their families. “You are smart people, so you probably suspect that the road is less traveled because it is steeper, maybe more slippery, more dangerous. But you’re up to the challenge. You eat pressure and stress for breakfast, and ultimately, you want to make a difference, and for that I want to congratulate and encourage you. The success of this program is critically important for all of us. You’re setting a trend for many institutions around the country.”

Potter’s presentation, almost two weeks earlier, was less poetic than Lee’s but no less inspiring. Raised in New Mexico, she turned an early interest in science into a biotech career, helping to guide the launch of breakthrough, billion-dollar products for corporate giants like Genentech, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Merck and Company.

“What you are doing and studying is incredibly important,” Potter told her audience in the Suddath Room. “You’re working on the cutting edge of science. What you’re doing will impact the people who come after you.”

And she offered encouragement for those students considering a career in industry, whether on the research side or the business side, especially in light of reports that there are more Ph.D. scientists than there are academic career opportunities.

“On the business side, we are desperate for Ph.D. scientists, and black Ph.D. scientists are at a premium, I can assure you,” said Potter, now CEO of Myrtle Potter & Company, the global life science advisory firm she started in 2005.

Throughout her presentation, Potter tried to impress on her audience how immersed she is in not just the life science industry, but in the continuing diversification of the industry.

“I’m passionate about opportunities for people of color, for women,” she said. “The industry is too big, the opportunities are too huge, the needs are too great for me to just hear your stories and not get worked up to the point where I feel a little sweaty on my forehead. I care about patients, the science, the people – that’s what you see coming through.”

Her message came across, according to Servance.

“The students raved about the lecture,” she said. “Myrtle’s talk accomplished exactly what I hoped for. It uplifted our students, especially the young ladies, and made them feel empowered to strive for excellence.”


]]> Jerry Grillo 1 1527174010 2018-05-24 15:00:10 1527174198 2018-05-24 15:03:18 0 0 news National thought leaders help high school program celebrate seniors at Petit Institute

2018-05-24T00:00:00-04:00 2018-05-24T00:00:00-04:00 2018-05-24 00:00:00 Jerry Grillo
Communications Officer II
Parker H. Petit Institute for
Bioengineering and Bioscience

606450 606448 606451 606454 606449 606458 606450 image <![CDATA[ENGAGES senior celebration]]> image/jpeg 1527173366 2018-05-24 14:49:26 1527173366 2018-05-24 14:49:26 606448 image <![CDATA[ENGAGES Raphael Lee]]> image/jpeg 1527173127 2018-05-24 14:45:27 1527173127 2018-05-24 14:45:27 606451 image <![CDATA[Myrtle Potter]]> image/jpeg 1527173433 2018-05-24 14:50:33 1527173433 2018-05-24 14:50:33 606454 image <![CDATA[ENGAGES Steve Cross]]> image/jpeg 1527173698 2018-05-24 14:54:58 1527173698 2018-05-24 14:54:58 606449 image <![CDATA[ENGAGES leadership]]> image/jpeg 1527173264 2018-05-24 14:47:44 1527173264 2018-05-24 14:47:44 606458 image <![CDATA[ENGAGES poster session]]> image/jpeg 1527174179 2018-05-24 15:02:59 1527174179 2018-05-24 15:02:59
<![CDATA[Project ENGAGES Celebrates]]> 28153 There was President Barack Obama, larger than life, on the big screen of the Suddath Seminar Room in the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience. 

It was a video of the president’s recent commencement address at Howard University, but he might as well have been talking directly to the Project ENGAGES students that packed the room, along with their families, mentors, teachers, and other well wishers.

“We cannot sleepwalk through life,” President Obama said. “We cannot be ignorant of history.”

And so, mindfulness as well as high-minded science was on display in the Petit Institute at the Georgia Institute of Technology as the Project ENGAGES community came together to recognize the past and honor the present, bidding farewell to 14 departing senior students at an end-of-year celebration on May 16.

The video was Manu Platt’s idea. The co-founder and co-director of Project ENGAGES (with Petit Institute founding director Bob Nerem), Platt was beginning his career as a college professor around the time Obama was beginning his career as leader of the free world. 

“This will be our last Project ENGAGES class with President Obama as our president,” Platt told the audience, before sharing the video. “I’ve been thinking about that in a big way, because it’s been an interesting journey.”

ENGAGES (Engaging New Generations at Georgia Tech through Engineering and Science) was developed at the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2012 partnership with several minority-serving public high schools in Atlanta. 

It’s a year-round education and work program that brings top-performing high school students into Petit Institute labs, where they are exposed to concepts and ideas and equipped with the skills and knowledge to carry out their own independent research projects. It’s part school, part job.

As Nerem explained in his opening remarks, the program’s first cohort of high school students arrived in 2013 – five rising juniors, and five rising seniors that went off to college in 2014. The program added an engineering track to the biotechnology track, and in May 2015, 16 students graduated. 

This year’s group of 14 seniors presented their independent research projects at the end-of-year celebration, and were then recognized with certificates and a new emblem of their success, a special graduation cord, introduced by Lakeita Servance, the educational outreach manager who directs the day-to-day processes of Project ENGAGES and moderated the event.

Each of the seniors has big plans, built on their ENGAGES experience, following their graduation from the participating high schools (B.E.S.T. Academy, Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy, KIPP Atlanta Collegiate, and Benjamin E. Mays High School):

• Taren Carter (CSK), mentored by Alexis Noel in the lab of David Hu, will attend Birmingham-Southern College in the fall.

• Alexus Clark (CSK), mentored by Jessica Falcone in the lab of Ravi Bellamkonda, is staying close to home – she’s attending Georgia Tech.

• Makala Faniel (KIPP), mentored by Diane England in the Heat Transfer, Combustion, and Energy Systems Lab, is going the Ivy League route when she starts attending the University of Pennsylvania this fall.

•Taylor Garlington (Mays), mentored by Jessica Pater in the Georgia Tech Research Institute Information and Communications System Lab, will study at both Spellman College and Georgia Tech.

• Jaylyn Gordon (KIPP), an engineering track student mentored by Sheila Isbell, plans to attend Georgia Tech in the fall.

• Nicole Gullatt (Mays), mentored by Stephen Schwaner in the lab of Ross Ethier, will study at Georgia Tech and Emory University.

• Kendreze Holland (B.E.S.T.), mentored by Andrew Shockey in Platt’s lab, will attend Georgia State University this fall. 

• Kristen Kelley (Mays), mentored by Melissa Alvarado-Velez in the Bellamkonda lab, is going to Wesleyan College.

• Dezmanique Martin (KIPP), also mentored by Sheila Isbell at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, will study computer science at Duke University this fall.

• Jada Maxwell (Mays), who worked in the Platt lab under the mentorship of Akia Parks, is choosing to serve in the United States Marine Corps before going to college.

• Asha Scott (KIPP), mentored by Caitlin Sok in the lab of Ed Botchwey, plans to attend Middle Tennessee State.

