Dean Gray, Ph.D. works to solve some of the world’s most complex challenges at Kansas City-based MRIGlobal

April Graham

Dean Gray, Ph.D. was working in a commercial lab when the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11th occurred. The tragic events of that day shifted his perspective. Dean knew he had a valuable skillset and decided that he wanted his work to serve a higher purpose.

Dean joined MRIGlobal in 2002 as a scientist and program manager where he led teams conducting research in national security and defense, life sciences, agriculture, and energy. Today, Dean is the Vice President of Defense and Health, MRIGlobal’s business operations. Dean and his team work on solving some of the world’s most complex challenges, including helping civilian and military personnel prepare for and respond to biological and chemical threats and emerging infectious disease.

At the start of his career, Dean studied anthropology at Ohio University and started his career as an archaeologist in Missouri. He went on to complete a masters and earn his Ph.D. in forestry from the University of Missouri-Columbia researching plant biology and chemistry. In 2017, he joined the UMKC Bloch Executive MBA to further develop his knowledge and skills as a business leader. Dean credits the EMBA program with helping him appreciate the importance of teams and value different perspectives and ideas more deeply. This has had a lasting impact on his approach to work and civic engagement.

“Everything I learned in the EMBA program helped me see opportunities everywhere. Opportunities to learn from others, opportunities for business ideas, opportunities for leadership, opportunities to help others reach their potential – and it’s really stuck with me.”

For many years, Dean’s experience of Kansas City was fairly limited to the areas around his home in Olathe, his work at MRIGlobal, and the airport. This changed when he graduated from the Executive MBA program and launched into the Kansas City Tomorrow leadership program where he learned more about the richness of our local community and what he can do to help solve challenges locally.

“The Bloch EMBA and the Civic Council’s KC Tomorrow programs were life-changing for me. I’m grateful to have had the experience. I met lifelong friends and coaches, and with their help have firmly built my leadership values and work every day to put them into practice.”

Regarding his work at MRIGlobal, Dean states simply that, “What we do matters.” Though they serve clients around the world, many people locally aren’t familiar with their work. I asked Dean what he would most like Kansas Citians to know about MRIGlobal and without hesitation he responded that:

  1. They are the best in the world in certain areas of research including mobile laboratories, biological containment systems, and detection of chemical and biological threats such as emerging infectious diseases. Dean observed that, “people think Kansas City isn’t a technology hub but it is and there are some incredibly talented people working here.”
  2. MRIGlobal has been in Kansas City for 77 years and cares deeply about the KC community. They demonstrated their local commitment during the pandemic by volunteering their services to help local organizations with biosafety protocols and healthy return to workplace plans. They also helped address misunderstandings about the pandemic by sharing knowledge and insights in interviews and panel discussions, as well as hosting discussions on Reddit.
  3. Scientists, chemists and engineers can stay in the Midwest and do incredible research on the front lines of challenging projects in national security and defense and global health through their work at MRIGlobal.

When asked about his life outside of MRIGlobal, Dean shared, “I care about a work/life balance and I encourage it with our staff. It’s been tough for me to find that balance over the years. I think I’ve figured out that it’s not a destination, but a mindset you work to develop and appreciate. I enjoy all kinds of exercise – hiking, going to the gym, running, walking, and I have a regular meditation practice I stick to. I love to read just about everything, and that’s generally how I recharge. Family time is important to me and we like to travel together. Having family meals together is also important to us and a lot of fun.”

In the future, Dean is looking forward to continuing to develop and implement the institute’s long-term strategy. “All of the aspects of a great strategy put my MBA to work – change management, staff engagement, leadership, financial modeling, plan execution, customer development, communication plans and other skills. That gets me excited,” Dean said.

Over the past several years, Dean has spent a lot more time getting to know the broader K.C. community, something he wishes he had taken the time to do sooner. Many Kansas Citians will agree with Dean’s observations about living and working here.

“I love the people in K.C., especially those involved in community leadership, development and entrepreneurial efforts. The density of talent here is impressive and I’m amazed every day at how much there is to learn. There are a lot of people who care deeply about our community and the future of our city. I am proud to know many of them and am inspired by them.”

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