On 3 December 2020, the International Relations office organised the launch of the University Development Cooperation (UDC) Career Award. The general objective of the UDC Career Award is to acknowledge VUB professors and their contribution to university development cooperation. The call for nominations was opened in July and the selection made in November, with the award-giving ceremony taking place during the VUB’s Ethics Week.

Prior to the award-giving ceremony, a panel discussion was organised on ‘decolonising the curriculum’. VUB’s Professor Stefaan Smis moderated the event, with panellists from VUB, Erasmus Hogeschool Brussel, UCOS, and Mbarara University of Science Technology in Uganda. At 17:30 the discussion wrapped up and Vice-rector Internationalisation Professor Romain Meeusen announced the recipient of this year’s UDC Career Award: Professor Edilbert Van Driessche.

To those who know him, have worked with him over the years, who have been taught by him, this award will not come as a surprise, but rather as a well-deserved honour. The letter sent along with the award by Rector Caroline Pauwels and Vice-Rector Romain Meeusen, sums it up: “The award is given for ‘nurturing partnerships and being an inspiration to others’. That is you. Your accomplishments are too numerous to sum up, but in the words of Steven Odongo, an IPMB-alumnus, “you have brought the world to VUB, and taken VUB to the world in equal measure”, and for this the world and the VUB are a better place. You have left an indelible mark across the globe; a mark of kindness, friendship, mentorship, knowledge and experience that you have always readily shared with colleagues and students. ”

Eddy obtained his PhD at VUB in 1986, and was involved in two English-taught master programmes at VUB from the early 1990s onward. First, the renowned Interuniversity Programme Molecular Biology, IPMB (Master of Science in Molecular Biology), which, in its original form as a VLIR-UOS-funded International Course Programme, produced its final graduate in 2020 after 24 years and over 650 graduates from all over the world. Second, the Graduate School in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, which was later transformed into the Master of Science in Biomolecular Sciences. In addition to these two English-taught programmes, he also taught in the Master of Science in Bio-engineering Sciences (Dutch-taught programme).

When we asked Eddy how he felt upon receiving this award, he said, “I’m surprised, I’m pleasantly surprised! I have always done what I had to do with my work, and I’m very happy with what I’ve accomplished. Not just for me, but also for those around me. Everything I’ve achieved was never done alone. Without the help from Sonia (nb: Professor Sonia Beeckmans, Eddy’s wife), and all the colleagues and partners across all the projects I worked on, I’d be nowhere.”

The highlights from his career are easy: “Teaching! That contact with the younger generations is what it is all about for me. I’m still organising workshops in Africa and I help out on projects, so I’m managing to maintain that contact with today’s youngsters. And then I have to highlight all the projects I did over the years, mainly those in Cuba, Vietnam, South-Africa – those are close to my heart.” He received several awards and special titles from Universidad Central “Marta Abreu” de Las Villas (UCLV) in Cuba and from Can Tho University in Vietnam, so there is a clear reciprocity. The current rector of UCLV wrote, “Professor Van Driessche, for more than 15 years, was a relentless promoter of the cooperation between the Universidad Central Marta Abreu de Las Villas and the Flemish universities in Belgium. He also stood out for his magnificent human relationships,  his spirit of solidarity, his high professionalism, his dedication to coordinating the programme, and promoting supporting to other Cuban universities. All this earned him the special category of Visiting Professor granted by the university.”

Dr Steven Odongo, one of Eddy’s former students and now lecturer at Makerere University (Uganda), said in a message to Eddy: “You have left footprints across Africa, Asia, South America, North America and Europe. These footprints are the seeds you have sown, and these seeds are we, your students, the young scientists. We will continue with your legacy.”

Moving forward, Eddy will continue his work with the organisation of workshops. 2020 has put everything online, and technology has proven to be a winning connection tool, but taking into account the climate change urgency, the post-COVID future will look different indeed, with less travel and more online meetings. Next year will see the continuation of the awareness-raising workshops and train-the-teacher sessions, as well as the alumni meetings.

Eddy closes off our chat by saying “thank you to everyone who has contributed over the decades, because nothing is ever done in isolation – cooperation with others is and has always been central to my work, and a special thanks really goes to my partner in work and in life, Sonia Beeckmans.”

A heartfelt congratulations from the VUB community to Professor dr Edilbert Van Driessche!

  • The video giving a short overview of Eddy’s career and a dedication from UCLV (Cuba) can be viewed here.
  • A short dedication from Dr Steven Odongo (Makerere University, Uganda) can be viewed here.
  • A short dedication from Dr Duong Thi Huon Gian (Can Tho University, Vietnam) can be viewed here.