• Jessie Smith (B.E.S.T.), mentored by Colin Usher in the GTRI Aerospace Transportation and Advanced Systems Laboratory, will attend to Georgia Tech, which means six of this year’s class of graduating ENGAGES scholars will return to familiar territory.

• Qwantayvious Stiggers (B.E.S.T.), who was mentored by Kristen Parratt-Gordon in the lab of Krishnendu Roy, will attend the University of Michigan.

Toward the end of the evening, as part of his closing remarks, Platt played the video of the president’s speech. 

“Yes, you’ve worked hard, but you’ve also been lucky,” Obama said.

There was something Platt wanted to add, and it had to do with paying the luck forward, for future generations of ENGAGES scholars and their peers.

“I’ve heard luck defined as what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” Platt said. “It’s important not to forget that we have been lucky. Your parents, your families, your friends and we here at Project ENGAGES – we’ve all helped prepare you. Now it’s time for you to go out and make the most of the opportunities in front of you. Then, in a few years, turn around and make some luck for somebody else.” 



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

]]> Jerry Grillo 1 1464706373 2016-05-31 14:52:53 1475896909 2016-10-08 03:21:49 0 0 news End of year event honors graduating high school seniors 

2016-05-31T00:00:00-04:00 2016-05-31T00:00:00-04:00 2016-05-31 00:00:00 Jerry Grillo
Communications Officer II
Parker H. Petit Institute for
Bioengineering and Bioscience

541041 541051 541031 541041 image <![CDATA[Stiggers shadow]]> image/jpeg 1464804000 2016-06-01 18:00:00 1475895331 2016-10-08 02:55:31 541051 image <![CDATA[Weems]]> image/jpeg 1464804000 2016-06-01 18:00:00 1475895331 2016-10-08 02:55:31 541031 image <![CDATA[Akia Parks]]> image/jpeg 1464804000 2016-06-01 18:00:00 1475895331 2016-10-08 02:55:31
<![CDATA[ENGAGES Coast to Coast]]> 28153 Years from now, maybe when he’s a surgeon repairing damaged shoulders and knees, Qwantayvious Stiggers can look back on his Project ENGAGES experience as a key that opened the door to opportunities he hardly knew existed. 

ENGAGES stands for Engaging New Generations at Georgia Tech through Engineering and Science. Accordingly, the program raises awareness of engineering, science and technology at the Georgia Institute of Technology for students in economically challenged, minority-serving public schools. 

Headquartered at the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience, ENGAGES gives high school students a chance to work in labs led by some of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s world-class researchers. Stiggers, a senior at B.E.S.T. Academy High School, spends many of his after-school hours in the lab of Krishnendu Roy. It is both a job and a rare education opportunity, and the experience has been invaluable, Stiggers said. But it was a trip far afield that clinched the idea for him that he has a role to play in the world of healthcare.

During fall semester, he was part of a group of seven ENGAGES students who attended the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (AMRCMS) in Seattle.

“What an eye-opener,” Stiggers said. “The conference exposed me to a world of diversity I didn’t really know about. It was great to see and meet so many other African-American people – people who look like me – pursuing the things that I want to pursue, doing the things that I want to do. It was encouraging.”

That was kind of the point of the trip, admitted Manu Platt, professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, who co-founded and co-chairs Project ENGAGES with the Petit Institute’s founding director, Bob Nerem. 

“I wanted them to go because I remember the first time I attended this conference,” said Platt, a Petit Institute faculty researcher. “It’s amazing when you walk in and there are all of these dark-skinned, brilliant kids, dressed to the nines, professional looking. I wanted our students to see this large group of young scientists that look like them, so they could interact and network.”

That Seattle trip was a highlight for Stiggers in particular (it helped reinforce his dreams of becoming a physician with a yen toward research), and the ENGAGES program in general last semester, capped in December with the annual winter celebration at the Petit Institute. The atrium hummed with the chatter of students, their mentors, faculty, family and representatives from the participating high schools (Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy, KIPP Atlanta Collegiate and Mays High School in addition to B.E.S.T., all of them in the Atlanta Public School system).

They gathered around and among a maze of student research posters. Then everyone packed themselves into the Suddath Room for an enlightening panel discussion among former ENGAGES students who are now in college: Amadou Bah (Stanford), Katrina Burch (Georgia Tech), Jovanay Carter (Dartmouth), and Imani Moon (North Carolina A&T).

The current group of ENGAGES students wanted to know what to expect from the college experience. The panel didn’t sugarcoat its answers. 

“I study all of the time. I haven’t been out since homecoming,” Burch said. “I usually go to sleep around 4 a.m., wake up around 9 on a good day, sometimes 8. So yeah, I’m always studying.”

Bah, who went from his Atlanta roots all the way across the country to attend Stanford, is one of Stiggers’ closest friends, “and he didn’t hold anything back,” said Stiggers, who has been accepted at Georgia Tech, but also is considering the University of Michigan and Stanford. “Amadou said the course work was extremely difficult, but you can’t give in to doubt – you’ve got to push through. College is a whole different ballgame, he said. It changes you.”

The same might be said of travel. It changes you. That was certainly the case for five of the seven students who went on the Seattle trip. “It was the first time they stepped foot on a plane,” Platt said.

Once in Seattle, the ensemble mingled with college students and scientists, met Nobel Laureates, heard keynote speeches from some of the most influential researchers and healthcare leaders in the country and saw or heard a mountain of research.

Most of the 4,000 attendees were college students, but Stiggers, who will graduate high school this year, felt like he was exactly where he belonged.

“It was inspiring. They kept drawing me in,” he said. “It felt like I was already in college.”



]]> Jerry Grillo 1 1453326773 2016-01-20 21:52:53 1475896827 2016-10-08 03:20:27 0 0 news Students inspired by Seattle conference and straight scoop from alums at winter celebration

2016-01-20T00:00:00-05:00 2016-01-20T00:00:00-05:00 2016-01-20 00:00:00 Jerry Grillo

Communications Officer II
Parker H. Petit Institute for
Bioengineering and Bioscience

488671 488681 488691 488671 image <![CDATA[ENGAGES Seattle Seven]]> image/jpeg 1453395600 2016-01-21 17:00:00 1475895242 2016-10-08 02:54:02 488681 image <![CDATA[Manu and student]]> image/jpeg 1453395600 2016-01-21 17:00:00 1475895242 2016-10-08 02:54:02 488691 image <![CDATA[Amadou and Katrina]]> image/jpeg 1453395600 2016-01-21 17:00:00 1475895242 2016-10-08 02:54:02
<![CDATA[The Mentor Experience]]> 28153 Kirsten Parratt’s experience as a mentor in the Project ENGAGES program is the result of a happy accident.

Parratt, in her second year as a bioengineering Ph.D. student, works as a graduate research assistant in the lab of Krishnendu Roy at the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience. When she joined the lab, Parratt found out that part of the gig included mentoring a high school student.

“I didn’t know what to expect, but when the semester rolled around I saw what Project ENGAGES is about, what a great opportunity it is for these high school students to come in and work with us,” Parratt says. “Unlike a normal high school program in my experience, where a student may have five hours a week in the lab, these ENGAGES students are here for 16 hours, and then all summer, too. They really have a chance to get something done, and I like that.”

