Editor's note: this is one of six profiles republished from Rowland Hall's 2018–2019 Annual Report feature story, "Winged Lions on the Rise." Millennial alumni are finding their voices and already shaping their fields and communities—from physics to film, music to medical innovations, and environmental policy to conservation-minded real estate. Learn how Rowland Hall impacted them, and how they’re impacting the world. From left, Jared Ruga ’06, Claire Wang ’15, Phinehas Bynum ’08, Jeanna Tachiki Ryan ’01, Tyler Ruggles ’05, and Sarah Day ’06.
Jeanna Tachiki Ryan is a force of nature with a colorful Google calendar anchoring her bustling life. She’s working in her dream job as the first physician assistant (PA) in the University of Utah Allergy and Immunology Clinic—one of two clinics in Utah and the surrounding area to offer an oral-immunotherapy program addressing life-threatening food allergies. She’s mom to three daughters—her oldest, first-grader Sabrina, has a peanut allergy, which amplified Jeanna’s passion for that field. And the alumna is the co-founder of an award-winning startup: she’s chief technology officer (CTO) of PreOv, a user-friendly fertility monitor aimed at helping women conceive.
Jeanna and two friends entered the U’s 2018 Bench to Bedside competition for medical innovations with the concept of PreOv, and took home the $50,000 grand prize. “It felt surreal,” Jeanna said. Following that validation, PreOv obtained seed-round funding—in addition to cash prizes from two other U competitions—and is now finalizing a working prototype. The company plans to start a series A round of funding in 2020. “I hope PreOv will empower women with knowledge about their body, menstrual cycle, and health without sacrificing time and energy,” she said. “Women deserve better tools.”
PreOv provides automated fertility monitoring via an intravaginal ring and Bluetooth app. Jeanna speaks compellingly about its value, and candidly about her own difficulties getting pregnant—common but often unspoken experiences. During one pitch competition, she publicly shared her story for the first time, something she hesitated to do since she now has three kids. “Our outcome doesn’t even compare to the pain others have experienced,” she said. But she opened up, and shed light on a complex topic.
Before starting PA school, Jeanna and husband John knew they wanted another child, so she painstakingly tracked her fertility indicators. “It was a ton of work, but we got pregnant,” she said. Tragically, she had a miscarriage. “On top of the heartache and grief, all of that work and time trying to get pregnant was gone.” The process shouldn’t be so tortuous: “The disappointment of a negative pregnancy test month after month is hopeless enough.”
Jeanna is advocating for her future female users and raising the bar for women’s health, a field too often neglected. She gives Rowland Hall credit for her inclusive, service-driven foundation.
Now, as CTO of a women-led, women-centric company, she’s advocating for her future female users and raising the bar for women’s health. That field is too often neglected, Jeanna said, but she’s faced such challenges head on in her career—from her work as a dietitian in Boston and Chicago helping disenfranchised populations, to her PA stint. And she gives Rowland Hall credit for her inclusive, service-driven foundation. “I was in the minority growing up in Utah being Japanese American and Buddhist,” she said. But her school made her feel accepted, and taught her to value diversity. “Because of this, I enjoy learning about other cultures,” she said, “and have gravitated towards serving the underserved.”
That passion has propelled Jeanna through the trials and tribulations of PreOv. She cited a quote from Jordan Hewson, daughter of U2 singer Bono, that compares starting a business to sprinting a marathon in a ghoul-filled labyrinth—sans David Bowie. “That’s what it’s like,” Jeanna joked. But her experience gives her an edge: in addition to her PA master's from the U, she has a bachelor's and master's in nutrition and a master's in computer information systems from Boston University. The latter helps her bridge the gap between IT and healthcare delivery—a pillar of PreOv. Another advantage: Jeanna’s leadership skills, initially forged as a Rowland Hall volleyball and softball captain. Pitcher Jeanna said her softball team’s regular losses sharpened her resilience. “With every loss, I had to pick myself up and get back on the mound.” As in softball, so in life: Jeanna will keep pitching, and perfecting, the 21st-century family-planning tool women deserve.
Top photo: Jeanna shows off a PreOv prototype at downtown Salt Lake City business incubator Church and State, where her team uses the public space and conference rooms for meetings.