In loving memory of a mentor, leader and scholar: Professor William (Bill) Aalbersberg
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(From L-R): Mr Robin Yarrow, Chairman of the Institute of Applied Sciences Advisory Board, Professor Rajesh Chandra, USP Vice-Chancellor and President, Dr Johann Poinapen, Director of IAS and Associate Professor Anjeela Jokhan, Dean of FSTE after the unveiling.
The University of the South Pacific (USP) held a special memorial service to celebrate the life of Professor William (Bill) Aalbersberg on 16 August 2018, at the University’s Marine Studies Campus at Laucala.
Professor Aalbersberg joined USP as the Lecturer in Chemistry in 1984. He was later promoted to Senior Lecturer and Reader in Chemistry and then in 1997 to Professor of Natural Products Chemistry.
Professor Aalbersberg officially became the Director of the Institute of Applied Sciences (IAS) in 1999, after having managed the Food Unit of the Institute a few years prior. Before joining USP, he had worked as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Sigatoka and later a Lecturer in Organic Chemistry for the University of California, Berkley.
Professor Rajesh Chandra, USP Vice-Chancellor and President said that the late Professor Aalbersberg had made huge contribution to the University, to the region, to science and to environmental movement.
“There was something in his will and I think it goes back to the Peace Corps philosophy, because people who served as Peace Corps volunteers were really dedicated to serving,” Professor Chandra remarked.
Professor Chandra talked about Professor Aalbersberg’s areas of research which covered a wide range of science disciplines, particularly in chemical and biological activity of South Pacific medicinal plants and marine organisms, environmental chemistry and food analysis. He noted that Professor Aalbersberg importantly managed to make a mark in these areas, adding that it is rare to see people make a mark when they are working in a number of areas, but Professor Aalbersberg had such competency.
Professor Chandra further shared that during his time as the Director of IAS, Professor Aalbersberg had made remarkable achievements for the Institute, including having the first full-service internationally accredited laboratory in the region; the establishment of a centre of excellence in taxonomy and ecology at the South Pacific Regional Herbarium; the establishment of Fiji’s first ever Natural History Museum housed at the Fiji Museum; the establishment of a research centre of excellence in natural products; the setting up of one of six regional United Nations global centres of analysis of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) under the Stockholm Convention; and the establishment of the food nutrients and safety centre of excellence, among many others.
Professor Chandra also stated that Professor Aalbersberg did a lot of work around Kava testing and was directly responsible for IAS’s increased visibility and engagement in the region.
While attributing him as the “father of marine resource conservation”, Professor Chandra shared that during the United Nations Ocean Conference last year, he found that much of his work and concepts are now being used internationally.
He praised Professor Aalbersberg’s personality saying that he had a more personal approach to his staff and students who faced difficulties in their work or studies.
The Vice-Chancellor and President further highlighted that he has over 230 publications, peer reviewed journals and professional articles in key scientific research areas and has to date supervised the highest number of Masters and PhD students at USP, many of whom have gone on to leadership roles in their area of work.
He expressed his gratitude in working with Professor Aalbersberg, thanked the IAS team for organising the memorial service, and on behalf of the University, expressed consolation to the family members of the late Professor.
In her address, Associate Professor Anjeela Jokhan, Dean of Faculty of Science, Technology and Environment (FSTE) shared her experiences in studying under the supervision of Professor Aalbersberg as a Graduate student, later as a colleague and a manager.
Associate Professor Jokhan talked about the efficiency in the work of the late Professor and shared that he was a fine multi-tasker, without compromising the quality of the work.
She shared that on a number of occasions; Professor Aalbersberg would attend meetings but at the same time bring in assignments to mark, while providing valuable and meaningful contributions in the meetings. This she added was one of the most outstanding skills that she would always look up to him for.
She also shared how at one time Professor Aalbersberg gave up half of his salary to save the Faculty from financial crisis, adding that this was the level of dedication he had to his work.
Associate Professor Jokhan said that Professor Aalbersberg was a very good mentor and would always provide the necessary guidance to her.
Mr Robin Yarrow, Chairman of the Institute of Applied Sciences Advisory Board also shared his memorable times with Professor Aalbersberg from fishing trips to USP Council meetings, conferences, working with postgraduate students and marine conservation organisations through the late Professor.
Mr Yarrow stated that Professor Aalbersberg’s role in developing, expanding and enhancing IAS is commendable, adding that he had been an asset to the region’s natural resources sector.
Dr Sereana Kubuabola, who worked as the Manager of IAS Analytical Services under his leadership from 2002-2006, shared that Professor Aalbersberg was the ‘go-to’ person, when his staff would have issues. Dr Kubuabola said that while it was imperative for all IAS staff to understand the common vision of the Institute, they also learnt that a vision must have standards.
She added that in an analytical laboratory where accuracy and precision were the order of the day, every day, the quality of reports whether they were analytical, technical, or daily reports had to be drafted, revised and refined to a standard, as they were signed off by Professor Aalbersberg before they were released.
Dr Kubuabola summarised Professor Aalbersberg’s personality as that of “empathy”, stating that Professor Aalbersberg had a lot of empathy, both cognitive and emotional, and added that he was able to relate to all of his staff.
As part of the memorial service, a presentation on Professor Aalbersberg’s achievements and contributions to the University and the region was shown. To thank and honour him, a song composed by Dr Isoa Korovulavula and Mr Tuverea Tuamoto was sung by the IAS staff. The memorial concluded with the unveiling of a plaque and tree planting in memory of Professor Aalbersberg.
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