It’s time well spent, in other words. Parratt is mentoring Qwantayvious Stiggers, who is nearing the end of his junior year at B.E.S.T. Academy, an all-boys high school and one of three area schools served by Project ENGAGES (for Engaging New Generations at Georgia Tech through Engineering and Science). The others are Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy and KIPP Atlanta Collegiate, a co-ed high school.

Project ENGAGES aims to foster a deep interest in science among students in these schools, which have student populations that are predominantly African-American, with a high percentage of kids receiving a free or subsidized lunch. The goal is to raise awareness of the students to the worlds of engineering, science and technology through real-world, hands-on experience, under the guidance of world-class researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Founded and chaired by Bob Nerem (founding director of the Petit Institute) and Manu Plat (Petit Institute member, assistant professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering) and managed by Lakeita Servance, ENGAGES is two years old. Currently there are 14 students in the biotechnology research track, administered at the Petit Institute, and nine students in the engineering research track, based at the Georgia Tech Research Institute.

After mentoring in the program for the past year, Parratt is basically hooked.

“I absolutely want to continue as an ENGAGES mentor,” she says. “A lot of it is just seeing your student succeed. You can’t look at this kind of experience as taking up more of your time. It’s about making a huge difference with these young students, and clearly, they think it’s the coolest thing – the chance to really see cutting edge science. When I was their age, I would have given anything for an opportunity like this.”

For his part, Stiggers believes he is incredibly lucky – lucky to have made it through the vetting to become of Project ENGAGES; lucky to have landed in the Roy lab, where some research has focused on engineering articular cartilage. “My mother is dealing with articular cartilage problems,” he says. “I’ve had the best of luck in getting everything I wanted here, and then to have an actual relationship between my research and my mother’s health issue. I gave her a tour of the lab, and she was amazed.”

Lucky, too, he says, to be paired with Parratt. “We’re a great team,” he says. “One of the things I like about Kirsten’s style is that she doesn’t treat me like I’m a high school kid. At lab meetings, she’ll ask my input, and so will Dr. Roy. They’re serious, so I’d better have something to say.”

Parratt learned the rhythms of mentoring while earning her degree in Chemical and Biological Engineering at Princeton University. “I had two fantastic mentors when I was an undergrad working in a lab,” she says. “I saw that mentoring was about helping student development. It wasn’t just, ‘here’s how you do research.’ It was more along the lines of, ‘here’s a class you should consider, and why,’ or ‘here’s an opportunity that could help you along.’”

So she welcomed the opportunity as a grad student to be a mentor at Georgia Tech. And it seems to be catchy, one of those ‘gifts that keep on giving’ things, because Stiggers hasn’t even graduated high school yet and he’s already thinking long term.

“I definitely want to be a mentor some day. I want to give something back, the way Kirsten has given back to me,” says Stiggers, who is looking forward to another year in the Roy lab with Parratt. “We are the dynamic duo of Project ENGAGES.”

Become a Project ENGAGES mentor


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

]]> Jerry Grillo 1 1429780865 2015-04-23 09:21:05 1475896683 2016-10-08 03:18:03 0 0 news ‘Dynamic duo’ link up in the lab for Project ENGAGES

2015-04-23T00:00:00-04:00 2015-04-23T00:00:00-04:00 2015-04-23 00:00:00 Jerry Grillo
Communications Officer II
Parker H. Petit Institute for
Bioengineering and Bioscience

398641 398641 image <![CDATA[Kirsten Parratt]]> image/jpeg 1449246371 2015-12-04 16:26:11 1475895115 2016-10-08 02:51:55
<![CDATA[Diversity University]]> 28153 Manu Platt is a Black man in America. He is a big man who wears earrings and dreadlocks. That is what the public sees. Now, the public will get a deeper look into who Dr. Manu Platt is, thanks to a special report cover story in the January edition of the magazine Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

Platt, assistant professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering (a partnership between Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology) is pictured on the magazine cover and featured inside as one of the 2015 Emerging Scholars of the Year, a diverse group of individuals, all of them under 40, recognized for the uniqueness of their fields of study and a commitment to service and teaching.

In the article, Platt’s groundbreaking research as a biomedical engineer is heralded. But the writer, Ronald Roach, also mentions that Platt is, “excelling as an educator and humanitarian,” and, “he has been active in efforts to increase the success of biomedical engineering students and postdocs from underrepresented minority groups.”

The article about Platt is titled, “STEM Innovator.” STEM refers to the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math. President Barack Obama has prioritized increasing the number of students and teachers proficient in these critical areas.

Platt has taken a lead role in addressing that national priority at the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience as co-founder and co-chair of Project ENGAGES (Engaging New Generations at Georgia Tech through Engineering and Science), a program that brings marginalized inner city high school students into Petit Institute labs to work on year-round research.

The magazine featuring Platt lives up to its name, focusing on issues around the broad and timely topic of human diversity in education, coming in the wake of recent incidents involving police violence against Black men.

In the front-of-the-book editorial, executive editor David Pluviose writes about becoming “aware of the extent to which the fear of Black men had pervaded American society,” and given this, “it is not altogether surprising to me that there seems to be a shoot first, ask questions later mentality among some in law enforcement across the country when it comes to encounters with Black men.”

Pluviose then goes on to write, “I believe that the work of our 2015 Emerging Scholars could help turn the tide of public perception concerning the value of the Black man.”

Spotlighting a few of the scholars in his editorial, Pluviose notes Platt’s appearance: “If he donned some sweats and sneakers, it might be easy to confuse our cover subject, Georgia Tech and Emory University’s Manu Platt, with many other Black men on the street donning dreadlocks and earrings."

Then he adds, "Platt’s cutting-edge computer modeling-enhanced research into new ways or of reducing stroke risk among children with sickle cell disease and better investigating HIV-mediated cardiovascular disease and cancer metastasis is truly world-class.”

Platt says he was pleasantly surprised when he found out he was being considered for the cover (in December, during the photo session). But he deeply appreciates the magazine’s tone, the bigger picture human focus that goes well beyond career highlights.

“They’re writing about what’s happening in America today, what it’s like to be a Black man, how someone like me might look to other people, and I love that,” Platt says. “It’s all about professors with a purpose. That’s something I’ve always thought about. Work like this, the Emerging Scholars program, just reinforces the notion.”

The publication of the magazine was timely for another reason, something closer to home, closer to Georgia Tech. One of the Project ENGAGES students, Katrina Burch, was invited by the White House to be part of a two-person panel (Thursday, January 15) in the nation’s capitol at a conference called, “Front and Center: Bringing Marginalized Girls into STEM and Career and Technical Education.”

The conference brought together federal, state and local agencies, service providers, researchers, the private sector, and youth to discuss policies and programs designed to increase access for low-income girls and girls of color, girls like Katrina Burch.

A senior at Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy, Burch is in her second and final year of ENGAGES, a program that has its share of success stories – all of the first high school graduates who went through the program are now in college, and many are the first generation in their families to do so. That will be the case for Burch, whose inclusion on the panel was the result of fortuitous connectivity leading to communication leading to action.

