A whale of a time for Rosary Primary
A marine mammal expert made a splash of her own when she visited her former school in Watson recently.
Rosary Primary School students and staff alike were thrilled to welcome acclaimed wildlife scientist Vanessa Pirotta back into the classroom.
“It was an absolute treat,” teacher librarian Sandy Vincent said.
“She is just a delight and such a wonderful female ambassador for STEM and for our school.”
Dr Pirotta, who followed her childhood dream to become a dolphin trainer before completing a PhD in Marine Science, has travelled the world for wildlife research. Her most well-known research is the ground-breaking use of drones to collect whale snot for the assessment of whale health.
Dr Pirotta has been recognised as one of the top 100 Women of Influence judged by the Australian Financial Review, thanks to her dedication to outreach within schools and with science professionals.
“It shows the children that I was once in their position and that so much of what I wanted to do seemed unachievable – especially as I was so far away from the ocean,” Dr Pirotta said.
“It gives them a real-life example of what you can potentially do – and that’s powerful. I went on and did way more than I thought I would be doing. So, it has been a surprising way forward, but it also highlights the importance of STEM or STEAM in classes.”
Dr Pirotta said it was wonderful for current students to learn about the adventures past students had been up to.
“It’s a refreshing reminder, and it is great for them to see a woman in STEM as well,” she said.
“I think it is good for teachers as well to see where alumni have gone and what they end up doing – it is such a nice way to connect.”
Dr Pirotta spoke to the students about whales and the adaptions of Antarctic animals to their environment. She also gave the school a copy of her children’s book, The Voyage of Whale and Calf.
“It was a cherry on top to be able to give my book to my librarian,” she explained.
“Mrs Vincent is very special to me, and she remembers me following my passion right from when I was little.”
Mrs Vincent said Year 5 students had been working on an Antarctica unit before Dr Pirotta arrived.
“For them to do that study and then have Vanessa come in and speak to them not only about Antarctica but the interrelation of animals that reside there – it was just perfect,” she said.
“She is a wildlife warrior, and she has made it her thing to encourage women and girls in STEM.”
The librarian, who retired from her position at the school last week, said Dr Pirotta’s visit had made her farewell a joyful memory.
“It’s a treat when you get any student come back, but it is extra special for someone to come with such knowledge and authority in their work,” she said.
“And as learned as she is, she is still essentially the wonderful girl who was my library monitor all those years ago.”