LSTM’s inaugural graduation ceremony

News article 7 Dec 2018
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LSTM Director Professor Janet Hemingway with Honorary Degree recipients Dr Letitia Obeng (left) and Professor Victor Mwapasa (right)

LSTM has held its first independent graduation ceremony at Liverpool’s iconic Liver Building on Thursday 6th December, after having received its degree awarding powers in 2017.

The two ceremonies accounted for the graduation of 352 students and saw 85 graduates taking to the stage to be awarded their Masters, PhDs and diplomas. LSTM’s Director, Professor Janet Hemingway, said: “Our graduates have always been incredibly proud of their association with LSTM and it was fantastic for the first time to have been able to issue them with degrees directly from the institution. From its inception, LSTM has been training the next generation of leaders in the fields of tropical medicine and global heath, and I was delighted to be able to send them on their way as part of the LSTM’s community, making an impact in disease endemic countries.”

As part of the ceremony, LSTM conferred its first honorary Doctor of Science Degrees to alumna Dr Letitia Obeng and Professor Victor Mwapasa from Ghana and Malawi respectively.

Professor Mwapasa, has dedicated his life to studying and preventing both malaria and HIV, with his recurrent bouts of childhood malaria in rural Malawi contributing to his drive to make a difference and training as a doctor. His long association with LSTM, firstly though Dr Malcolm Molyneux and then the Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Trust Research Programme, working as Associate Director for its pre-cursor the Malaria Project, helping to transform it into “a centre of excellence in Malawi and the African region.”

Responsible for the formation of Malawi’s revised 2018-20 HIV Prevention strategy, one of his proudest achievements has been his work to prevent mother-child transmission of HIV, with his interventions reducing transmission from 30% to around 6%. On receiving his honorary degree he said: “It is an honour because it shows appreciation from LSTM not only for me but also for the contribution made by local people toward international research… It shows that they want the credit to go to the locals who spend most of their time in these settings and make sure the research work is done at an international quality. So, for me it is a demonstration by LSTM that us local people are doing great work that brings credit, not only to Malawi but also to LSTM.”

Dr Letitia Obeng is a graduate of LSTM, completing her PhD in Liverpool during the 1960s following an invitation from the then Dean, Professor Brian Maegraith to study at LSTM. Her life reads as a list of significant firsts, being the first Ghanaian woman to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in science, Zoology and Botany from the University of Birmingham. She taught at the College of Science & Technology in Kumasi, before undertaking her PhD in Liverpool, which ignited her passion for freshwater research.

Studying black fly, the vector for onchocerciasis or river blindness, she became very familiar with the fresh water courses in North Wales during her studies, returning to Ghana as the first woman to hold a PhD and setting up and directing the Institute of Aquatic Biology.  Her reputation continued to grow, she spent 11 years with the United Nations Environment Programme, including as the Director of its Regional Office for Africa. In 2006, Dr Obeng was honoured with Ghana’s highest award, the Order of the Star of Ghana. The first woman elected as a fellow to Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences, in 2008, she was unanimously chosen as its first female President. 

On receiving her award from LSTM, she said: “I am delighted to have been honoured like this by LSTM, who have been welcoming from my initial time of study and on further visits more recently. My work at LSTM equipped me with a valuable understanding of important aspects of freshwater ecosystems… due to my experiences and association with LSTM I was able to return home and do something. LSTM is a fantastic organisation and I will always look back to my time in Liverpool with great fondness.”