Basically, it started with a conversation between Georgia Tech Community Relations Director, Chris Burke, and his friend Marcus Bright, who is executive director of the non-profit, Education for a Better America. Bright was organizing a discussion with the White House around the topic of attracting young minority women to STEM education and asked if Burke would participate.

“There were probably four or five universities represented in the conversation, and we each shared what we were doing,” says Burke. “Fortunately, I got to go last. Most of the universities are doing some similar things, so after everybody else talked about what they were doing, it was my turn.”

Burke could have kept the conversation going for hours if he wanted to, because Georgia Tech has implemented a number of programs that build sustained partnerships with nearby communities. For example, the Westside Communities Alliance works to foster neighborhood unity and develop sustainable models that address challenges facing low to moderate income communities that neighbor urban campuses.

He told the White House about Project ENGAGES and one of President Obama’s senior policy advisors, Becky Monroe, was on the line. A few days later she called Burke. He steered her toward Platt, which led to Burch.

“I am so psyched to be part of this,” says Burch, who spoke with Valerie Jarrett, another senior advisor to the president, and chair of the White Council on Women and Girls (one of the conference’s organizing agencies, along with the White House Domestic Policy Council, the Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education, and the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality).

“Initially, they just wanted my input. They asked me if the direction they were moving in was appropriate, and I was like, ‘why do they care what I think?’ I thought what they were trying to do sounded great,” says Burch, who grew up in Atlanta, one of three kids – the only daughter – raised by a single mom, who also has a young son with developmental disabilities (due to a genetic disorder called di George syndrome).

“They want to hear my life story, basically, the challenges I’ve faced, how I got to where I am now, my younger brother and his challenges, my mother,” adds Burch, who took only the second flight of her life. Her first was about a month ago, when she and her lab mentor, Dr. Kristi Porter, attended the American Society for Cell Biology annual conference, where they presented their research.

Platt, Porter and Katrina’s mother also attended the conference in Washington, D.C. It was her mother’s first time on a plane.

“That’s a cool thing, my mother’s first flight,” says Burch, who has been busily applying for different schools (Tech is her first choice).

A little experience – taking your first flight, for example – can be a very empowering thing. So can working in a university lab, gaining the confidence and the steady mind of a scientist, taking on responsibilities within the framework of a highly skilled research team. That’s basically the ENGAGES experience. It’s empowerment. It’s liberation from the tired, old restrictive norm.

“The White House wanted to know about what we were doing to help keep girls interested in science, so I ran down a history of the program, told them about the importance of the personal touches, as well as having high expectations, all of these ENGAGES stories,” says Platt, whose tireless efforts have helped make he and Burch part of the national discussion on diversity in education.

“I could hear a lot of expressions on the other end of the phone line," he says. "They seemed impressed, and they hadn’t even met Katrina yet. I told them, ‘you have got to meet this girl and hear her story.’”

And now, they have.


]]> Jerry Grillo 1 1421248334 2015-01-14 15:12:14 1475896670 2016-10-08 03:17:50 0 0 news Platt, Burch and Project ENGAGES facing the nation

2015-01-14T00:00:00-05:00 2015-01-14T00:00:00-05:00 2015-01-14 00:00:00 Jerry Grillo
Communications Officer II
Parker H. Petit Institute for
Bioengineering and Bioscience

364371 364381 364391 364371 image <![CDATA[Manu Magazine Cover]]> image/jpeg 1449245805 2015-12-04 16:16:45 1475895100 2016-10-08 02:51:40 364381 image <![CDATA[Katrina Burch]]> image/jpeg 1449245805 2015-12-04 16:16:45 1475895100 2016-10-08 02:51:40 364391 image <![CDATA[Platt and Burch]]> image/jpeg 1449245805 2015-12-04 16:16:45 1475895100 2016-10-08 02:51:40 <![CDATA[Manu Platt featured in magazine]]> <![CDATA[Project ENGAGES website]]>
<![CDATA[New Engagement]]> 27195 A new group of Project ENGAGES students has been absorbed into the day-to-day fascia of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience, while some familiar faces have disappeared from the landscape, leaving the Georgia Institute of Technology campus to pursue promising futures.

Six students from the inaugural class of Project ENGAGES graduated high school in the spring, and after working full-time through the summer, they’ve moved on with the next phase of their education. They are David Alexander (Valdosta State), Robert Hughley (Georgia College and State University), Solomon McBride (Brandeis University), Imani Moon (North Carolina A&T), Christopher Seaborn (Western Carolina University) and Jasmine Woodard (Howard University).

“I kind of hate to leave already, this has been a great experience,” says Hughley, now attending Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville. “But I plan to be here again. I’d like to give something back, maybe help the next group of Project ENGAGES students, next summer.”

Meanwhile, a bunch of new high school students are working in labs across campus, including nine on the biotech track, based at the Petit Institute (eight new students are on the engineering track, developed under the leadership of the Georgia Tech Research Institute). Through Project ENGAGES, they’re provided an opportunity to do science, and get paid for their work, as opposed to just reading about it in a high school textbook – their time in the lab is a job, something a bit more interesting (and demanding) than flipping burgers or bagging groceries.

Still, Project ENGAGES seeks to do more than provide a part-time job (full-time in the summer) for some smart local high school kids. The program aims to raise the students’ awareness of the world of engineering, science and technology, and inspire them to dream big and consider wider possibilities that might not have been accessible to them before.

Golden opportunity or not, for some students it requires a larger-than-usual commitment, and a lot of drive with laser-like focus.

“Time management is the biggest challenge,” says Qwantayvious Stiggers, who answers to Tay but is called Stiggers by his colleagues in the Cellular and Macromolecular Engineering Lab run by Krish Roy. “You can’t waste time in this kind of program, and that’s the hardest thing – balancing lab work, sports and school. But I’m always busy. I don’t like being non-active, I can’t just do … nothing.”

Stiggers, who says he is never stuck in idle, is a senior at B.E.S.T. Academy, an all-boys school and one of three area high schools partnering with Georgia Tech in Project ENGAGES (the others are Coretta Scott King Women’s Leadership Academy and KIPP Atlanta Collegiate High School). He is juggling responsibilities and is determined to get the most of out of the Project ENGAGES experience. He’s the man of the house, the oldest of four boys who live with their mom. At school, he’s played for the football, basketball and golf teams, been involved with student government and the Spanish club, and is a member of the National Honor Society. His love of science was sparked in the seventh grade.

“I had a teacher who allowed us to do a lot of experiments, and that hands-on experience jump-started my mind,” says Stiggers, who took second place in the oral presentation competition at the Project ENGAGES Summer Celebration in August (see complete list of winners below this story). So, it’s still early in the second year of the program, but Stiggers seems to be somewhat typical of the high school researchers working now in Tech’s labs – over-achievers, most of them, ambitious and busy young people on the path to productive lives.

Alexus Clark, for example, is a junior at the King Women’s Leadership Academy (so she’ll be back for a second year, 2015-2016) who has been involved with Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) and Health Occupations Students of America for the past several years, and also participates in Junior Achievement, the F.A.S.T. Track Program and the Learners to Leaders program.

