Meet the Panel Judges 2017

Over the next few weeks, 128 judges will read through the thousands of entries made to The Queen's Commonwealth Essay Competition 2017. Gold, Silver and Bronze awards will be made and the very top submissions will be forwarded to the Panel Judges.

The Panel Judges are a specially selected team of ten judges and one Chair, each bringing a unique set of skills and experience to the process. All are united in their passion for youth empowerment, writing and creativity in the Commonwealth. Meet the 2017 Panel Judges below.

Chair of Judging Panels

Vicki Wienand2Vicki Wienand is a freelance publisher currently working for Cambridge University Press which is sponsoring the Commonwealth Essay Competition over five years. She served on the Senior Judging Panel in 2013. Experience from her first career as an English teacher in a variety of schools in the UK and Australia has proved useful. Most recently, she has been writing for and series editing the Cambridge School Shakespeare series for CUP.

Senior Judging Panel

Astrid de Ridder resizeAstrid de Ridder has worked in publishing for more than a decade, and is now the Head of Business Development within the Education Reform division at Cambridge University Press. With a career that has spanned the Atlantic Ocean as well as the trade and education sectors, Astrid brings a unique focus to the world of publishing.  Her background in literary and cultural studies is well-combined with her professional editing experience of nurturing authors to successful publication.

Asmatullah resizeAsmatullah Khan is currently pursuing a Masters at the University of Warwick. He has always had a fascination with language and the ways in which it shapes our world view. He was previously an English language instructor at Government College University, Lahore, Pakistan, and with the Government of Balochistan, Pakistan. His passion is writing, both poetry and prose, and he loves reading beautiful writings. 


Carla AertsCarla Aerts is Director of Futures at the Institute of Education, University College London, focusing on digital learning. She came from a background in the performing arts, pioneering in the digital media landscape in the UK, Europe and Japan on edutainment titles. Carla was Global Digital Director at Cambridge University Press, before advising edTech start-ups and learning players in the UK and Africa, believing in technology as a catalyst to access to learning, before her current role.

Jamie Muir WoodJamie Muir Wood is a tenant barrister at Hogarth Chambers where he specialises in intellectual property law.  This will be the fourth year that he has helped judge The Queen's Commonwealth Essay Competition.  He has been hugely impressed by the range and quality of essays submitted to the competition and is looking forward to reading this year's entrants' creations. Jamie has been a Panel Judge since 2014.

Ngee Derk TiongNgee Derk Tiong is a Cambridge Assessment Scholar and a graduate of the University of Cambridge. He currently teaches and conducts research at Westlake International School, Malaysia, and is waiting to commence his doctoral studies researching educational policy in Malaysia. Derk has spent most his career as an English teacher and is passionate about literature and education. You can read about his experience as a Panel Judge in 2016 in his recent blog.


Junior Judging Panel

Alexei du BoisAlexei du Bois is a South African Commonwealth Scholar at the University of Oxford reading for a DPhil in Education. He worked as a teacher in Cape Town for five years before moving to Oxford, and in September 2017 will take up the Head of English post at Peponi School in Kenya. He is passionate about contemporary African literature, international education collaborations and global sustainability issues. 


Sam Dumiak resizeSamantha Dumiak has worked in publishing for over 25 years, coming from a graphic design degree into book design. Her love of literature and design has been well served by working at Cambridge University Press as she has worked predominantly on content for the English Language Teaching markets. Outside of work she is a keen reader, Margaret Atwood being one of her favourite authors.

 Sidra ZulfiqarSidra Zulfiqar is a former Commonwealth Scholar and a graduate of Birkbeck College, University of London. She has been a Senior Panel Judge for The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition since 2013 and is looking forward to being part of the Junior Panel this year. Sidra currently works for WaterAid in Pakistan, and has previously done education policy research in the country.


Siddharth PandeySiddharth Pandey hails from North India and is currently a third year Doctoral Candidate at Homerton College, University of Cambridge. As a scholar in literature and cultural studies, he has presented and published numerous articles on a range of subjects. He is the recipient of the 2014-17 Cambridge International Scholarship, the 2012-13 Cambridge Shared Commonwealth Scholarship, and the 2012 Charles Wallace India Trust Award.

Zola OkparaZola Okpara is immensely passionate about working with children and young people and has recently completed a teacher training program at the University of Cambridge.  Her work with children and young people has taken her around the world, to such places as Lagos, London, and Mumbai. She holds an undergraduate degree from the American University of Paris and a Master's degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science.  

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