Countdown to BioIgnite Camp

Bioengineering grad students form non-profit geared toward STEM education


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

Sidebar Content
No sidebar content submitted.

Summary Sentence:

Bioengineering grad students form non-profit geared toward STEM education

Full Summary:

Bioengineering grad students form non-profit geared toward STEM education

  • BioIgnite BioIgnite

Last summer a team of bioengineering graduate students from the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience set out to help young students understand how stem cells work. 

Fueled by a National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps for Learning (I-Corps L) grant, these Georgia Institute of Technology students demonstrated their low-tech, innovative education tool – an interactive Plinko game designed to explain how researchers control stem cell differentiation – to educators from across the country.

“Everyone thought it was cool,” says team member Tom Bongiorno, who is closing in on his Ph.D. in bioengineering. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t as widely applicable as we’d hoped or thought it might be.”

At the end of the seven-week grant period, the Georgia Tech students’ ‘Stem Cell Plinko’ essentially got a thumb’s down vote for viability. Instead of being crushed by the rejection, the team worked on a more effective way to teach young students about BioSTEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) research.

“It was a tough pill to swallow at first, hearing that people don’t want something you’ve worked on,” says Bongiorno, one of the game’s developers. “But as a team, we took it well. We still saw the need to teach younger students about bioengineering and related areas. So, we pivoted. We repositioned.”

The team – students Bongiorno, Jessica Butts, Emily Jackson, Lauren Priddy, and CEO Katy Lassahn, and their advisor, Steve Renda – had discovered there was a lack of opportunities for students to learn about BioSTEM research in the classroom. So they formed a 501c3 and called it BioIgnite as a way to reach students outside the classroom at an early age.

BioIgnite will launch its campaign to increase interest in bioengineering and biomedical engineering with a series of camps this summer, all of them geared toward middle school aged students.

“That was the age that a lot of us got interested in bioengineering, but most of us really had no idea of what it was until college or grad school,” Bongiorno says.

Hands-on experience is at the heart of the three one-week camps this summer. Students will be exposed to four main topics – genetic engineering, neuroengineering, biomedical imaging, and regenerative medicine. Additionally, there is a daily design lab, in which students can learn about biomedical device design and make their own prototypes.

BioIgnite is partnering with Georgia Tech’s Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC, pronounced like "seismic") for two camps on the Tech campus (June 27-July 1 and July 25-29). Another BioIgnite Camp will be held at Fulton Science Academy (July 18-22). 

Campers (rising sixth through eighth graders) will learn BioSTEM skills from expert instructors – Georgia Tech grad students with research experience in some of the world’s leading-edge bioengineering labs.

What began as a group of young engineers working on a visible product has turned into something else.

“We started out with a product and it’s evolved into a service,” Bongiorno says. “When you think of engineering in the lab, you think of making tangible things, which is what we’re used to. But when we sat down and thought about our motivation to make the product in the first place, it was all about education, and with that, you’re driven to provide a service in the end.”

The two camps at Georgia Tech are already full, but more information about the Fulton Science Academy camp may be found here.



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

Additional Information


Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience (IBB)

Related Core Research Areas
Bioengineering and Bioscience
Newsroom Topics
No newsroom topics were selected.
grad students
  • Created By: Jerry Grillo
  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created On: May 23, 2016 - 7:36am
  • Last Updated: Oct 7, 2016 - 11:21pm