“I want to pursue pharmacology and start my own pharmaceutical company,” says Clark, who is getting her first taste of research, and she likes it. “I’ve had many shadowing opportunities but nothing compares to actually researching along with the best scientists in the world. I am no longer just learning about the subject, but applying it to real-world problems that have no solution for them.”

Yet. No solution yet. That’s another reason why Project ENGAGES exists – to help develop future generations of engineers and scientists who will find those solutions. Naturally, it takes a group effort – professors to offer their labs, and especially mentors culled from the graduate student body to work side by side with the high school students. Each first-year ENGAGES student is paired with a mentor following summer boot camp – they do this through a ‘speed-dating’ process.

Keeping in mind that the Project ENGAGES students are high school kids, and not trained scientists, there is a learning curve, which means mentors spend plenty of time drilling the fundamentals of research processes. Kirsten Parratt is Stiggers’ mentor (in Krish Roy’s Laboratory for Cellular and Macromolecular Engineering), and she spent the summer training him on the basics of cell culture, methacrylation chemistry, hydrogel production, and histology, with the hope, “that he’ll be able to perform these same techniques mostly unsupervised,” says Parratt, who considers her experience time well spent.

“I’ve found the mentoring experience very rewarding,” says Parratt, who already was a graduate research assistant in Roy’s lab. “I believe that all of the ENGAGES kids are getting a wonderful experience which will benefit them in college. The program has been well organized so that the mentors can work the kids into a graduate student schedule. It’s been helpful for my own studies as I’m forced to explain every aspect of a concept and realize quickly where the gaps in my knowledge are.”

And Stiggers is stretching his brain like he never has before, mental calisthenics for the long, productive road ahead. This is his senior of high school, and he’s considering his college choices, preferring Auburn, Clark Atlanta, the University of Tennessee, or Texas A&M, planning to focus on biomedical engineering, but minor in African-American studies.

“I don’t want to be seen as having just a science head,” he says. “But the reason I’m interested in science is because we will never know everything. It’s a continuing journey of search and discovery. The opportunities are wide open.”

Project ENGAGES Presentation Awards

Oral Presentation 
1 – Katrina Burch (biotechnology)
2 (tie) – Qwyantavious Stiggers (biotechnology)
2 - MARC team – Christelle Ingram, Jessie Smith, Quentin Spear (engineering) Honorable Mention: Alexus Clark (biotechnology), Angelo Matos (engineering)

Poster Presentation
1 – Aundre Abner (engineering)
2 – Taren Carter (biotechnology) Honorable Mention: Jasmine Cutter (biotechnology), Kendreze Holland (biotechnology), Justin Hutchins (engineering), Jovanay Carter (biotechnology)

]]> Colly Mitchell 1 1409304504 2014-08-29 09:28:24 1475896619 2016-10-08 03:16:59 0 0 news Project ENGAGES introduces new students to wider possibilities

2014-09-02T00:00:00-04:00 2014-09-02T00:00:00-04:00 2014-09-02 00:00:00 Jerry Grillo
Communications Officer II
Parker H. Petit Institute for
Bioengineering & Bioscicne

319981 320011 319981 image <![CDATA[Qwantayvious Stiggers, a senior from B.E.S.T. Academy, with Manu Platt, PhD, Co-Chair of Project ENGAGES]]> image/jpeg 1449244997 2015-12-04 16:03:17 1475895029 2016-10-08 02:50:29 320011 image <![CDATA[Alexus Clark, a junior at the Coretta Scott King Women's Leadership Academy, is in her first year of Project ENGAGES]]> image/jpeg 1449244997 2015-12-04 16:03:17 1475895029 2016-10-08 02:50:29 <![CDATA[Project ENGAGES website]]>
<![CDATA[Project ENGAGES: It Takes a Community]]> 27195 The third in a series of stories about Project ENGAGES, which recently began its second year at the Petit Institute.

Project ENGAGES, an ambitious high school education program at the Georgia Institute of Technology, is evolving kind of like a bioengineered system, where organically-informed human innovation enhances the natural process.

It began with the common understanding that minorities are underrepresented in science and engineering fields, and with Bob Nerem’s recognition that the only way to increase the pipeline of strong minority scholars was to reach back to grades K through 12. Nerem also believed that an extended program would be necessary to adequately serve the brilliant kids he imagined would be working and learning in the labs of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience.

Now in its second year, the former Project ENGAGE has added an ‘S’ to better reflect its focus on science (ENGAGES stands for Engaging New Generations at Georgia Tech through Engineering and Science). It’s also more than doubled in size (10 students completed the first year, and there will be 24 for the second, now in two different tracks – bioscience and engineering). And the program is already paying off in ways Nerem and his co-founder/co-chair, Manu Platt, had always hoped.

“When these kids leave the program and put on their resume that they worked in a lab at Georgia Tech during high school, that’s huge,” says Platt, assistant professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, and diversity director for EBICS (for ‘Emergent Behaviors of Integrated Cellular Systems,’ an NSF Science and Technology Center, or STC, that is supported and resides in the Petit Institute, and is the vehicle through which Project ENGAGES was formed).

“The other thing about this program that really stands out for me is the diversity training, which we take seriously. These students come from schools that are entirely African-American, so, not very diverse. But they are placed in a diverse environment and they interact with intelligent people of all types,” Platt adds. “They interact, and they soon start to realize, ‘these are just human beings, and I’m a human being, and if it’s within a human being to do this, it’s within me to do this.’”

And in Project ENGAGES, they get paid to do it. Each student earns $9 an hour for doing actual lab work – 40 hours a week during the summer, 12 to 15 (or sometimes more) during the school year, time they otherwise would be spending in part-time jobs after school. A paying gig matters to students in economically challenged situations. “I’ve always loved science, so I was interested already when I heard of the opportunity at Georgia Tech,” says Katrina Burch, a rising high school senior beginning her second year in Project ENGAGES. “We actually get to work in a lab and do real research, and it’s a job.”

It’s a job to keep the program going, also. There is the NSF funding for the STC, of course. And Nerem, professor emeritus and founding director of the Petit Institute, has been successful in linking up with financial support from corporate and individual donors, while Platt has been more involved with designing and implementing the program. “Manu is the brains and I’m the brawn,” says Nerem, describing their co-leadership roles. That would probably make Lakeita Servance, who manages Project ENGAGES, the glue that holds it together.

Servance was working as a parent engagement specialist for the Georgia Department of Education, but was looking for an opportunity to interact directly with students in an administrative role. “I honestly didn’t know a lot about Project ENGAGES before applying for the job, but my interest was truly piqued during the interview as I learned how I would be able to play a role in crafting this program,” says Servance, who joined the Petit Institute in May 2013 as the EBICS Education Outreach Manager, just as the first class of Project ENGAGES students were arriving for orientation at Georgia Tech.

“The community of students we’re working with did not see themselves as belonging or fitting in with a place like Georgia Tech, and this program is breaking down that barrier,” Servance adds. “We’re taking students who have traditionally been overlooked and introducing them to new opportunities.”


