BME Grad Student Honored for Latino Excellence and Achievement

Michelle Digman and Karen Lopez

April 27, 2022 – UC Irvine’s Samueli School selected Karen Lopez, a biomedical engineering doctoral student, for this year’s Latino Excellence and Achievement Award. Co-sponsored by UCI’s Latinx Resource Center and the Office of Inclusive Excellence, the award honors one graduate student for research excellence and academic achievement from each of the university’s schools. Lopez was recognized, along with all the other winners, at the Latino Excellence Achievement Dinner (LEAD), March 31, 2022.

A first-generation Latina, Lopez is the first in her family to enroll in a graduate degree program and the first woman in her family to study engineering. She earned a bachelor’s degree from San Jose State University in 2020.

At UCI, Lopez works in the research lab of her adviser Michelle Digman, professor of biomedical engineering, where she combines science, engineering and mentoring to tackle cancer therapy's fundamental problems. In her first year as a graduate student, Lopez took an active role in the BME Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, with the goal of improving the mental health of her fellow graduate students during the COVID-19 pandemic. In her second year, she was appointed treasurer of the Graduate Association of Biomedical Engineering Students (GABES). As treasurer, she helped plan, advertise and host multiple community-building events. She also created and managed the BME PrePair Mentorship Program, a quarter-long program designed to match current students with incoming graduate students to help create a sense of community and improve interdepartmental connections. While at UCI, she has also volunteered in community outreach events with the Irvine Unified School District, such as Ask-A-Scientist Night, the Career Conference and serving as a judge in the 41st Annual IUSD Science Fair.

Karen Lopez with her parents at LEAD Award banquet

“Karen is a fantastic student who promotes inclusive excellence by relating her own experiences,” said Digman. “I’m astounded to see all she has accomplished as a leader and team player in the many outreach activities she is involved in that aim to increase participation of underrepresented students in engineering. Karen also is able to balance her passion for outreach with her research work. I’m elated to see her recognized for her efforts as a role model and leader in our research field and for making our Latinx community proud. As a Latina, I recognize that we need our community to hear these stories of accomplishments in order to show the younger generation that they, too, can be here and accomplish not only as much but even more.”

“It is an honor to have been nominated and awarded the Graduate Student Excellence Award as a representative of the Samueli School of Engineering,” said Lopez. “The LEAD banquet opened my eyes to the power of the Latinx community at UCI. It was exhilarating to witness the collective pride of being a part of this community and to be able to share it with my immigrant parents, who celebrated this achievement with me.”

Gregory Diggs-Yang, Michelle Digman, Marvin Maldonado

Marvin Maldonado, interim director of the Stacey Nicholas Office of Access & Inclusion, also attended. “It was an incredibly inspiring event, and we couldn’t be prouder of not only our engineering students and faculty but all of the awardees from the other schools.”

Now in its fifth year, the LEAD event honors key leaders, graduate students, staff and faculty who support and champion student success and research excellence in the Hispanic/Latinx community at UCI and in Orange County.

– Rachel Karas