UCF awards honorary degree to COVID-19 vaccine developer Darin Edwards

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UCF President Alexander N. Cartwright honored today with three alumni Darin Edwards ’97 ’10MS’ 11PhD an honorary doctorate in public service, praising his “extraordinary contributions to humanity, including incredible global public health efforts that have saved lives, reduced human suffering and preserved the health of countless millions of humans in the world”.

Edwards, who led Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine development as the company’s director of immunology, inspired 2020 UCF graduates as a keynote speaker at the long-awaited in-person launch ceremony for the 2020 promotion.

Prior to awarding Edwards his honorary degree, Cartwright said: “The principles of the UCF Creed are integrity, scholarship, community, creativity and excellence and you each fully embody as a scientist, leader, mentor, collaborator and citizen of the world.

“As a three-time graduate of the University of Central Florida, with Masters and Doctorates in Biomedical Sciences and BS in Biology, you are an inspiration to students, faculty, the UCF staff and community. Your resourcefulness, concern for humanity, and impact are all the college could want from an alumnus.

Addressing the graduates, Edwards recalled how, when he and his team were developing the vaccine, they “worked around the clock to comprehensively evaluate the approach, working systematically to ensure we covered all safety and efficacy concerns, to squeeze the deadlines that normally take years or decades to months while delivering the most comprehensive and inclusive research and clinical activities I have ever been involved in.

He attributed the daily “support, hugs, love, affection and sacrifice” of his family for helping him during this time, and also said “a full education and willingness to move beyond the status quo allowed me to solve unique and critical problems that we encounter on a daily basis.

He also discussed the importance in his academic, personal and professional development of “a bold acceptance of risk, tolerance for failures and remaining fearless in the face of these failures and finding new paths to success”.

“My career has been very convoluted, guided by my inherent restlessness and curiosity,” he said. “Where others saw the risk, I saw the opportunity. I got my bachelor’s degree in 1997 and landed a good job in tech where I was working my way up the corporate ladder. Despite this, I constantly wondered if this was really what I wanted to do with my career. Then one day I saw that UCF was expanding its health programs and I decided to quit my job and change careers. So where other people might view going back to school in their early 30s as a sign of failure, I was more interested in exploring a career path that had a better chance of changing. the world.

“Science is also like that. There is a sure way, a way where small breakthroughs could be developed. Other routes are riskier but can lead to revolutionary discoveries and completely new drugs, but often encounter obstacles that lead to failure. The latter, however, is most likely to lead to a world-changing outcome. My career has been built on the back of this risk… taking the road less traveled and affecting my own result. Moderna’s COVID vaccine is also, built over 10 years of development work with billions spent on this process. Without a talented and idealistic group of researchers putting their careers, their reputations and their brains behind this development, there would have been no mRNA vaccines last year, and the millions of lives saved since would have remained in danger.

Of his time at UCF, Edwards told graduates: “UCF has given me the opportunity to explore widely, allowing me to become the person and the complete scientist that I am today. It was also, frankly, a lot of fun. I mentioned the longtime friends I made here, and the memories I made are the ones I treasure. Hope some of your friends and memories will be as strong.

The in-person graduation ceremony, which expected more than 1,700 graduates of the Class of 2020, kicked off the reunion weekend on campus. UCF conferred more than 18,000 diplomas during its virtual opening ceremonies in 2020.

At UCF, Edwards received a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1997, a master’s degree in molecular biology and microbiology in 2010, and a doctorate. in Biomedical Sciences in 2017. Edwards was also a Burnett Honors Scholar.


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