Petit Scholars Scaling New Heights

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For 17 years, the Petit Undergraduate Scholars program has been developing a new generation of bioengineering and bioscience researchers, providing a full year of comprehensive research experience for Atlanta area university students.

Since it’s launch in 2000, the program has fostered hundreds of top undergraduate researchers who have gone on to distinguished careers in research, medicine, and industry. That is the point of the program, after all, and this year’s record-setting class of Petit Scholars is poised to carry on that tradition.

“We’re excited about this year’s cohort of students,” says faculty mentor for the Petit Scholars program, Tom Barker, professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME). “They represent the most diverse pool of applicants we’ve ever had. And this year’s class again broke records for academic achievement.”

The 2016 version of the Petit Scholars is the largest one yet, with 22 students, and for the first time there as many females as males (11 each). And while the class represents just two schools this year, Georgia Tech and Emory University, it spans a wide range of disciplines (seven different academic majors are represented), and is supported by a record number of funding sources (ten, including a high of six scholarships supported by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta).

Other funding sources include the Petit Endowment, the Regenerative Engineering and Medicine (REM) research center (a collaboration of Emory, Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia), pharmaceutical firm UCB, the Beckman Coulter Foundation, medical device giant Medtronic, biotech company Cook Regentec, longtime Georgia Tech supporters Henry and Mary Pruitt and Karl Dasher.

The majors Half of this year’s scholars are BME majors. Other majors represented this year are biomedical engineering, biology, chemistry/biochemistry, chemical and biomolecular engineering, mechanical engineering, physics, and for the first time, industrial and systems engineering (ISYE).

“Applying industrial engineering principles and techniques to analyzing health systems is something that hasn’t really been done until recently,” says Sean Monahan, one of two Petit Scholars (Alex Moran is the other) majoring in ISYE. “Our technique and ability to analyze a health system can have implications at all levels.”

It shouldn’t be too surprising that industrial and systems engineering would be part of the Petit Scholar mix, considering the broad range of bio-related projects the students are immersed in. 

Working with graduate student mentors and Petit Institute faculty, the scholars participate in research in the areas of cancer biology, biomaterials, drug development, molecular evolution, stem cell engineering, systems biology, regenerative medicine, as well as molecular, cellular and tissue biomechanics.

This year, there also is focused interest in the areas of bioinformatics, immunoengineering, neuroengineering, and pediatrics (including robotics, data analytics, interoperability, process improvement, nanomedicine, sensor and device development).

So, for example, Monahan’s project will center on data analytics related to the utilization of pediatric healthcare, while Moran’s research will help determine the lifetime cost of pediatric depression. 

For his part, Barker is eager to see what this year’s group of Petit Scholars will be doing in 10 years.

“I expect great things from this class,” he says. “One day I’ll likely be calling them colleagues.” 



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


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