Over the past year, 10 students from two single-gender Atlanta Public Schools – Coretta Scott King Young Woman’s Leadership Academy and B.E.S.T. Academy – have gotten a head-start on the college lab work experience, while dipping their toes into a bubbling cultural melting pot. Of those 10 students, eight produced research projects that advanced from the Atlanta Regional Science and Engineering Fair to the statewide event. Two of those students (Jovanay Carter and Amadou Bah) advanced to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. And another, Solomon McBride, won a Posse Scholarship to attend Brandeis University.

Before any of that took shape, however, Nerem and Platt had to come up with the clay. They understood the need – more opportunities for underserved minority groups – and necessity begat invention. An important part of the EBICS mission is centered on diversity. The STC brings together scientists from Georgia Tech, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and seven other institutions, in a big picture focus to create biomachines that may cure diseases or clean up the environment. But they’re also out to develop the next generation of scientists, with a high emphasis on increasing the recruitment, participation and retention of underrepresented minorities.

Nerem, an associate director for EBICS, had some ideas on what might be the best way to achieve that. “I decided that what was really necessary was to get these students fully immersed in a yearlong experience,” says Nerem, who thought he could sell the program to potential sponsors. “But I knew that this old guy couldn’t be a role model for young African American kids.” So he went after his friend and colleague, Platt, who had first-hand knowledge of college-based high school programs aimed at minority students.

“I was involved in program called FAME, which stands for Forum to Advance Minorities in Engineering. This was a weekend program during the school year with a local college, Delaware State University, a historically black school, and it was my entre into engineering,” says Platt, a Georgia Cancer Coalition distinguished scholar, who came South to attend historically black, single-gender Morehouse College, and liked the idea of working with single-gender, minority-serving high schools in the Georgia Tech area.

“I had ideas on how to sculpt the program, what the kids might need. I understand what the teachers and students and parents might be thinking, what it’s like to be brand new here on campus,” Platt says. “Those are elements I considered, and what it would take to integrate them into a lab. It can be a tricky balance.”

There had to be a buy-in not only from the high school kids, but the high school teachers and administration, and from the research teams at Georgia Tech. “The first thing we needed was to build relationships,” Platt says. “Bob Nerem says science is a people business, and it certainly is.”

During the 2012-2013 school year, Platt and his lab did outreach at the participating high schools, brought demonstrations to the schools, invited science classes to the Petit Institute. They were planting the seeds for a sustained kind of engagement because, as Platt says, “we were building up to the first application process, so students would have an idea of what the program was all about – so they would want to apply. Of course, it was serendipitous that the Biomedical Engineering Society conference was in Atlanta around that time. So we thought, ‘wouldn’t it be cool to have a hands-on demo day and invite local high schools.’”

So they recruited a team of students from the Coulter Department, mostly undergrads, who were in charge, Platt says, students with a heart for service (which are the kinds of students Platt looks for). The BMES conference in November 2012, at the Georgia World Congress Center was a great recruiting tool for the high school program taking shape, grabbing the interest of high school students (and bringing them together with college students just a year or two older, with shared interests and entirely different backgrounds), and also getting the attention of local media – Jim Burress of Atlanta public radio station WABE covered the event, and would follow-up nine months later with an in-depth five-part series on the first summer of Project ENGAGES.

A rigorous interview process – “It was nerve wracking,” says Katrina Burch – resulting in one out of three applicants being chosen for Project ENGAGES. There were 12 students who went through the first “Biocellular Bootcamp,” two weeks of preparation involving hard science and soft skills.

“A big thing we do during boot camp is we build in professional development activities,” says Platt. “We try to address what it will be like to integrate these young, black scientists successfully into a lab, which is not just about knowing science. It’s how you get along with others, so there’s a conflict resolution bit. Last year it was a little more informal.”


This year, Platt was ready with a professional diversity trainer. It was a relationship that began completely organically. “I was on a 17-hour flight to South Africa, and you really get to know someone on a 17-hour flight,” says Platt, who happened to be sitting next to Tamika Curry Smith, whose company, The TCS Group, provides human resources and diversity and inclusion solutions to corporate and non-profit clients. Long story short, Smith conducted two sessions for Project ENGAGES this summer, one with the high school students, and one with the mentors – there’s a candle-lighting ceremony at the end of boot camp in which students and mentors are paired together, after having vetted each other during a “speed dating” session.

“We’re asking our lab people to do more than they were originally interested in doing several years ago, before there was a Project ENGAGES,” Platt says. “You want the graduate student mentors and the postdoc mentors and the high school students to all feel like this is helpful to their progress.”

Of the 12 students who began the program last summer, 10 finished the school year working regular weekly shifts in Georgia Tech labs, run by a handful of professors who share Platt’s interest in outreach. All 10 of those students came back to work full-time schedules this summer. Five of the original 10 recently graduated high school, and will embark on the next stage of their education in the fall. But when the next semester arrives, the other five, all rising high school seniors like Burch, will continue in Project ENGAGES, while a new crew of hopeful young scientists, fresh out of boot camp, discovers the college lab experience.

First, it takes a lab, and a number of bio-researchers have stepped up. During the first year, high school students were working in labs run by Platt, Gang Bao, Tom Barker, Edward Botchwey and Robert Guldberg. A number of other scientists have offered their labs this year, including Ravi Bellamkonda, Ross Ethier, Yuhong Fan, and Hang Lu, among others. And it takes mentors, like postdoc Kristi Porter from Platt’s lab, who worked with two students the first year, and considered it one of those rare win-win experiences.

“I was particularly interested in this program because of my previous volunteer work as a high school college tour organizer and my passion for increasing science and math education for our youth,” says Porter, who mentored Burch and Soloman McBride. “I am incredibly proud of their growth as independent thinkers and scientists. They are dependable, and I am comfortable with giving them independent studies and experiments to perform. Also, since their projects are directly related to my own, we build off of each other's ideas and results. As a result, I’m confident that we will be able to submit our combined efforts for publication by the end of the year.”

Nonetheless, this year it should be a bit easier for mentors, according to Servance. “We found that sometimes two students could be overwhelming for a single mentor, so this year we’ve assigned one student per mentor,” she says. “It means we’ve had to recruit more mentors and of course more labs, but the response has been amazing. These are people who wanted to take on the responsibility.”

Project ENGAGES has expanded its scope this year, also. For one thing, they’re including a new area high school, also in the Atlanta Public School system – KIPP Atlanta Collegiate. There are 10 new students on the biotech track, in addition to the five returning from last year, and they’ve added nine students to what Nerem describes as, “a more traditional engineering track,” developed under the leadership of the Georgia Tech Research Institute.

What it means is more opportunity for more students, which is exactly why Gary Noble supports the program. One of Nerem’s neighbors, Noble used to direct the HIV-AIDS program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Now retired, he heard Nerem give a presentation about Project ENGAGES.

“In the simplest of terms, I heard what Bob said and thought this was extremely important. They’re providing opportunities that were otherwise unavailable to brilliant young people, giving them the chance to do great things that might not have been considered feasible before,” Noble says.

