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Double bursary wins for science student taking on the Motherload and life’s U-turns

From bushfires to a pandemic, 2020 has had little to recommend it, but for University of Southern Queensland first year Bachelor of Science (Environment and Sustainability) student and mother of three Ros Vanderberg, it’s proving to be a year of positive change.

This month Ros has been announced as the winner of two student bursaries – a $1,000 USQ KickOn Bursary, and the prestigious $1,000 Helen Ovens Memorial Bursary awarded by the National Women’s Council of Queensland (NWCQ).

The latter, named in honour of a long-time member of the Council, was developed by the children of Helen Ovens, to specifically assist women who were starting or returning to study with a young family.

“I had worked as an outdoor education instructor, a governess in outback Queensland, a vet nurse, and a builder’s labourer by the time I got married and started having children,” Ros, 36, said.

“I had never seriously considered university but then I finally got an inkling for what I wanted to be when I ‘grew up’,” she said.

Ros enrolled in a 12-month tertiary prep course while working part-time and welcoming her second daughter into the world.

“I was thrilled when I managed high distinctions for all seven subjects, but that feeling was quickly replaced with that of morning sickness, and the realisation that I would soon have two children under two and a four year old!”

Plans to then apply to study at USQ were put on hold and life took another U-turn.

“We suddenly found ourselves heading down the early intervention diagnosis pathway with our eldest daughter. My spare time for the next few years was thrown into researching autism, ADHD, dyslexia and mental health awareness.” Ros said.

When life settled slightly Ros found time to consider her passion for grassland conservation and ecology again, volunteering one day a week in the gardens at Amaroo Environmental Education Centre.

“Having the chance to play in the dirt and enjoy a cuppa with like-minded people was simply amazing and it confirmed that I wanted to study and be part of this industry,” she said.

But, once again, life took Ros on another U-turn.

“My husband was suddenly unable to work for a time due to a workplace accident, so as the substitute breadwinner I went vegetable picking for four months, working in the paddock by day and tutoring my daughter through her dyslexia course at night,” she said.

“I was working alongside some pretty inspiring and resilient people, including immigrants with Masters’ degrees and PhDs.

“The experience made me realise I was incredibly lucky to have options available to me, so I took off my boots and finally enrolled in university four years after I initially planned to begin!”

Ros, who was born and raised on the Darling Downs and now calls Cambooya home, was accepted to USQ to study a Bachelor of Science and started her Semester 1 course work in February this year.

“Of course, within a few weeks of starting Queensland went into lockdown. It was not an easy feat completing my first academic research essays while home schooling two children with a four-year-old on the loose, but the study and live Zoom tutorials kept me sane,” she said.

“I was pretty nervous initially, but when the @EcologyUSQ team launched a short Twitter video on growth curves with sock puppets on their hands I remember calling out to my husband, ‘I think I might have found my people!’

“Now winning the two bursaries is very humbling and it has reiterated to me that I’m on the right path and I am so thankful to the bursary donors for providing that inspiration.

“I have realised recently that the skills learnt in motherhood closely align with those required in a scientific career. Both are about becoming comfortable with not knowing all the answers, and both require a willingness to struggle, and despite all the challenges, both are rewarding choices!”

woman in the field
Ros has been announced as the winner of two student bursaries – a $1,000 USQ KickOn Bursary, and the prestigious $1,000 Helen Ovens Memorial Bursary awarded by the National Women’s Council of Queensland (NWCQ).