Students inspired by Seattle conference and straight scoop from alums at winter celebration
Years from now, maybe when he’s a surgeon repairing damaged shoulders and knees, Qwantayvious Stiggers can look back on his Project ENGAGES experience as a key that opened the door to opportunities he hardly knew existed.
ENGAGES stands for Engaging New Generations at Georgia Tech through Engineering and Science. Accordingly, the program raises awareness of engineering, science and technology at the Georgia Institute of Technology for students in economically challenged, minority-serving public schools.
Headquartered at the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience, ENGAGES gives high school students a chance to work in labs led by some of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s world-class researchers. Stiggers, a senior at B.E.S.T. Academy High School, spends many of his after-school hours in the lab of Krishnendu Roy. It is both a job and a rare education opportunity, and the experience has been invaluable, Stiggers said. But it was a trip far afield that clinched the idea for him that he has a role to play in the world of healthcare.
During fall semester, he was part of a group of seven ENGAGES students who attended the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (AMRCMS) in Seattle.
“What an eye-opener,” Stiggers said. “The conference exposed me to a world of diversity I didn’t really know about. It was great to see and meet so many other African-American people – people who look like me – pursuing the things that I want to pursue, doing the things that I want to do. It was encouraging.”
That was kind of the point of the trip, admitted Manu Platt, professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, who co-founded and co-chairs Project ENGAGES with the Petit Institute’s founding director, Bob Nerem.
“I wanted them to go because I remember the first time I attended this conference,” said Platt, a Petit Institute faculty researcher. “It’s amazing when you walk in and there are all of these dark-skinned, brilliant kids, dressed to the nines, professional looking. I wanted our students to see this large group of young scientists that look like them, so they could interact and network.”
That Seattle trip was a highlight for Stiggers in particular (it helped reinforce his dreams of becoming a physician with a yen toward research), and the ENGAGES program in general last semester, capped in December with the annual winter celebration at the Petit Institute. The atrium hummed with the chatter of students, their mentors, faculty, family and representatives from the participating high schools (Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy, KIPP Atlanta Collegiate and Mays High School in addition to B.E.S.T., all of them in the Atlanta Public School system).
They gathered around and among a maze of student research posters. Then everyone packed themselves into the Suddath Room for an enlightening panel discussion among former ENGAGES students who are now in college: Amadou Bah (Stanford), Katrina Burch (Georgia Tech), Jovanay Carter (Dartmouth), and Imani Moon (North Carolina A&T).
The current group of ENGAGES students wanted to know what to expect from the college experience. The panel didn’t sugarcoat its answers.
“I study all of the time. I haven’t been out since homecoming,” Burch said. “I usually go to sleep around 4 a.m., wake up around 9 on a good day, sometimes 8. So yeah, I’m always studying.”
Bah, who went from his Atlanta roots all the way across the country to attend Stanford, is one of Stiggers’ closest friends, “and he didn’t hold anything back,” said Stiggers, who has been accepted at Georgia Tech, but also is considering the University of Michigan and Stanford. “Amadou said the course work was extremely difficult, but you can’t give in to doubt – you’ve got to push through. College is a whole different ballgame, he said. It changes you.”
The same might be said of travel. It changes you. That was certainly the case for five of the seven students who went on the Seattle trip. “It was the first time they stepped foot on a plane,” Platt said.
Once in Seattle, the ensemble mingled with college students and scientists, met Nobel Laureates, heard keynote speeches from some of the most influential researchers and healthcare leaders in the country and saw or heard a mountain of research.
Most of the 4,000 attendees were college students, but Stiggers, who will graduate high school this year, felt like he was exactly where he belonged.
“It was inspiring. They kept drawing me in,” he said. “It felt like I was already in college.”