For Tom O’Brien, his engagement with Project ENGAGES is like the program itself, that bio-mixture of organic growth with human ingenuity, and generosity. Last August, he happened to be driving to work at Axion Biosystems, where he is president and CEO, when WABE aired one of its pieces on the high school program.

“It piqued my interest. Then I heard the next story in the series,” says O’Brien, whose company is based on technology developed at Georgia Tech. “Then I started asking how we could help. There are talented kids everywhere, and what a great idea this is – exposing kids to a STEM curriculum, giving them the tools they can use to create careers and contribute to science and discovery later on. We’re committed to supporting the program as it continues to grow.”

]]> Colly Mitchell 1 1404894182 2014-07-09 08:23:02 1475896605 2016-10-08 03:16:45 0 0 news High school education program builds strong system of support and leadership.

2014-07-09T00:00:00-04:00 2014-07-09T00:00:00-04:00 2014-07-09 00:00:00 Jerry Grillo
Communications Officer II
Parker H. Petit Institute for
Bioengineering & Bioscience

307331 307331 image <![CDATA[Project ENGAGES co-founders, Bob Nerem and Manu Platt, with program manager, Lakeita Servance]]> image/jpeg 1449244708 2015-12-04 15:58:28 1475895015 2016-10-08 02:50:15 <![CDATA[Project ENGAGES website]]>
<![CDATA[Expanding Options - Project ENGAGES Student Finds New Posse to Ride With]]> 27195 The second in a series of stories about Project ENGAGES, which recently began its second year at the Petit Institute. 

In his old job, Solomon McBride rarely did anything more challenging than stick groceries in a bag. In his current job, he’s performing experiments in a well-equipped lab, researching the negative effects antiretroviral drugs can have on the cardiovascular systems of HIV patients.

So yeah, the 18-year-old McBride likes his current job way more than his last job. Except, it’s not exactly a job. It’s more like an educational opportunity. And soon, he’ll have to give it up, but that’s good thing, because better things await McBride, a second-year Project ENGAGES student who will start attending Brandeis University near Boston, this fall on a Posse Scholarship.

If you’ve spent any time at the Parker H. Petit Institute for Biotechnology and Bioscience, chances are good that you’ve seen McBride or his fellow students in Project ENGAGES, a high school education program created through the NSF Science and Technology Center on the Emergent Behaviors of Integrated Cellular Systems (EBICS, a research center that is supported and resides in the Petit Institute).

Developed last year at the Georgia Institute of Technology in partnership with Coretta Scott King Young Women's Leadership Academy and B.E.S.T Academy, two minority-serving public high schools in the City of Atlanta, the program aims to serve “a community of children who did not see themselves as belonging or fitting in with a place like Georgia Tech,” according to Lakeita Servance, who oversees Project ENGAGES as the EBICS’ (and Petit Institute’s) education outreach manager. “We’re also introducing students to a broader field of science. Studying biology doesn’t mean that you can only be a doctor, so this program demonstrates that you can do a number of different things, that you have choices and options.”

And McBride, who recently graduated from the B.E.S.T. Academy, likes his expanded options. He’d been thinking along the lines of careers in film, or economics, but after more than a year studying and working in Manu Platt’s lab he says, “science is wide open. I always liked science, but doubted myself, so I was hesitant. But now I feel like research is definitely something I want to do, and the experience here has given me a foundation for the college experience. I understand the mindset it takes now.”

During the school year, students involved in Project ENGAGES who are on the biotechnology track (like McBride) commit to working 12 to 15 hours a week in a Georgia Tech bio lab (there is also now an engineering track, developed under the leadership of the Georgia Tech Research Institute). During the summer, it goes up to 40 hours a week. Students are paid $9 an hour for their time – time they otherwise would have spent bagging groceries or flipping burgers, probably. So there is a sense not only of working for a grade, but actually producing results in the lab, helping to make hands on discoveries. That’s what hooked McBride, who also appreciates the commitment of his mentors and lab partners (undergrads, PhD students, post-docs, etc.).

“We get a wage, so it’s a job that we take seriously,” McBride says. “I’m sure it’s not easy to have a bunch of high school students in your labs, but they’ve given us responsibilities, they treat us like adults. There’s a sense of importance to what we’re doing, and you have to get it right. You learn it. And you get the hands on experience, working with the equipment, doing the experiments. You see the cause and effect. You make the connections. It all comes together.”

McBride comes from a family that places a high value on a college education, so his academic pursuits are grounded, to some degree, close to the heart. He has three older sisters who have set an inspirational pace. One graduated from Howard University, another from Swarthmore, and another is going to art school in Chicago. So, McBride is carrying on a bit of the family tradition, and when he gets to Boston, he’ll be a much more confident version of himself. Part of that is the Project ENGAGES experience, but the deeper source comes from his time at the B.E.S.T. Academy.

“I started there in the sixth grade, the first class at the school,” he says. “If you asked me then, I’d have said, ‘get me out of here right now!’ But looking back, it was a great experience, partly due to the challenges a new school faces. You’re a startup, learning how to stand on your feet, and you face many problems, you know, like growing pains. You go through that and you get a sense of resilience that you’re going to need throughout life.”

He showed plenty of resilience through an extensive Posse Scholar recruitment process – about 1,200 students in the Atlanta region applied for the 61 scholarships that were ultimately awarded. The scholarships come from the 25-year-old Posse Foundation, a U.S. non-profit organization that identifies, recruits and trains students with academic and leadership potential.

The scholars are then organized in supportive, often multicultural teams (or, “posses” of 10 students) comprised of students from the same city, and Posse Foundation partner colleges and universities award four-year, full-tuition leadership scholarships. Then, for eight months before beginning their college careers, the Posse Scholars attend weekly pre-collegiate training meetings, getting to know the members of their posse, and generally preparing for the academic, social and personal challenges ahead.

Getting through the door involved three rounds of interviews. Before the first round, McBride asked Bob Nerem, founding director of the Petit Institute who co-founded Project ENGAGES with assistant professor Manu Platt last year, to write a letter of recommendation – students are asked to supply this, and typically it comes from one of their high school teachers. The first question McBride got from the first interviewer was, How in the world did get a letter from a Georgia Tech professor? The answer is, Project ENGAGES.

McBride has met with his posse weekly since finding out he won the scholarship in December. They’re all Atlanta kids and all are African-American, which is a first for Posse, which serves (and has offices in) nine U.S. cities, and strives for a diverse collection of scholars. Project ENGAGES also puts a premium on diversity, integrating its group of entirely African-American high school students with the wide-ranging cultural melting pot that is the Petit Institute. So, McBride was a little surprised when he first met his monochromatic posse.

“It was weird at first, but then you get to know your posse and you realize that diversity doesn’t just mean skin color,” McBride ways. “My posse is made up of people from entirely different backgrounds, people with completely different life experiences, whether from an economic or family standpoint or otherwise.”

