Bio's Best and Brightest visit Tech

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Michael Hunckler worked in biomechanics labs when he was an undergraduate at Notre Dame, but he’s shifting his focus toward cell mechanics, which is why he was among the 113 students visiting the Georgia Institute of Technology, where the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience and the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering hosted some of the nation’s top recruits.

“It’s hard to pass up an opportunity like this, the reputation of Georgia Tech speaks for itself,” says Hunckler, who is considering Tech’s Bioengineering (BioE) Ph.D. program. 

Hunckler was one of 40 students who are interested in pursuing a graduate degree in the interdisciplinary BioE program, checking out the Petit Institute and Georgia Tech during the recruitment event on March 11. 

Meanwhile, at the same time, the Coulter Department (a combined department of Georgia Tech and Emory University) hosted 73 students who are interested in pursuing a graduate degree in biomedical engineering (BME). Students like Cara Nunez from the University of Rhode Island.

“I like the interdisciplinary approach here, because I have a wide range of interests,” says Nunez, whose undergraduate majors at Rhode Island are bioengineering and Spanish. “I feel like Georgia Tech would give me an opportunity to explore different areas and tie it together in a project that is specific to me.”

It was a collection of young, big brains that you might expect at two of the nation’s most respected graduate programs. BioE’s interdisciplinary students come from eight different home schools at Georgia Tech, most of which are ranked in the top 10 by U.S. News & World Report, including the No. 2 ranked Coulter Department.

“How do you build a strong class of graduate students? Well, it starts with recruitment,” says Shannon Barker, director of graduate training for the Coulter Department, who is especially interested in attracting future leaders in their field, “those rare students who have outstanding technical and analytical potential, while at the same time, possess well-developed communication skills and professional attitudes.”

This was a record-setting affair for both the BioE and BME programs in terms of sheer size.

“It was the largest recruitment event BioE has ever had,” says Laura Paige, academic advisor for the BioE program. It was the same thing for BME – this was the largest number of recruits they’ve hosted.

In spite of the bigger crowd, Paige says BioE faculty still maintained the program’s individual touch when it comes to recruitment. 

“One student commented that they did not expect one-on-one interviews with faculty, that she was one of 10 in a group with the faculty at other schools she visited,” says Paige, who organized the BioE event with five of the program’s eight home schools: (mechanical engineering, electrical and computer engineering, chemical and biomolecular engineering, materials science and engineering, and BME).

In addition to meeting one-on-one with faculty, the BioE recruits had a chance to grill a panel of current BioE grad students, who answered questions on everything from the academic load, to housing and quality of life issues. The BME recruits received the same kind of student-to-student inside skinny, which is critical, says Shannon O. Sullivan, because for many students, particularly those on a Ph.D. track, this is a five or six-year commitment.

“We show them labs and we introduce them to professors and tell them they can get a great education here, like they can at many of the schools they applied to. But we also ask them if they can imagine coming here and building a life,” says Sullivan, the Coulter Department’s graduate program manager, who organized a three-day BME event – the largest ever for BME – that included visits to both Emory and Georgia Tech (and a fancy dinner at the Fox Theater, as well as visits to different Atlanta hotspots with current BME grad students).

“We’ve orchestrated this event to emphasize both the intellectual side as well as the interpersonal side of Georgia Tech and Atlanta,” Sullivan says. “This is about creating a community.”

And it took a community of 50 student volunteers to pull it off, led by Aline Yonezawa, a second-year BME grad student in the lab of Michael Davis. Yonezawa remembers when she was being courted by the Coulter Department, and used that as inspiration.

“My recruitment experience was a deciding factor for my graduate school decision,” she says. “I remember being impressed by all the faculty. But what really stood out to me was how friendly and collaborative everyone seemed to be.”

In that spirit, the two programs – BioE and BME – collaborated for the week’s climactic event on Friday, a research poster session that brought all 113 students and a large number of faculty together in the Petit Institute atrium.

“Coordinating the events was a wonderful change this year,” Barker says. “These two programs are so important and complement each other well.”

Jerry Grillo

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



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