Column: Dr Weldon, Making A Difference

March 16, 2020 | 1 Comment

[Opinion column written by Glenn Fubler]

In observance of International Women’s Day, the stories of five female pioneers were highlighted: Adele Tucker, Gladys Morrell, Dr Barbara Ball, Rosalind Williams and Dame Lois Brown-Evans. These women, who appreciated that ‘everyone can make a difference’, played transformational roles in 20th Century Bermuda.

A young Bermudian woman, is building on their legacy in the 21st century. Dr Carika Weldon, a genetics researcher at Oxford University, has taken the baton from those pioneers, exemplifying similar qualities of character.

Carika demonstrates independence, manifesting her potential without taking herself too seriously. She also demonstrates interdependence, looking to make a difference in Bermuda and the wider world.

Over the past five years, Carika has brought 20-odd students to Bermuda from her previous posting at the University of Leicester, visiting numerous local schools with interactive, hands-on STEM learning opportunities.

On Saturday, February 8, 2020, Dr Weldon hosted a diverse crowd of some 200, gathered at the Fairmont Southampton for a banquet which concluded the fourt annual Bermuda Principles Conference. There were students, parents, educators, stakeholders and 100-odd international research scientists.

As the evening unfolded, Carika was kept busy, demonstrating her diverse skills. She served as the consummate maître d’, M.C. and educator, occasionally simplifying complex presentations for all in attendance.

Dr Weldon puts paid to the myth that scientists are not people-persons. Over the past five years, immersed in the rigor of genetics research and teaching in Britain, she has also demonstrated an exemplary capacity for bringing diverse people together. The growth of the annual international conference in Bermuda is evidence of that skill.

The banquet audience heard the story behind the Bermuda Principles from Dr Michael Morgan, who in 1996 headed the trust that underwrote that historic meeting. At that time, global researchers were greatly concerned at a pivotal stage in the development of the Human Genome Project. While the group originally planned to meet elsewhere, circumstances led them to the Hamilton Princess in February 1996.

Out of those critical discussions came an historic agreement; the Bermuda Principles. This document provided guidelines for research on the human genome; a breakthrough that facilitated collaboration amongst researchers, thus benefiting global society as a whole.

On learning the significance of these Bermuda Principles years ago, Carika recognized the potential opportunity to build on that legacy from a global scientific perspective, and she also saw how her island could benefit. Therefore, she championed the formation of the Bermuda Principles Foundation, which initiated an annual conference of global researchers to mark the anniversary of that first meeting.

The banquet was a balanced affair, including video presentations along with short speeches. Some overseas guests highlighted research progress and island educators offered overviews of outcomes that benefited local students. Minister Lovitta Foggo – a former science teacher whose Ministry serves as the major sponsor of the conference – expressed hearty appreciation to Carika for her vision and energy.

Carika used every opportunity to highlight her island home, having the 20-odd tables decorated with native and endemic species themes. Recognition was given to local ecological icon David Wingate. Mention was made of the Foundation’s new STEM scholarship for undergraduate and graduate level, in the name of former Finance Minister the late Eugene Cox, who served as senior engineer at BELCO for decades.

A high point of the evening was the honouring of the Bermuda Principle Awardee 2020. This was Prof Joan Steitz, Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at Yale University who has been a global leader in genetics research since the early 1960s. It was evident from the diverse commendations offered by a variety of persons that Prof Steitz had led research projects that fostered significant game-changing breakthroughs in genetics.

In offering thanks for the award, Prof Steitz offered specific appreciation to Carika for her vision and enthusiasm, with regard to the Bermuda Principals Foundation. It was evident that Prof Steitz recognized the transformative qualities that Carika has been exemplifying during her young adulthood.

The closing of this auspicious occasion, with its focus on cutting-edge science, spoke to the down-to-earth qualities of character of Dr Weldon. True to her roots and spirit of hospitality, Carika welcomed the H&H Gombeys to the dance area. A number of the overseas guests joined in the dancing; a celebratory conclusion to a meaningful evening and conference.

It is clear that Carika is a young woman who is comfortable in her skin and is prepared to make a difference at home and abroad. All that I can add is ‘Yaa Ooh’.

- Glenn Fubler

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  1. Helle Patterson says:

    You are so right, Mr Fubler. Dr Carika Weldon is a fascinating person and a very talented scientist. Her work in genetics is also inspiring students to follow in her footsteps.

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