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Coulter BME On Top

Both the graduate and undergraduate programs in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering were nationally ranked no. 1 in 2023. It was a first-time top ranking for the grad program. Dedicated faculty and innovative curriculum earned the department its lofty spot and will be what keeps it there in the future.

Posted December 20, 2023

 

The Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University was named the best graduate program in the nation by U.S. News and World Report for the first time in the department's history. 

 

 

For Prof. Michael Davis, associate chair for graduate studies, a no. 1 ranking for the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University comes as no surprise.

 

Placing a priority on research and a push to expand integrative core courses and advanced seminars that merge studies in medicine and engineering, graduate biomedical students are beginning their programs with a cross-discipline approach that prepares them for a growing and competitive biotech industry.

 

“I think it's a long time coming based on all the changes we've made and our commitment to graduate education,” he said, “It's not just about being the biggest program—we provide our students unique opportunities in terms of flexible curriculum geared toward their research focus areas.”

 

While the undergraduate program has routinely been placed among the best in the country, the top national ranking is the first for the graduate program in the department’s history. U.S. News and World Report reviewed several factors including research activity, number of doctoral degrees awarded, and student acceptance rate. 

 

Graduate programs in the Coulter Department are comprised of various pathways and research specialties tailored to a students’ academic goals.

 

Three master’s degrees encompass biomedical engineering, innovation and development, and robotics. Those interested in doctoral studies can enroll in the joint biomedical engineering Ph.D. programs between Emory University and Georgia Tech, or through a partnership trio between Emory, Georgia Tech, and Peking University in China for a global health perspective. 

 

The department also engages in several interdisciplinary doctorate programs that give students an opportunity to specialize in areas such as bioengineering, bioinformatics, computational science, machine learning and robotics.

 

“What we want is our students to tackle medical problems using quantitative and engineering solutions,” Davis said. “We want students that come to our program who are diverse and have life experience. Whether you're from Texas or South America, we want you here to contribute to the next generation of solutions to medical problems.”

 

Joshua Lewis ‘20, worked in the lab of Melissa Kemp, Ph.D., the Carol Ann and David D. Flanagan Professor, to further his research on treating brain disorders through neuromodulation. Lewis and Kemp published their study in Nature Communications. Photo by Joshua Stewart.

 

 

From Labs to the Bedside, Graduate Students Find Opportunity At Every Corner

 

Since the first Ph.D. students enrolled in 2000, the Coulter Department has forged an intentional path to train future leaders in biomedical engineering, advancing research and scholarship in the field both nationally and abroad.

 

“We're not just a biomedical program or engineering program,” Davis explained. “[We’re] biomedical engineering—students need to learn to speak both languages.”

 

Master’s programs are designed for various career pathways and students have a choice between non-thesis or thesis options to either build their credentials or seek out laboratory opportunities to gain the research experience needed to move into a Ph.D. program.

 

For those interested in the business and commercialization side of the biomedical industry, the Coulter Department offers a master’s in biomedical innovation and design (MBID). Davis said program participants take classes wholly different from other master’s students.

 

“So, a regular master student could take anything from our graduate curriculum, but the MBID program is a very set curriculum that involves product development, prototyping, and marketing. And it's taught by people who can put a business spin on [the curriculum],” Davis said.

 

At Emory University’s School of Medicine, the Coulter Department offers a second MBID program that focuses on advanced therapeutics for those desiring to explore the clinical side. Students are immersed in a multi-disciplinary curriculum centered around cell therapy, gene therapy, tissue engineering, and regenerative medicine.

 

“There are fundamentals, but we want our students to learn about how you might design a drug based on a target model, how you move it through testing then to licensing,” Davis said. “So once again, it's not just a traditional masters, it's something that's directly focused to get students ready for what's to come in the real world.”

 

The other specialized master’s program in robotics is a collaborative effort between the Coulter Department and five other disciplines at Georgia Tech—mechanical engineering, electrical & computer engineering, aerospace engineering, interactive computing, and physics—offering students wide-ranging coursework to train them for careers in the design and development of robotics and automated solutions.

 

Critical to the success of students in the Ph.D. program is collaboration and innovation, Davis said. With nine research areas ranging from neuroengineering to cancer technology, students are not limited in what they can pursue.

 

“We have specialties in everything. If you want to do it, you can find it here,” Davis said. “We want students who are willing to take risks and willing to push the envelope in order to succeed.”

 

From the start, students in the Coulter Department’s graduate programs are supported by faculty who are leaders in their specialties and can mentor students throughout their academic career. Add to that, the Coulter Department has forged dynamic relationships with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and Emory Healthcare.

 

“We’re unique here in Atlanta where we have a top engineering school, top medical school and a top children's hospital all within a few miles of each other,” Davis said. “In fact, that's one thing we're trying to institute at the graduate level is clinical immersion—we want students to get out and be able to talk the talk of clinicians.”

 

He added, “They’ll be going to drug and medical device companies, and they’ll have to interact with patients and doctors. If you can't speak the language of the doctors, how can you solve the problems they're trying to fix?”

 

Davis said the department’s rich alumni network has also yielded numerous internship and professional development opportunities placing students in front of major employers in the biotech space both in Atlanta and around the country.

 

“It's this sort of great network where we send our students out to the best companies and they understand the value of what our students can bring,” Davis said.


