Rana Dajani

Achievement and Service

Rana Dajani

05PhD – Molecular Biology

Rana Dajani’s path has led her to staggering academic and research accomplishments. An Eisenhower Fellow, twice a Fulbright scholar, and a Harvard Radcliffe Fellow, her lab at Hashemite University in Jordan is a world expert on the genetics of Circassian and Chechan populations in Jordan, focusing on diabetes and cancer. In addition, Dajani cares passionately about improving her community and creating opportunity for the next generation. Her “We Love Reading” initiative nurtures a culture of literacy in Jordan and the wider Arab world. The program establishes neighborhood libraries, hosts storytelling sessions, and trains community women to read aloud to young children.

Dajani describes her career as, “not a straight line, but a zigzag of priorities and opportunities.” Her work seeks to raise the health, educational opportunities, and social status of women and children in the Middle East.

She was named one of the 20 most influential women scientists in the Islamic world in 2014, and she received the King Hussein Cancer Institute Award for cancer and biotechnology in 2009.

While at the UI, many people encouraged Dajani and her work.

“Lois Weisman encouraged me to apply for a Howard Hughes Medical Institute award the day I walked into her lab. She taught me that a good talk is one your grandmother can understand,” she says. “Jeff Pessin was my initial PhD advisor. He taught me there is no end of good ideas, so share freely all you have. John Engelhardt was my next PhD advisor. He respected my priorities when I told him that my PhD is as important as my family.”

Dajani would be considered a distinguished alumna for her contributions to science alone. But when Dajani came to Iowa City in 2000 to pursue her PhD, she was also a mother of young children.

The Iowa City Public Library was a center for community, activity, and literacy for her family. The experiences her children had during story time inspired Dajani to create We Love Reading (WLR) when she returned to Jordan.

So far, WLR has trained over 2,000 storytellers, most of them women. As a result, 1,500 libraries have been established across Jordan, reaching more than 30,000 children, more than half of them girls. WLR has spread to more than 35 countries around the world. In addition to promoting reading, WLR empowers women readers to become leaders in their communities, fosters ownership in the children and community members, and serves as a platform for raising awareness on issues such as health and the environment.

Dajani has received numerous awards for her work on this program, including the UNESCO International Literacy Award 2017 and the inaugural Institute of International Education’s Global Changemaker Award in celebration of the 70th Anniversary of the Fulbright in 2016. She has been on the list of 500 most influential Muslims for the past three years.

Dajani attributes her success to her parents, who gave her a love of reading and knowledge, responsibility for community, and a belief that nothing is impossible. It all started in Iowa City.

“The journey was also possible because of support from my partner, friend and husband, Mohammad, who was beside me for every step. And my children, who were the fountain of wisdom, fun and pure joy,” she says.