Coulter Department honors top scholars with BME Graduate Student Awards
May 2, 2016 | Atlanta, GA
The Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME) took time out to honor one of its most vital resources last week with the second annual BME Graduate Student Awards.
Six grad students and a faculty member were recognized in front of their peers and fellow nominees at the event (Friday, April 29) in the atrium of the Molecular Science and Engineering Building, hosted once again by Shannon Barker (BME’s director of graduate training) and Garrett Stanley (BME professor, associate chair for graduate studies, and a researcher in the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience).
The Outstanding Teaching and Mentorship Award went to Eric Snider, a fourth-year student from Chattanooga, Tennessee, who works in the lab of BME Professor Ross Ethier. In addition to his work as a graduate teaching assistant (GTA), Snider was a mentor in Project ENGAGES, working with Atlanta-area high school students.
“Eric has a true knack for explaining complex material and for interacting with students in a positive and enthusiastic way,” says Ethier, a Petit Institute researcher. “Eric was one of the most effective TAs I have ever had in my 30 years of teaching at multiple institutions.”
The other nominees for Outstanding Teaching and Mentorship were Cheryl Lau, Travis Meyer, John Nicosia, Yogi Patel, and Marissa Ruehle (Meyer and Patel won awards in other categories).
Eric Alonas, who received his Ph.D. in December, won the Outstanding Fundamental Research Award, which recognizes exceptional fundamental or basic research, leading to high impact publications and presentations at national or international conferences. The other nominees were Robert Mannino and Douglas White.
Alonas, from Scottsdale, Arizona, was selected because of his scientifically rigorous approach to research and a prolific publishing record (10 peer-review research articles to his credit already). During his studies at Georgia Tech, he was awarded the Whitaker International Fellowship (2010) and the Chinese Government Scholarship (2012). Eric received his PhD in December of 2015.
“I feel that his combination of talent, intelligence, and motivation were instrumental to the success of his graduate studies and the research endeavors of many colleagues at Georgia Tech and Emory,” says Elizabeth Wright, assistant professor in Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Emory, where she also directs the Integrated Electron Microscopy Core. “I think that the research Eric pioneered will have a long-lasting impact on the field of RSV biology, RNA biology, and imaging probe design.”
BME Associate Professor and Petit Institute researcher Phil Santangelo, who was Alano’s advisor, noted the student’s contributions beyond his own thesis: “He has always been willing to assist other labs with their imaging experiments and answer their questions to the best of his knowledge.”
Fourth-year grad student Guolan Lu won the Outstanding Translational Research Award, which recognizes success in translational research, leading to publications in translation-focused journals, patents, and clinical testing, among other things. The other nominees were Meredith Fay and Jack Tung.
Lu, from Suizhou, China, has published five peer-review research articles while at Georgia Tech and has also given multiple presentations at conferences, workshops, and other proceedings. She published a comprehensive review paper in the field of medical hyperspectral imaging, which has received national and international attention, being cited more than 100 times in only two years.
“Her noninvasive imaging technology holds great potential to improve the survival and quality of life of cancer patients,” says Lu’s advisor, Baowei Fei, BME associate professor and director of the Quantitative BioImaging Laboratory (QBIL) at Emory.
Lu was new to biomedical engineering, says thesis committee member and BME Associate Professor John Oshinski, but is “now capable of designing and conducting animal and human tissue imaging experiments, as well as developing machine learning algorithms to analyze different types of dataset such as hyperspectral and histological images.”
Yogi Patel won the award for Outstanding Entrepreneurship, which honors a student who has turned innovative ideas into commercial reality. Patel, who wasn’t present to receive the award, was the only nominee in this category.
Patel, a fifth-year grad student, has had an impressive entrepreneurial record during his time at Tech. He won the 2014 Young Investigator Award at the IEEE BRAIN Grand Challenges Conference, the same year he joined the TI:GER (Technical Innovation: Generating Economic Results) Program and his team, Bioletics, went on to win the 2015 Georgia Tech Venture Lab Startup Competition, as well as the Edison Prize. He’s also published four highly translational journal articles, obtained three patents, and presented at seven conferences.
“Yogi is stubbornly independent in both his thinking and his actions,” notes his advisor, Petit Institute researcher Rob Butera, a BME professor and co-director of the Neural Engineering Center. “I mean this as a compliment – he is quite accepting of critical feedback, but is always trying to chart his own course and keep his thinking independent. To that end, Yogi is the most entrepreneurial student I have ever mentored.”
And according to Patel’s TI:GER teammate, Emory law student Sarika Mathur, Patel is driven by something more than commercial success.
“It is clear to anyone that works with Yogi that his goal is not to create a startup and retire rich,” Mathur says. “Rather, it is to continually develop technologies that will change the world, and in his words ‘get them out the door.’”
Travis Meyer won the Outstanding Departmental Service Award, which honors a grad student who demonstrates leadership or has provided academic support within the BME department. Joan Fernandez, Robert Mannino, Claire Segar and Aline Yonezawa were the other nominees.
Meyer – a fourth-year grad student from Houston, Texas – co-chaired the Graduate Student Advisory Board from 2013-2015, helping revitalize the organization. He chairs the Social and Public Policy committees for BBUGS (Bioengineering and Biosciences United Graduate Students); chaired graduate pre-fair events for the 2014 Biotechnology Career Fair; and was vice chair for Biomaterials Day in 2014.
“He definitely showed a tremendous ability to lead the group and to lead with purpose,” says Sally Gerrish, who organizes the career fair as BME’s director of student, alumni and industrial relations.
The gregarious Meyer also made an impression on BME’s Graduate Academic Advisor Shannon Sullivan, who says, “Most of the time I hear Travis coming before I see him. He’s friendly, engaging, and usually booming with ideas and energy. Travis is the go-to guy for getting things done. He happily takes on tasks personally and recruits others to pitch in.”
Meyer currently represents BME at the College of Engineering Graduate Student Advisory Council. But all of this service has not taken away from his research. In addition to being a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, he was a young scientist participant at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting last year.
The award for Outstanding Community Service went to Tapomayukh Bhattacharjee. Kyle Blum was the only other nominee for this award, which honors a grad student who provides significant education, outreach, or other service to the larger community.
Bhattacharjee has chaired the Gamma Beta Phi (GBP) Honor Society and Service Organization since 2014. In that time, he’s organized a record number of service hours for GBP both on and off campus. As a result, GBP has received both the Danielle McDonald Legacy Award and the Five-Start Organization Award (the highest honor of excellence awarded to any on-campus student organization). He’s also served as president of Asha for Education, a totally volunteer-run non-profit organization for the education of underprivileged children and women in India.
It’s the kind of service Bhattacharjee has become known for. According to former president of GBP, Hoang Luu, he “has never shied away from any opportunity that he has had to serve the community. I believe his dedication will inspire future student leaders.”
The final award of the day, for Outstanding Faculty Advisor (selected by the Graduate Student Advisory Board) went to Manu Platt, who was not present. Like most of the students who were honored, Platt’s influence is felt in the lab and beyond.
Platt’s lab fuses engineering, cell biology, and physiology to understand how cells sense, respond, and remodel their immediate mechanical and biochemical environments for repair and regeneration in health and disease. Platt and his colleagues then translate that knowledge to clinics domestically and internationally to address global health disparities.
Additionally, Platt is BME’s director of diversity, and co-chair/co-founder of Project ENGAGES, the high school education and lab work program based in the Petit Institute.
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