BME Honors Top Undergrads

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The future of our nation is in good hands. That was the message Ravi Bellamkonda wanted to drive home in his opening remarks at the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME) Leadership Reception last Friday (May 6). 


In fact, that is exactly what he told his audience, the BME senior students, and their families and friends, who had gathered in a banquet room of the Wardlaw Building.


“In many ways, our undergraduate program is the life of the department. This is what we’re most proud of,” said Bellamkonda, chair of the Coulter Department, who is moving on this summer to become dean of Duke University's engineering school. 


“I’ve been teaching more than 20 years," Bellamkonda said, "and what’s special about you guys is, you’re more socially aware than students were, more committed and driven to do things with meaning.”


This was the third annual school year-end event, designed to highlight and honor the accomplishments of BME undergraduates. As in previous years, there was another take-home message – basically, that it takes a community to raise a successful undergrad.


According to Joe Le Doux, BME associate professor and associate chair for undergraduate learning and student experience, “Behind each award winner and finalist are staff, faculty, parents, and other loved ones who have provided support and guidance to help these students succeed. 


Those sentiments were echoed by a collection of speakers that included Barbara Fasse (director of learning sciences innovation and research), and the masters of ceremony, Essy Behravesh (director of undergraduate studies) and James Rains (director of Capstone).


“I had a very tough time when I was a freshman here at Georgia Tech,” Rains said. “I called up my parents and told them I was quitting. So my dad said, ‘that’s OK … it’s OK to quit. But let me ask you for one thing – just try your best to finish the semester.’ I did. I finished the semester, and that gave me the time to find out what really made me excited.”


So Rains urged the gathered students to do the same going forward: “You’ve persevered. You’ve made it to graduation. Find out what your next goal is. Some of may not know yet, and that’s OK. But find what it is you’re passionate about, and then pursue it. You already know how to succeed.”


Their success as undergrads was rewarded with custom glass trophies for the winners, and lots of applause for the finalists.


First to be recognized were students who had won or contended for national, institute and College of Engineering (COE) awards: Karisma Gupta and Varun Yarabarla won Fulbright Fellowships (turns out that two of Georgia Tech’s five Fulbright honorees are BME students). 


Additionally, Anirudh Joshi was a candidate for the Henry Ford II Scholar Award. The Helen Grenga Outstanding Women Engineer Award had five candidates from BME: Gupta, Kavida Chinov, Emma Mihevc, Priya Mohindra, and Palavi Vaidya. Gupta also was a candidate for the Tau Beta Pi Award (COE’s highest honor for graduating seniors). And Stephen Pfohl was a candidate for the Love Family Foundation Scholarship (Georgia Tech’s highest honor for a graduating senior).


Then, Behravesh and Rains took turns calling out the BME Leadership Award winners.


The Outstanding Academic Achievement Award went to Pfohl. Finalists were Rehman Ali, Suhaas Anbashakan, Sage Duddleston, Karisma Gupta, Renaid Kim, Gautam Rangavajla.


Pfohl, a member of Cassie Mitchell’s Lab for Pathology Dyanmics for nearly four years, had a 4.0 GPA and was the first author of two high-impact reviewed journal articles and two conference proceedings. He also created a life-saving cardiac arrhythmia algorithm, to improve diagnostic detection. He plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Biomedical Informatics at Stanford starting this fall. 


“He has a special kind of creativity that transcends scientific inquiry,” said Mitchell, who added, “Stephen’s advice and leadership has enabled 40-plus undergraduates to move their individual or team projects to a publishable stage.”


Sage Duddleston won the Outstanding Academic Service Award. Finalists were Rehman Ali, Suhaas Anbazhakan, Priya Mohindra, Palavi Vaidya, Jennifer Wang, and Gina Yu


In addition to achieving a 4.0 GPA, Duddleston served as president of Tau Beta Pi, mentored BME freshmen, interned at Advanced Machine Technologies, did research in the Precision Biosystems Lab, and according to Rains, “spent so much time in the machine shop and had strong knowledge of all the equipment that we decided to hire him. He now assists student teams, researchers, and startups on manufacturing their prototypes.”


Before starting medical school next year, Duddleston is going to work in the medical device field.


“Sage just blew me away with his understanding of the material,” says BME Professor Ross Ethier. “He is one of the smartest undergrads I have met at Tech. I know that he also spends a good amount of time helping out other BME students. I feel that Sage is probably at the top of the class in sheer intellectual horsepower.” 



