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Vanessa Greenlee
February 26, 2020

A heart for education and language in a STEM-related job

Vanessa Greenlee, who majored in English and Spanish and minored in secondary education, is using her Berry education in a career focused on the sciences. As the deputy director at Cornell University’s Alliance for Science, she promotes a global network supporting access to biotechnology to improve environmental sustainability, enhance food security and raise quality of life.

“My ability to speak Spanish, picked up at Berry, has been very practical for global development work,” Vanessa says. “Just this week, I’ve been speaking in Spanish at the International Center for Wheat and Maize Improvement outside Mexico City, where we’ve been conducting a leadership training summit with 30 farmers from 15 countries.”

Vanessa was greatly impacted by the humanities and education faculty at Berry who encouraged her to think and write critically. As a student worker in the Writing Center, she was primed to help others learn by tailoring their education encounters to their specific needs. “From this experience, I attribute later successes in customizing learning experiences in our Alliance for Science training courses, based on participants’ prior knowledge and individual learning styles,” Vanessa says.

After graduating from Berry, she worked as a K–12 educator for 13 years in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and Illinois, teaching her students about writing, second language acquisition and science communication. In 2013, her family moved to New York, and Vanessa sought a fresh way to make a lasting impact in the world. She worked several years at the Boyce Thompson Institute, an independent research institute devoted to using plant sciences to improve agriculture, protect the environment and enhance human health.

In 2018, Vanessa transitioned into her current role at Cornell University, seeking the translational, relational impact of bringing science education to the public. In the interview for her role as deputy director, she talked about Martha Berry’s vision for integrating the head, heart and hands into her work. 

“My job is to coordinate the operations of the Alliance for Science’s communications, training and policy teams, as well as our fundraising strategies,” she says. “It is rewarding to spend time with emerging leaders and change-makers around the world. All are united by a common purpose to raise up their communities, improve food security and make the world a better place.”

In October 2020, Vanessa plans to launch “The Plastic Challenge,” a podcast series focusing on the societal challenge of single-use plastics. The goal is to connect the zero-waste community with large-scale waste-reduction efforts undertaken at the regional and national level—from Ghana to the Maldives.

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