Winter 2019

Voice for science

Courtesy of the World Economic Forum

Although she’s never forgotten her childhood on a small family farm in Mississippi, Genya Dana, ’05 M.S., ’10 Ph.D., has been working to shape the future since earning her master’s in science policy from the U’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs and doctorate from the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences. As an advisor for the U.S. State Department, she helped write policies on emerging fields such as synthetic biology and represented the United States at the United Nations. Now as head of precision medicine for the World Economic Forum, she’s influencing how innovations in data science and genomics make their way into society. 

How did you get interested in science?

In high school, a video about the Human Genome Project sparked recognition of how amazing the field of genetics is and how much we could potentially understand, not only about human beings but also about life at the molecular level. So I decided this is what I want to work on, this is a hot field that is only going to get hotter, and this is my ticket out of Mississippi.

When did you realize your voice was needed in the policy realm?

Statements I heard about the risks of biotechnologies showed very little understanding of the science and had huge economic, social, and research implications. I was very alarmed that policies could be made without a lot of evidence. 

What impact did the U’s Judd Fellowship have on your career?

I applied for the Judd Fellowship to see if I could immerse myself in the policy community. I wanted to go where the biggest policy debates about biotechnology were happening, and that was the World Trade Organization in Geneva. It gave me my first international experience. 

Do you see yourself as working to change the world?

I do. Advances in science and technology are having a profound impact on society globally. My commitment is to being in the middle of situations, translating science and policy, so that these advances are good for humanity. 

Hear Genya Dana's speech at the U's 2018 Judd Expo:

U of M Global Programs and Strategy Allilance