As a psychologist and geneticist, Vivian Ota Wang’s domestic and global experiences in research, education and ethics span the psychological, genomic and nanoscale sciences. Ota Wang received her Master's degree in Genetic Counseling from the University of Colorado (CU) in 1988. During her second year of her genetic counseling training, she was hired as a genetic counselor at CU where she initially coordinated outreach clinics for the medical genetics program and then after graduation, the Denver medical genetics clinic. These experiences influenced her way of thinking and commitment to ethics, equity, and human rights.
Her interest in genetics and ethical issues began as early as high school while in a laboratory setting and ultimately led her to pursue her MS in genetic counseling and a PhD in counseling psychology at Columbia University. As the first recipient of the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC) Audrey Heimler Special Projects Fund, she created and implemented the Handbook of Cross-Cultural Genetic Counseling in US genetic counseling training programs. She developed this multicultural genetic counseling curriculum to teach genetic counselors how to be culturally responsive and inclusive in genetic counseling practices, a curriculum that is still used today. Her passion for community engagement also led her to help set up a Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Chinese genetic services clinic in New York City.
Her public service also includes serving at the Executive Office of the President’s National Science and
Technology Council under the Bush and Obama administrations where she developed public engagement and ethics policies for nanoscience and nanotechnology. She also has served as Senior Advisor to the NIH’s Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Director and Program Director of the NIH-NHGRI Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications Research Program and Data Access and Sharing.
Prior to joining public service, Ota Wang held tenure-track faculty positions at Rutgers, Arizona State, and Vanderbilt universities where she maintained a research program focused on race and racial identity related to research ethics, program development and evaluation, and community engagement in psychology, genomics, and public health.
Her policy work began at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on an advisory board that addressed issues of race, genomics, and group stigma and resulted in creating community consultation guidelines when working with diverse communities.
Ota Wang currently applies her expertise in racial identity, community engagement, and research participation protections to science policy and data access and sharing as the Deputy Director of the Office of Data Sharing at the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health. Her clinical work has focused on congenital and acquired disabilities that spans pediatric and adult genetic counseling to traumatic brain injuries.
“There is a need for genetic counseling services now more than ever before,” Ota Wang shares. “As certified genetic counselors, we have a great skill of translating very complicated information in a way that is humanizing and understandable. It is important that genetic counselors become more vocal, particularly about data sharing as a basic human right.”
Dr. Ota Wang has served on national and international advisory committees, review panels, institutional review and editorial boards for US Federal agencies, and professional and international organizations including the US Department of Energy, US Food and Drug Administration, US Department of Agriculture, NIH, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the National Society of Genetic Counselors, and the American Psychological Association.
She also was responsible for the HapMap sample collections and community engagements for the self-identified Han Chinese in China and the U.S., and was a voting member on the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA), Cardiovascular and Renal Drugs Advisory Committee for BiDil™, the first FDA approved “race-specific” drug. She also served as Chair of the National Society of Genetic Counselor’s Ethic Subcommittee, APA’s inaugural Committee on Human Research, Good Governance Project Implementation Working Group, and Commission on Ethical Processes that was charged with assessing and developing ethics policies and procedures in response to APA’s involvement with national security interrogations.
Dr. Ota Wang’s accomplishments have been recognized by university, professional, and national awards, honors, and commendations including a Department of Health and Human Services Secretary’s Award for Distinguished Service, several NIH Directors Awards, NIH Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Sexual and Gender Minority Change Agent Award, NCI-NIH and multiple NHGRI-NIH Performance Merit Awards, the National Society of Genetic Counselors Inaugural Audrey Heimler Special Projects Award, the Arizona State University’s Dean’s Faculty Award for Excellence in Diversity, the Colorado College Louis T. Benezet Award, the Asian American Psychological Association’s Distinguished Contributions Award, the APA’s Board of Scientific Affairs Meritorious Research Service Commendation, Charles and Shirley Thomas Award, and a Presidential Citation, and the Teachers College-Columbia University Distinguished Alumni Award.