Dr. Bellas in her lab.
Joseph V. Labolito

Dr. Evangelia Bellas, a bioengineering professor, recognized the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) from a young age, partly due to her experience growing up, and since the start of her professional career, she's found various ways to center DEIA in her work.

Dr. Bellas was born in Boston to Greek immigrant parents and experienced life a bit differently from others, as English wasn't her first language and everything in the United States was new to her family. 

Growing up, she watched her parents be made fun of for their accents and her grandparents receive subpar medical care because they couldn't communicate well in English. She has noticed her friends, who are of various different races, also face discrimination. 

"I often saw that people are just treated badly because they're different," she said. "And seeing that as a little kid was just crappy."

In communities she is involved in now, Dr. Bellas wants to ensure everyone feels supported and included.

When she first started her work in the College of Engineering six years ago, she quickly began the task of getting her Safe Zone certification to support LGBTQIA+ students and encouraged other faculty to do so, too, to improve the college's DEIA efforts. Safe Zone stickers, which indicate when someone is open to talking about and supporting LGBTQIA+ individuals and identities, began popping up around the college.

"Everybody experiences things in different ways, and there are so many different identities that we should support and appreciate," Dr. Bellas said.

Hearing the conversations around inclusivity that Dr. Bellas sparked, Dr. Nancy Pleshko, the Associate Dean for Faculty, Research and Graduate Studies, formed the first DEIA Committee in the College of Engineering.

Dr. Bellas believes DEIA in engineering shouldn't end with the classroom. She is also a recent electee to the Cell and Molecular Bioengineering Special Interest Group (CMBE-SIG) Council, where one of her roles will be working with its Diversity Committee. CMBE-SIG is one of the three special interest groups of the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES), the leading professional society in biomedical engineering.

"I was really excited," she said. "I just really enjoyed being a part of that community, and usually when I like being part of a community, I tend to want to get more involved and help it grow, help it develop."

Diversity in professional settings is a priority for Dr. Bellas, and she has been involved in various ways, including as the current outgoing Diversity Committee Chair for BMES since 2020 and, now, elected vice-chair to the BME Council of Diversity Chairs.

"I think just being a good citizen of the world means that you're accepting and welcoming of people who are different from you," Dr. Bellas said. "I think people who have different experiences will bring different things to the table, and that makes life more rich. If everybody had the same ideas, life would be pretty boring."

Dr. Bellas's election to the Council comes with a series of other successes, including tenure and a promotion from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor. Conversations about DEIA are often left out of STEM classrooms, so she ensures they're built into her curriculum.

"One of the important things that I've been trying to do is really build in more discussion about diversity, equity, and inclusion and accessibility, so that gets folded into all of my classes."

Although she enjoys teaching, Dr. Bellas's passion lies in her research on engineering fat tissue and how it can help treat and manage diseases, like obesity, type 2 diabetes and lipedema.

"Everyone thinks fat is a bad thing that we want to get rid of, and I'm just fascinated by it because I think it's really quirky. I think it's really cool, how it has a lot of control over our body," she said. "It's misunderstood, and I want it to be understood so that we can appreciate it in a way that I do."

As Dr. Bellas continues her research, she'll also continue implementing and building DEIA support in engineering spaces.

"It's really just coming from a good place," Dr. Bellas said. "I just want the world to be happy and for us all to get along, value each other."