The winner of the Outstanding Community Service Award was Bharat Sanders, the sole finalist for this honor, and for good reasons: He served as vice chair of the BME Learning Commons, vice chair of the BME Student Advisory Board, and was founder and president of SAI (Spirituality, Awareness, Interfaith) Young Adults at Georgia Tech, and a member of Tau Beta Pi, among other things.


“Bharat was the driving force in making the mentorship program become a reality,” said Le Doux. “He spent countless hours over the summer helping to design the program, create a handbook for the mentors, and helping match all 400 students to a mentor.”


Sanders plans to conduct research in the Buckley Neuroimaging Lab at Emory before applying to medical school in 2017. Long term, he’d like to pursue a specialty in pediatrics.


Rachel Ford won the Outstanding Entrepreneurship Award. The other finalist was Palavi Vaidya. 


Ford already is a busy entrepreneur, having co-founded a couple of start-ups as an undergrad. She’s co-founder and chief operating officer for FIXD Automotive Inc., and founder and CEO of Sucette Baby Products – projects that grew out of her sophomore design experience.


Selected as one of the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 30-under-30 business leaders and recipient of the Alvin M. Ferst Leadership and Entrepreneurship Award at Georgia Tech, Ford has even become an instructor at Venture Lab (Tech’s business incubator).


“Rachel has a willingness to learn that makes her such a flexible leader,” said Atlanta entrepreneur and Venture Lab principle, Paul Freet. “[She] has a strong sense of purpose now that she has found her passion in entrepreneurship, and has proven her competence through the creation of her startups and her excitement in sharing this knowledge with other students.”


Ford will be a program manager for the startup accelerator Techstars ATL, but eventually wants to transition into a venture capital fund, or start another company. 


The winner of the Outstanding Industrial Work Experience Award was Erin Greenhaw. Katherine Neuberger was a finalist.


Greenhaw worked at Ultralight Enterprises to design a phototherapy device for psoriasis treatment, and provided mentorship for younger students for the Georgia Tech-based Atlantic Pediatric Device Consortium.


She’s an active member of the Biomedical Engineering society and the Student Government Association. Following graduation, Greenhaw plans to work for St. Jude Medical in Fort Lauderdale as a field engineer. She will be training to become an electrophysiologist technical service specialist, which means she’ll be programming heart devices for surgeons who implant them.


The Jain family sponsors two of BME’s most prestigious awards: Outstanding Research and Outstanding Senior.


The winner of the Mr. S. K. Jain Outstanding Research Award, who will also receive a scholarship, was Renaid Kim. Finalists were Celene Abraham, Suhaas Anbazhakan, Kaci Crawford, Joy Kim, Clay Mangiameli, Ajay Naran, Tatiana Netterfield, and Sraeyes Sridhar.


Kim has an impressive list of accomplishments: He has performed research at three different institutions: Penn State, Vanderbilt, and Georgia Tech (where he’s worked in four different labs); his work has resulted in three conference posters and four journal publications.


Also, he’s already received numerous other awards in his college career, including the President's Undergraduate Research Award (twice). He plans to attend the University of Michigan Medical School this fall with hopes of becoming a physician-scientist.


His advisor, Cassie Mitchell, called Kim, “the most productive and enthusiastic undergraduate research student I have advised to date.”


The winner of the G.D. Jain Outstanding Senior Award (which also includes a scholarship) was Karisma Gupta. Finalists were Rehman Ali, William McAllister, Emma Mihevc, Thomas Ng, Gautam Rangavajla and Varun Yarabarla.


A former Petit Institute Undergraduate Scholar, Gupta had a 4.0 GPA, chaired the BME Student Advisory Board (transforming the board into an efficient machine to assist the BME academic office), and was one of 30 Georgia Tech students to receive a Provost Scholarship. And of course, there’s the Fulbright Scholarship.


As a Petit Scholar, she performed research sponsored by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, to enhance repair of cardiac tissue in pediatric cardiomyopathy patients. She also designed a point-of-care HIV viral load diagnostic device for the CDC (who is in the process of patenting the device).


In short, she’s a “super hero,” according to a Petit Institute researcher who received the BME’s Excellence in Teaching Award – given by the Student Advisory Board, and presented by Gupta, who plans to serve as a teaching assistant for Le Doux this summer in Ireland, before starting her nine-month Fulbright term in Mumbai, India, studying and installing a device that prevents the transmission of tuberculosis from patient to patient in high-burden settings. After that, it’s medical school.


In summing up Gupta’s accomplishments, Le Doux might as well have been speaking about everyone in the room last Friday at Wardlaw: “Most impressive,” he wrote in his letter of support.



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


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