Sometimes a question by a faculty member can have a powerful impact on the UW community. A few years ago, Bioengineering Professor Wendy Thomas asked some of her students if UW had a support organization for students of diverse and underrepresented backgrounds who are interested in the biomedical fields. It turns out there wasn’t. UW BioE Ph.D. student Ciana López and Tony Liu, (B.S. Bioengineering 2019) decided to pair up and create that community – they founded the Biomedical Diversity Community (BDC) in 2019. Ciana (pronounced CHAH-nah) has been involved with the organization ever since.

Posed group photo of Biomedical Diversity Community students

Members of the Biomedical Diversity Community, 2019

BDC, a UW registered student organization (SRO), is a support network for undergraduate and graduate students in any department who share an interest in biomedical science as well as diversity, equity and inclusion. “We meet through events that allow for both personal and professional growth and social support,” Ciana said. “That has taken many forms over the years, depending on who is in the club.” At times, the organization has focused on building community, and other times it’s been centered on activism, she said. “The current state of the country (and world) has also impacted the focus.”

Partnering with others

Ciana and fellow BDC members are working to involve other UW departments to grow the organization. “One of our most successful endeavors have been roundtable discussions in collaboration with the Molecular, Engineering and Science Institute (MolES),” Ciana said. The events feature a guest faculty member from another university who speaks on a scientific topic. The speakers have been invited to stay after their talk to have a more personal conversation with students from BDC. “These are usually more vulnerable and deep conversations where the visitor can share their journey in science especially as it relates to their cultural identity and other challenges they have faced having come from marginalized backgrounds,” Ciana said. “It’s been impactful for the students who don’t always see people in their field who look like them.”

Working with BioE’s JEDI

Ciana is grateful for the support BDC has received from the UW Bioengineering Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) committee and hopes to collaborate more in the future. “Whenever BDC has an event, JEDI or the BioE department in general has helped promote the events through their listserve,” Ciana said. The pandemic has impacted BDC’s ability to host in-person events, but that is changing with plans for more in-person events in the works, including an end-of-quarter and new member welcome meeting on June 2 at 10 a.m. “We will have officer elections this fall, and we are excited to bring in new leadership,” Ciana said.

Biomedical Diversity Community (BDC)
End-of-quarter and new member welcome meeting:
June 2, 2022
10-11 am
For details, email

Ciana Lopez headshot

UW Bioengineering Ph.D. student Ciana López

Ciana, who is originally from New Mexico, is inspired by her parents, who are both educators, and is interested in using her BioE degree to pursue an academic career. “One thing that has shaped my perspective about academia has been going to a lot of different schools at different times in my life,” Ciana said. “Going to both private and public high schools in New Mexico and North Carolina allowed me to see the great differences in both perspectives and access to opportunities. This instilled a passion for creating access to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) opportunities for people of diverse backgrounds.” She is also active with the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS).

Ciana is a 2017 recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, and an ARCS Scholar. Her Ph.D. research is in the area of combining polymer chemistry and immunotherapy to design and validate therapeutics for clinical translation. She works with current mentor Patrick Stayton, Bioengineering Distinguished Term Professor and director of UW’s Molecular Engineering and Sciences Institute, and she is currently preparing for her Graduate Exam, titled, “Genetically Engineered Macrophages and Polymeric Prodrugs for Cancer and Pulmonary Therapies.” She’s targeting a graduation date of fall 2023.

In addition to her school and community activities, Ciana and her partner Jason have been preparing for their first child, due in July. They have chosen the name Lluvia for their daughter, which means rain in Spanish. While Ciana isn’t sure what her plans are for after graduation, no matter where she and Jason live, they will always remember their time in Seattle and the blessing that rain is for drought-stricken New Mexico.

To get involved with BDC, email

Article by Arden Clise