He expects the lessons of integrative communities to continue at Brandeis, and he is open minded about the educational possibilities, which he believes, like science, are wide open. McBride isn’t sure yet what he’ll major in, but he’s certain it will be related to scientific research. In the short term, however, he knows exactly what he wants to be: the next John Ewing.

Ewing, an undergrad at Vanderbilt University, where he also stars on the cross-country team, has been working in Nerem’s lab the past four summers. So, Ewing’s summertime role has evolved with the infusion of high school students in Petit Institute labs. There were 10 students in the first Project ENGAGES biotech class last year, all of whom returned to 40-hour status this summer, plus 10 new students on the biotech track, who began the summer session with a boot camp, and have only recently moved into labs.

“Boot camp is a lot to get through, but once they get in the lab, they start putting it all together, and that’s my favorite part,” says Ewing, a rising senior at Vanderbilt who grew up in Atlanta and plans to go to medical school. “You see how they react once they are paired with their mentors, you see the change between that first day, when research mentors present their projects, to the last day, when the high school students present their projects. They’ve gone from not really knowing what’s going on to being able to present and own a piece of a research project. That’s a really cool transformation.”

It’s a transformation he’s had a guiding hand in. Ewing helps organize the students, gives talks on cell biology, helps the kids with their research presentations – an all-around utility player with a friendly ear for the high school kids who are really just a few years younger than he is. And as an Atlanta guy who comes home every year and brings something back to the Georgia Tech community, he’s set an example for McBride, who envisions coming back to the Petit Institute to fill a similar kind of mentor’s role.

“John has had a huge impact on the program, and on me,” says McBride. “Not just for the four weeks of boot camp, but through the summer. I’m not sure he realizes it, but the example he sets, his dedication and support, is something we all admire. So yeah, I do want to be the next John Ewing. That would be pretty cool.”

]]> Colly Mitchell 1 1404120216 2014-06-30 09:23:36 1475896601 2016-10-08 03:16:41 0 0 news The second in a series of stories about Project ENGAGES, in its second year at the Petit Institute.

2014-06-30T00:00:00-04:00 2014-06-30T00:00:00-04:00 2014-06-30 00:00:00 Jerry Grillo
Communications Officer II
Parker H. Petit Institute for
Bioengineering & Biosciencer

305831 305851 305831 image <![CDATA[Project ENGAGES student, Solomon McBride]]> image/jpeg 1449244668 2015-12-04 15:57:48 1475895015 2016-10-08 02:50:15 305851 image <![CDATA[John Ewing, undergraduate mentor to Project ENGAGES student, Solomon McBride]]> image/jpeg 1449244668 2015-12-04 15:57:48 1475895015 2016-10-08 02:50:15 <![CDATA[Project ENGAGES website]]>
<![CDATA[Project ENGAGES - High School Education Program Not Your Typical Teenager Experience]]> 27195 The first in a series of stories about Project ENGAGES, which begins its second year at the Petit Institute.

Katrina Burch will be a high school senior when the fall semester begins at Coretta Scott King Young Women's Leadership Academy, but she’s already got a year of college lab experience behind her with more to come.

“This isn’t the typical teenager experience,” says Burch, who is beginning her second year in Project ENGAGES, a high school education program created through the NSF Science and Technology Center on the Emergent Behaviors of Integrated Cellular Systems (EBICS, a research center that is supported and resides in the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience).

“This is nothing like working at a fast food restaurant,” Burch says. “I’m working on all of this expensive equipment, with researchers who depend on me to get my work done. And summertime is when they expect us students to really crank it out.”

Last summer, she was part of the inaugural class of Project ENGAGES (which stands for Engaging New Generations at Georgia Tech through Engineering and Science). Developed as a partnership between the Georgia Institute of Technology, the Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy and B.E.S.T. Academy, the program aims to raise awareness of students in economically-challenged, minority-serving public schools to the world of engineering, science and technology, while also improving the high schools’ current science education program.

This summer, Burch begins her second year in the program, a fully integrated member of Manu Platt’s lab in the Petit Institute. Meanwhile, a new group of high school students is nearing the end of their four-week ENGAGES boot camp, and moving into different labs, where they will receive real-world, hands-on experience under the guidance of Georgia Institute of Technology scientists and engineers.

Platt, assistant professor and Georgia Cancer Coalition Distinguished Cancer Scholar at the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, and Bob Nerem, founding director of the Petit Institute (and Professor Emeritus in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering) co-founded Project ENGAGES as a natural offshoot of EBICS, a center comprised of a national network of top-flight institutions, including (among others) the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Morehouse College and the University of Georgia, in addition to Georgia Tech.

With an overarching mission to creating a new scientific discipline for building living, multi-cellular machines, EBICS (whose leaders are meeting in their fourth annual retreat this week, in Illinois) also places a heavy emphasis on diversity in all aspects as it strives to develop the next generation of researchers and leaders, people like Katrina Burch, who has set an ambitious, broad-minded goal, “to learn how to see the bigger picture of the world and do something great.”

Right now, she’d be content with being viewed as just another scientist in the lab, “and not just a high schooler.” Project ENGAGES demands a 40-hour work week from its high school students during the summer, and about 15 hours a week during the school year. So far, Burch has thrown herself into the work. “Katrina constantly impresses me with her enthusiasm and zeal for research,” says Kristi M. Porter, her mentor in the Platt lab.

Burch, who was born in North Carolina, grew up in Atlanta, raised by her mom, the only daughter with an older brother who is also a high school senior, and a younger brother who was born with a genetic disorder called di George syndrome. “It can take on many forms, but in my little brother’s case its meant organ failure, autism, developmental delays,” says Burch. “It’s different for every kid.”

Same could be said for formal education, she says – her older brother hasn’t decided if he wants to go to college yet, so Katrina could be the first person in her family to make that step. Then again, she says, “school has always been my thing,” and she’s narrowed her college choices to Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt and Florida A&M.

The Project ENGAGES experience – actually working, for a paycheck, in a university biotech lab – makes her feel like she understands what it takes to be a college student and it’s helped confirm something she says her teachers always told her, something she’s bought into. “Pay attention, do what you have to do, and people will pay you to come and learn. That’s what they said,” Burch recalls. “I feel like that’s the easiest route for me. I feel like that’s the smart route.”

]]> Colly Mitchell 1 1403531243 2014-06-23 13:47:23 1475896597 2016-10-08 03:16:37 0 0 news The first in a series of stories about Project ENGAGES, which begins its second year at the Petit Institute.

2014-06-23T00:00:00-04:00 2014-06-23T00:00:00-04:00 2014-06-23 00:00:00 Jerry Grillo
Communications Officer II
Parker H. Petit Institute for
Bioengineering & Bioscience

304581 304881 304581 image <![CDATA[Katrina Burch, a 2nd year Project ENGAGES student]]> image/jpeg 1449244637 2015-12-04 15:57:17 1475895009 2016-10-08 02:50:09 304881 image <![CDATA[2014 Class of Project ENGAGES high school students]]> image/jpeg 1449244637 2015-12-04 15:57:17 1475895012 2016-10-08 02:50:12 <![CDATA[Project ENGAGES website]]>