Keval Bollavaram, fourth-year BME, is one of 56 students from 41 different universities across the country to be awarded a prestigious scholarship from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF).
As a part of the 2020 Astronaut Scholar Class, Bollavaram is considered one of “the best and brightest minds in STEM who show initiative, creativity, and excellence in their chosen field,” according to ASF. ASF’s mission is to “aid the United States in retaining its world leadership in technology and innovation by supporting the very best and brightest scholars in science, technology, engineering and mathematics while commem-orating the legacy of America’s pioneering astronauts.”
Bollavaram is most excited for the opportunity to be mentored by astronauts as a perk of the scholarship. The monetary value of winning $10,000 aside, “that’s really what I hope to get out of this — just the networking and mentorship opportunities,” said Bollavaram.
When Bollavaram initially applied for the scholarship during his sophomore year at Tech, he was not selected as a scholar for the year, but he did not let this rejection hold him back. Instead, he shifted his focus to gaining more experience in the field of research and developing his passion for BME.
“I want to go to medical school … and that was kind of the big long-term goal for a while — be a doctor and go work in that field. What Tech did is it really introduced me to a lot of research opportunities,” said Bollavaram.
Since his sophomore year, “I’ve had so much more research experience. I had an opportunity last summer to do research at Harvard …. and I have so much to talk about like so many papers that I’m working on, or have already been published,” said Bollavaram.
“So, between all those things … it kind of made me think, okay, maybe I should play against the astronaut scholarship odds and try again — see if I can get it the second time around.”
Bollavaram credits the consistency of the research he has done as one of the reasons why his application stood out the second time around and led to his selection as a ASF scholar.
“‘I’ve done a lot of research that’s built on top of one another … When you’re doing something that’s involving biomedical engineering, it always relates back to some health issues — something that’s going to change the world, or that’s going to influence a field at least in a very impactful way. And I think that’s probably what helped me stand out. My research — I believe it’s very very impactful and will promote change.”
This deep interest in research can be traced back to Bollavaram’s passion for the sciences and technology that is rooted in his high school experience. Bollavaram attended the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology (GSMST), a public school that has consistently been ranked first amongst public high schools in Georgia and is currently ranked twelfth nationally.
In high school, “I was really attracted to [STEM]. I learned a lot at GSMST. I loved the science courses, and I was involved in clubs like Science Olympiad there so it was kind of a natural progression to go from being so science heavy at GSMST to being very engineering and science based at Georgia Tech. It’s fun, and it’s helped me a lot.”
Bollavaram’s “science heavy” high school experience grew into a wider love for biomedical engineering once he arrived at Tech.
“BME is very interdisciplinary, so it’s not just about learning one specific engineering discipline … I felt like I could not only learn biology and engineering, but also apply what I learned to real world applications.”
For now, Bollavaram’s short term goal is to work towards getting into a fellowship program after he graduates so that he can take a gap year before pursuing medical school in the long term. He hopes to one day start his own research lab and continue the work that drew him to the sciences in the first place.
“It’s been kind of a crazy journey … overall it’s been kind of phenomenal to just be part of the Georgia Tech Community,” said Bollavaram.
“A lot of my professors have inspired me one way or another.”
However, once Bollavaram graduates and leaves Tech, he will always keep his days as a Jacket on campus close to his heart. He also expressed interest in potentially coming back one day for Emory and Tech’s joint BME Ph.D. program.
“There’s a lot I’d miss, but I love the environment — everyone’s been extremely friendly. I would just really miss the people at Tech.”