Project ENGAGES Celebrates

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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 


  • Workflow Status:Published
  • Created By:Jerry Grillo
  • Created:05/31/2016
  • Modified By:Fletcher Moore
  • Modified:10/07/2016


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