4 November 2015: Delving beneath the surface

Written by Melissa Wang | Images by Aleithia Low

Olivia Lum featured image

President Pericles Lewis during the question and answer session with Ms Olivia Lum

This September, Yale-NUS College was lucky to have hosted three influential speakers from diverse backgrounds as part of the President’s Speaker Series – Ms Paula Madison, the executive producer of the film Finding Samuel Lowe: From Harlem to China; Ms Olivia Lum, Executive Chairman and Group CEO of Hyflux Ltd; and Professor Sidney Altman, Sterling Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology and Professor of Chemistry at Yale University, shared their views on contemporary issues through public lectures that benefitted both our College community and the public. From heritage and identity, to excelling through tenacity, to scientific research in human cells, the three speakers covered a wide diversity of topics which sparked lively conversations across the campus.

Paula Madison – Finding Samuel Lowe: From Harlem to China

On 1 September, Ms Paula Madison screened her film, Finding Samuel Lowe: From Harlem to China. Raised in Harlem by her Jamaican Chinese mother, the film documents Ms Madison’s journey of uncovering her Chinese roots, as she and her two brothers embark on a journey in search of their maternal grandfather, Samuel Lowe’s, family.

After the screening, the audience had a lively question and answer session with Ms Madison, who is also the Chairman and CEO of Madison Media Management. They gained a deeper insight into how the calling to find her family prompted her to walk away from her successful television career as the Executive Vice-President at NBC.

The question and answer session with Ms Madison that followed the film screening can be viewed here and more information about the film can be found here.

Olivia Lum – My Hyflux Journey: Daring to Dream Big

On 16 September, Ms Olivia Lum gave a lecture on her personal journey, one that spoke of determination, resilience and tenacity.

During her poverty-stricken youth, Ms Lum said one of her first steps to making a difference in her own life was to study extremely hard, as one of her teachers had told her, “if you want to get out of this poverty, you have to have knowledge, because knowledge is power.”

To do so, she struck a deal with her grandmother who took care of her – she could continue to go to school as long as she continued to help her grandmother make and sell rattan bags for income. Ms Lum also spent her weekends selling fruits she picked from trees, which sparked the spirit of entrepreneurship in her when she compared her fruit-selling ‘business’ to her grandmother’s rattan bag-making business.

“At a very young age, I told myself that I was going to be a businesswoman. Because selling is so easy – as long as you have a good banana, people would always buy from you – and there was no cost,” said Ms Lum, highlighting how her experiences as a young girl trained her in life skills that she was able to employ in her career.

Olivia Lum

Ms Lum candidly recalled the motivations, challenges, and the tough times that she went through, at times illustrating it with cartoons she personally drew, to bring Hyflux to where it is today. She cautioned that it was hard work, and at times downright discouraging, but urged that one needed to dream big and take challenges head-on, in order to succeed.

Ms Lum’s sharing at the talk was also featured in The Straits Times. The video of Ms Lum’s lecture can be viewed here.

Sidney Altman – Antibiotics: Present and Future

Professor Sidney Altman, Sterling Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology and Professor of Chemistry at Yale University spoke about antibiotics, the present situation and its future in the world on 30 September. Professor Althman was a co-awardee of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1989 for the discovery that ribonucleric acid (RNA), a polymeric molecule implicated in various biological roles in coding, decoding, regulation, and expression of genes, actively aids chemical reactions in cells. He has since extensively researched on bacteria and antibiotics, and how they impact our RNA and DNA.

Professor Altman’s lecture focussed on the world-wide problem of drug resistance of bacteria and other parasites. Since DNA is in essence, a chemical, and obeys the rules of Chemistry, which means that it can be altered, this could lead to our bodies to becoming more resistant to antibiotics by deliberately modifying a gene that controls the sensitivity to a drug.

Sidney Altman

Professor Altman discussed with the audience our use of antibiotics, and how this could put our future in jeopardy. He attributed this to four main reasons – the over-prescription of drugs by medical practitioners even when our bodies may not need them; the overuse of antibiotics in animal feeds to ensure that the animals do not succumb to bacteria, which results in the vicious cycle of bacteria mutation; over-the-counter sales of drugs, which leads to improper usage during self-medication; and the misconception that altruism will balance out the profit-making focus of pharmaceutical companies.

Please click here to view Professor Altman’s lecture. For more talks and lectures delivered at Yale-NUS, please feel free to tune in or subscribe to the Yale-NUS College’s Youtube channel or check out our upcoming events here.