Zion Umar, the only daughter of the slain secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria for Borno State, Rev Umar Pama, has been challenged, along with her fellow graduates at a US university, to stop the next pandemic after coronavirus.
Ms Umar on Saturday May 15, 2021 bagged a Master’s degree in Business and Science in Los Angeles, the day after the eighth anniversary of the May 14, 2013 terror attack in which she and her dad were shot by Boko Haram in their home.
She had earlier obtained a Bachelor of Science degree from a California university.
At the convocation ceremony last weekend in Los Angeles, the keynote speaker and Senior Vice President of Vaccine Clinical Research and Development for Pfizer, Dr Bill Gruber, charged the graduands to “Pay down your debt (and not just the money).”
He said, “As each of us acquires knowledge, we accumulate a debt that we should pay down. What can you do to pay down your debt? Add to the knowledge of Applied Life Sciences.”
Dr Gruber, who was in charge of developing the life-saving vaccine against the COVID-19 together with Nigerian-born University of Calabar graduate, Dr Onyema Ogbuagu, asked the class of 2021 to “Think big but backwards. President Kennedy said, ‘We choose to go to the moon not because it is easy but because it is hard.’”
He encouraged Zion and her colleagues to set an ambitious goal in the future and then work backwards to achieve it.
“We chose to develop a COVID vaccine… what is your goal?” He asked.
He advised them to forge lifelong personal scientific relationships, adding that he used relationships forged over 50 years to bring the COVID vaccine to the market.
In his address to the graduates, the president of the institution, Dr Sheldon Schuster, lamented that in the beginning of the pandemic, people attacked science and politicized preventive steps.
But he commended the institution’s staff who reorganized tuition to go online in just five days without interruption to classes in response to the lockdown.
He also commended the graduates whose plea for in-person graduation caused the institution to switch back from a virtual ceremony.
Dr Schuster warned that Viruses were one of the biggest threats to the world and asked the graduates to stop the next pandemic. He said that next time there should be “No health workers with baggage bags over their heads.”
Zion Umar was among several Nigerians and other Africans who graduated with master’s and doctoral degrees.
As part of their course credit, they worked at global pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer, credited with being one of the companies that saved the world from the ongoing pandemic.
Zion worked as Graduate Student Consultant at Pfizer from September 2020 to May 2021 where she drafted and finalized regulatory reports which were utilized by leadership for decision-making.
Before then, she had been a Clinical and Regulatory Affairs intern at 54gene, Washington D.C.
She had also once collaborated with eight teams of 40 students to design a fictitious start-up company centred around developing a liquid biopsy medical diagnostic that utilizes DNA as an analyst; this gave a unique perspective of a medical device implementation for patient care, among others.