Employing a strategy of building a diverse talent pool for the biomedical engineering field – whether that is in industry or academia – has paid off for graduate students in recent years.

 

Mohammad Sendi, ’22, won a grant in 2021 from Bio-Medical Instruments and the Foundation for Neurofeedback and Neuromodulation Research while earning his doctorate from the Coulter Department. He used the grant to better study the effects of brain stimulation for PTSD patients using EEG scans. He currently works as a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard Medical School.

 

In the same year, Joshua Lewis ‘20, worked in the lab of Melissa Kemp, Ph.D., the Carol Ann and David D. Flanagan Professor, to further his research on treating brain disorders through neuromodulation. Through a partnership with Wake Forest University and Kemp’s support, Lewis was able to publish the study in Nature Communications.

 

Cydney Wong, a Ph.D. candidate, and current graduate assistant in the Coulter BME department, was named one of 21 Science ATL Communications Fellows in 2021, broadening her knowledge of science communication to bring greater public awareness to glaucoma research.

 

Eight students earned fellowships from the National Science Foundation in 2022 to conduct cell research for cancer immunotherapy, immune-related diseases, and stem cell therapies.

 

And In the spring of 2023, 6th year graduate student Nettie Brown was one of six individuals to receive the GT NEXT award from the Georgia Tech Office of Technology Licensing. Mentored by Prof. Johnna Temenoff, Brown will use the $5K award to boost her dissertation research around the utilization of biocompatible materials and the delivery of cartilage materials to promote facial cartilage regeneration, especially for ear and nose reconstruction applications. 

 

Other graduate alumni have gone on to join venture capitalist firms for biotech startups and returned to the Coulter Department to serve as full-time faculty.

 

“I would say our student is brave,” Davis said. “We want students who are willing to take risks and push the envelope in order to succeed, and I think we get that for the most part.”

 

Partnerships with Emory Healthcare, Children's Healthcare, and the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control are key to creating beneficial experiences for graduate students. Photo provided by Emory University.

 

A Promising Future for Graduate Education in Coulter BME

 

Over the last decade, the Coulter Department has made significant strides in building a robust graduate program centered on research, innovation, and technology.

 

In 2009, a partnership between Georgia Tech, Emory, and Peking University launched the global health focused biomedical engineering Ph.D. program. A few years later in 2013, the master of biomedical innovation and development (MBID) program was formed to move the department further into the commercialization space.

 

The department recently launched its combined bachelors/masters biomedical engineering program, offering undergraduate students an opportunity to advance their studies and earn two degrees in about five years.

 

And predoctoral students in biomedical engineering and bioengineering now have an opportunity to train for careers in the cardiovascular field. The Coulter Department opened registration in Spring 2023 for its Cardiovascular Biomechanics Graduate Training Program at Emory University and Georgia Tech, where students will do lab rotations to study a range of disciplines including cardiovascular biomechanics, medical imaging, therapeutics discovery and delivery, and data science.

 

Earning the top ranking in the nation for graduate education doesn’t mean the work stops. 

 

“I think we don't want to rest on our laurels,” Davis said. “We never have been one to do so, but we've constantly tried to innovate.”

 

Expanding graduate program offerings and innovative curriculum tracks can only be made possible by bringing on the right faculty, Davis said. Faculty recruiting for the graduate level has shifted recently to finding individuals who have non-traditional engineering backgrounds.

 

Take Assistant Professor Kelly Cross for example. Cross came to Georgia Tech with a bachelor’s from Purdue University in chemical engineering and a doctorate in engineering education from Virginia Tech. Her passion for broadening opportunities for students who are of color or LGBTQ+ is pushing the Coulter Department to the forefront of engineering education.

 

“The emphasis on engineering education definitely makes our program stand out from the crowd, based on implementing research-based practices to shape our educational mission and novel assessment practices that include the importance of equity in all our BME research including, how we educate future bioengineer,” Cross said.

 

Rachel Pitts Hall, Director of Faculty and Student Training, is transforming the career advancement side of the department’s graduate programs, integrating professional development into courses for second-year students based on feedback heard from current students, alumni, and faculty.

 

“I think we will be further incorporating the work we've done at the undergraduate level into our graduate courses and how we teach them. I also think there will be more integration and crossover between our three graduate programs, Ph.D., M.S., and MBID, to benefit all students who graduate from our department,” Hall said. “I hope we continue to push for an environment where our students will be supported, met where they are, and mentored to help them be the best version of whatever they want to be.”

 

Davis believes the future is bright for graduate biomedical engineering education in the Coulter Department. To reach a greater number of prospective students, he said the next step is to continue to view students wholistically. Going beyond GPA and test scores and assessing a student on their accomplishments, goals, and their life story will be critical to finding those individuals that fit the profile of a Coulter biomedical engineering student.

 

“We don’t want a student who leaves who can just critically solve problems, or a student who can memorize an equation,” Davis said. “You can take out your phone and Google that, but you can't Google problem solving, or empathy, or innovation. So how do we take concepts which our students need, like creativity, and bring it into the curriculum? And so, I think we’re going to be more focused on the whole student.”

 

Contact

Kelly Petty   ///   Jerry Grillo
Communications
Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering

 

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Both the graduate and undergraduate programs in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering were nationally ranked no. 1 in 2023. It was a first-time top ranking for the grad program. Dedicated faculty and innovative curriculum earned the department its lofty spot and will be what keeps it there in the future.