Introducing one of our Imaginarium facilitators, Dr Ellen Fortini

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The Imaginarium is a place where gifted girls are encouraged to develop their gifts and interests through a diverse range of courses. Courses are open to gifted girls from any school throughout Western Australia, and are held after school and during the holidays.

I’d like you to meet Dr Ellen Fortini, who will facilitate our Explorology course during the July holiday break. Ellen is an incredible educator with a passion for learning. ‘The world is huge, and the universe even bigger. There are so many secrets out there just waiting to be discovered,’ she says, as she ponders the opportunities students have through Imaginarium to explore their curiosity.

Whilst Ellen says her strongest character strength is gratitude (she spends most of her day considering how grateful she is to be doing what she does, from learning something new to interesting conversations with students) she also highlights her love of learning – her many years of study (particularly in microbiology), being challenged, and finding out new things about the world. Learning about Ellen’s interesting experiences whilst completing her PhD in molecular biology, I hear further character strengths that are key to scientific investigations and research with perseverance, resilience and hope at the forefront. Her experience follows:

‘Well, this experience was painful at the time but it’s one of the best things that has ever happened to me and has really taught me a lot. There was one experiment I had been planning for more than a year. I had to learn a heap of new skills in order to make the experiment work and it took a lot of time to get there. I remember the day when I was finally ready to do the experiment. I had completed lots of small practices and was all set to conduct the real experiment and finally find out some interesting things. I got to the lab to start the experiment at 6.00 am… I was the only one there. I was working on it all day and into the night, bit by bit working towards the end of the experiment when I would finally see the result. It was 1.00am, more than 17 hours later, and the big moment had arrived. The moment of truth, finally after a year and 17 hours of work that day. I anxiously looked at these final results…. and they were not what I expected to see. I was devastated. I was tired. I didn’t know what I had done wrong. I thought I was back at square one. I went home that night so disappointed. But you know what happened, I came back the next day, looked at it with fresh eyes and realised that it still wasn’t what I expected to see, it was so much better. It was a completely surprising result that we had never anticipated. It turned out to be an awesome new discovery that taught me one of the best lessons of my life: to sleep on it. Everything looks better in the morning, and sometimes things don’t turn out the way you expect – they turn out much better and take you on a completely new and exciting journey.’

When asked how her friends would describe her, Ellen says, ‘Anyone who knows me knows I am obsessed with the colour purple.’ In her spare time, Ellen loves to go to the beach where she can be found every weekend in summer. She loves to read different kinds of books from fiction to science. Another of her favourite things to do is spend time with her big Italian family.

The Explorology course will be an opportunity for gifted girls to think outside the box. They will learn new things about our planet and the wider universe through the Extremophiles. As Ellen asserts, ‘The reality is, these are the girls who will be the ones to go out there and explore the universe and other plenty to uncover the secrets that lie out there.’ How can we build on these ideas and explore the possibilities through virtual simulation and utilise robotics equipment to consider new possibilities? I wonder…