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NEWS > Alumnae News > Giving Hope to the World

Giving Hope to the World

Melanie Ivarsson, Class of 1990, returned to LEH earlier this month to deliver a dazzling and truly inspiring Goswell Lecture to an audience of attentive Sixth Formers.

Melanie, who is Chief Development Officer at Moderna, was awarded an OBE for services to public health during COVID-19 in the New Year Honours List.  The biotech firm Moderna was one of the very first companies to develop a COVID-19 vaccine and Melanie, who is based in Boston, oversaw their clinical trials.

She was invited to deliver the Goswell Lecture, an annual talk dedicated to the Sciences, by LEH STEM coordinator Andy Brittain who said afterwards: “That was an absolutely incredible presentation to a hushed audience.  Melanie represents the best in all of us: every word carried intelligence, humanity, and compassion. Her life to date has been of truly historic significance.  What a fabulous role model for women in STEM.”

In her engaging and accessible style, Melanie talked to students about her education, her career path, and her personal goals, before going on to reveal the inside story of how Moderna developed its highly effective vaccine in just 11 months rather than the usual 10-year process.

She said: “The most significant day professionally for any of us was when they told us the efficacy read out was 94%.  Remember up until that point the MRNA technology was completely unproven, and no one knew how effective these vaccines would be. We had all dialled into the call to be told the results of the trials. 

“First, they confirmed it had been a high-quality trial, so we all breathed a sigh of relief as you only get one shot at this, and then they said your vaccine works really well.  We all went off camera at that point and had a little weep. It was so overwhelming. We needed something that was going to end the pandemic and we knew in that instant that our vaccine was going to work.”

Reflecting on all she has achieved, she told pupils: “Finding something that makes you shine is the most important thing in life. You might not know what it is yet but be open. Go and find the thing that you enjoy the most and be ready to seize it if an opportunity takes you in a new direction.”

She was obviously delighted to be back in school. “It’s amazing to see how LEH has flourished and blossomed,” she said.  “You only realise how brilliant this place is once you leave. LEH gave me the confidence to be bold and instilled in me a lifelong sense of curiosity and desire to learn.”

She concluded by telling the rapt Sixth Formers: “It has been such a pleasure to be here.  You have asked some amazing questions and seem like an incredible group of engaged people.  I can’t wait to hear what you’re going to get up to.”

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