Manu Platt, a biomedical engineer and associate professor in the Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering will receive the 2021 AAAS Mentor Award for his commitment to supporting the diverse members of his laboratory, providing opportunities for their growth and encouraging his students out of their comfort zones to reach their fullest potential. Platt was nominated by a group of former students, trainees and colleagues, who cited his “extraordinary leadership throughout his career to increase participation of underrepresented groups in science.”
“Sometimes you just need one person to believe in you,” wrote a former Ph.D. student of Platt’s. “Dr. Platt has always been that person for me. He always saw the potential in me before I could see it, and because of that, I have had many opportunities to help me grow professionally.”
Enriching. Transformative. Nurturing. Authentic.
Those adjectives, and more like them, are how his former students have described Manu Platt and his influence on their education and careers.
Platt’s work growing — and pushing — the next generation of biomedical engineers has won him the 2021 Mentor Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), an honor that recognizes “extraordinary leadership to increase the participation of underrepresented groups in science and engineering fields and careers.”
“Dr. Platt pushed me outside of my comfort zone to a growth zone, which molded me into a better engineer and helped me find my place to be my full, authentic self as a Black woman in academia,” said Simone Douglas-Green, who earned her Ph.D. with Platt and now is a postdoctoral scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Dr. Platt has always given me more than I think I can handle, but he has a gift of knowing what is in his student’s best interest and encouraging them to aim higher. He always saw the potential in me before I could see it.”
Douglas-Green joined the effort to nominate Platt for the mentor award when she was contacted by Monet Roberts, another of Platt’s former doctoral students who was leading the charge. Roberts said she met Platt when she was a first-year student in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering. It was that relationship that convinced her academia was the place for her.
“He was the first Black biomedical engineer and professor that I had ever seen,” Roberts said. “He took me under his wing as an informal mentor and adviser. He started to invite me to his lab meetings. I helped out in his lab as a lab assistant and became interested in the research and transitioned to an undergraduate researcher.”
Roberts and Douglas-Green both said Platt builds a culture of family in his lab and models what it means to be what Roberts called “a socially conscious scientist and engineer.” Douglas-Green said Platt showed her how to balance advancing science while “being an advocate and doing outreach to improve diversity and inclusion in BME.”
For Platt, the award was touching — and a surprise. He said he’s thrilled to be in the company of previous winners like former Georgia Tech Dean of Engineering Gary May, the first Black dean of the college whom Platt called “a mentor and absolute hero of mine.”
“I have had amazing mentors along my way, some who looked like me and many who did not. It has opened up doors for me where I did not even know there was a door,” said Platt, associate professor in Coulter BME and a Georgia Research Alliance Distinguished Scholar. “That has led me to this exciting career in science and engineering. It has been so much more than what I would have ever thought it would be when I was a young nerd.”
Which is why, he said, mentoring has been so important to him: “Others should have that opportunity.”