Six graduate students and one faculty advisor were honored at this year’s third annual BME Graduate Awards event hosted by the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory. Ross Ethier, interim chair of the Coulter Department, emceed the event and presented awards to all of the honorees.
The Outstanding Fundamental/Basic Research Award went to Elizabeth Amadei. This award honors a graduate student who has performed exceptional fundamental research, leading to high impact publications in non-translational-focused journals and presentations at national/international conferences. Amadei’s research involves studying brain circuitry responsible for long-term monogamous relationships and partner preference in mammals.
“Liz Ann is one of the best Ph.D. students that I have ever had a chance to work with over the past 20 years at Emory,” said Larry Young, director for Emory’s Center for Translational Social Science and her co-advisor. Rob Butera, associate dean for Research and Innovation at Georgia Tech’s College of Engineering added, “Her dissertation is the ‘kind you see in the movies,’ which she saw through from ‘just an idea’ to a completed and novel scientific result.”
The Outstanding Teaching/Mentorship Award went to Simone Douglas. This award honors a graduate student who has demonstrated excellence in teaching or mentorship in the classroom, the lab, or elsewhere in the community.
Douglas served as a mentor for undergraduate research through Emergent Behaviors of Integrated Cellular Systems (EBICS), and currently serves as a mentor for an African-American female high school student with Project ENGAGES. She is also the new lead for the STARS after school program, in which she teaches area middle and high schoolers about science and engineering.
“I have had the pleasure of working with a number of graduate teaching assistants of exceptional intellectual and teaching ability, but Simone stands out among the best of them,” said Marty Jacobson, design instructor and prototype lab manager in the Coulter Department.
“While Simone is only in her second year of graduate school, she is an excellent example of a teacher, mentor, and scholar,” said Manu Platt, associate professor of biomedical engineering.
The Outstanding Community Service Award went to Diego Dumani. This award honors a graduate student who has provided significant education, outreach, or community service to the larger community. Dumani is active in programs and outreach initiatives provided by the Center for Engineering Education and Diversity (CEED) in Georgia Tech’s College of Engineering and has also served with the Center for Chemical Evolution in their outreach events at area museums and schools.
Tia Jackson-Pruitt, director of CEED, said “Diego is a graduate student mentor who goes above and beyond to provide support, resources, and encouragement to all graduate students.”
The Outstanding Translational Research Award went to Eric Pierce. This award honors a graduate student who has demonstrated excellence in translational research (e.g., publications in translation-focused journals, patents, clinical testing, achieving FDA clearance).
Pierce’s research involves improving outcomes following surgical repair for heart valve disease. He works with engineers, surgeons, and operating room technicians to better understand the high failure rates of a “popular” valve repair technique and has developed novel testing tools and prototypes.
“Eric’s work is garnering an enthusiastic response from the medical community. In 2016 alone, his work elicited three published commentaries from leading surgeons in our field,” said Joseph Gorman, III, professor of surgery at the University of Pennsylvania.
The Outstanding Entrepreneurship Award went to Reginald Tran. This award honors a graduate student who has demonstrated an entrepreneurial spirit, turning their innovative ideas into reality, demonstrated through definable metrics (e.g., winning business plan competitions, securing funding for start-up activities, starting a company based on their research).
His research involves bringing engineered viruses and cells “together” using microfluidic devices, and he has developed and is patenting a viral transduction device. In addition to submitting a NIH Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant and advancing through the stages of the Coulter Translational Partnership Award, he has the interest of several large companies, and recently formed a startup company to refine the technology.
The Outstanding Departmental Service Award went to Aline Yonezawa. This award honors a graduate student who has demonstrated leadership or has provided academic support within the Department.
In addition to being the head graduate student recruitment leader for the annual BME recruitment visit, Yonezawa serves on the BME graduate committee and is active in the Diversity and Inclusion climate study.
“Aline does just about everything imaginable for the department,” said Mike Davis, her advisor, and also the BME associate chair for graduate studies. “She never hesitates to throw her hat in when help is needed.”
Shannon Sullivan, BME’s academic program manager, added, “she has helped voice the opinion and experiences of her classmates to better understand the climate we have in our department.”
The Outstanding Advisor Award, selected by the Graduate Student Advisory Board, went to Craig Forest, director of the Precisions Biosystems Laboratory (PBL) at Georgia Tech, where he has created a collaborative and productive research and training environment.
According to Ilya Kolb, a graduate student in Forest’s lab, “with so many hats to wear, [Dr. Forest] always makes time to meet with graduate students to discuss project progress, give valuable career advice, or offer his valuable insights. All students in the lab feel like they are players on a team, not competitors. [Dr. Forest] works tirelessly to ensure that the students are afforded every opportunity to excel and grow. [He] is an effective manager, respected role model, and the epitome of an ‘Outstanding BME Advisor.’”