PAMELA Snow has always had a "deep love" of language, communication, and education.
The La Trobe University cognitive psychology professor grew up in the Melbourne suburb of Chadstone as the youngest of four children.
She said her mother and father, a returned serviceman from World War II, had a massive influence on her life.
"In different ways they both inspired and supported me," she said. "My dad, Don, was an avid reader and had a strong command of language.
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"My mum, Nancy, on the other hand, came from a very poor rural family and her education was disrupted by the Depression and by a major childhood injury.
"She was a staunch advocate of education for all four of her children. I am deeply indebted to them both."
Professor Snow had been poised to become a lawyer but shifted plans in year 11.
"I just had a change of heart and found out about speech pathology and decided that was what I was going to do," she said.
After high school, she attended the Lincoln Institute of Health Sciences where she studied speech pathology. Her first job after graduation was an unusual one for the profession.
"It was at a very traditional psychiatric hospital that even in the early 1980s felt a bit like a time warp," Professor Snow said.
She worked at the Mont Park Hospital as a speech pathologist, supporting people who had severe brain injuries
"As a new graduate, it was a pretty major initiation of fire to be working in a sole position," she said. "I didn't have a more senior clinician to support me."
But while that first role was challenging, Professor Snow said it set her up for the next position at the Bethesda Hospital in Richmond.
She worked there at the time the Motor Accidents Board Victoria - the body that later became the Transport Accident Commission - took over.
"I had the great privilege there of being part of the team that set up the first specialised brain injury rehab program in Australia," she said. "It's still regarded as one of the premier brain injury rehab programs in the world."
Professor Snow spent 11 years working there and began her doctorate while at the organisation.
She completed her PhD in 1997, and worked at universities and as an Australian Drug Foundation research fellow for a few years before moving to Bendigo with her family.
Professor Snow said it wasn't a completely spontaneous decision.
"My husband had an interest in grape growing and winemaking," she said. "Soon after we were married, we bought some land up here near Axedale and planted a vineyard.
"That was the other side story going on in our lives. So we were up and down between Melbourne and Bendigo, planting vines, picking grapes, and making wine."
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Professor Snow said it just became easier to make the move instead of living a "fairly complicated" life.
"It's been a fantastic thing for all of us as a family," she said. "Our decision back in the early 2000s to move to Bendigo is one that we still celebrate and look back on as a really good decision for all of us."
Professor Snow said during that time, she started becoming interested in vulnerable young people and those who ended up in the youth justice system.
"It's something I have been looking at for the last couple of decades," she said.
"I have now done a number of studies looking at the language profile of young people in the youth justice system and young people in out-of-home care."
"All of that work led me to an interest in the early teaching of reading because it was obvious to me that was a key thing that these young people were missing out on.
"They all had huge deficiencies when it came to their literacy skills and huge gaps that by secondary school were very difficult to back-fill."
Professor Snow said in recent years, her research had become more focused on the early years of school and how getting early reading instruction right could help prevent young people from ending up in the justice system.
"I work metaphorically at the top of the cliff, building better fences to try and ensure more young people learn how to read, write, and spell in the first three years of school," she said. "That's a big focus for me.
"And I also still work at the bottom of the cliff where the ambulances are, for the young people who have fallen off and need a lot of help and support because they are in contact with youth justice."
In her time in Bendigo, Professor Snow has worked in public health at La Trobe and medical education at Monash University.
She was also the head of La Trobe's Rural Health School for nearly five years, before moving out of the role earlier this year.
"I've landed where I think I've belonged all along in the School of Education," Professor Snow said.
Along with La Trobe Associate Professor Tanya Serry, Professor Snow has established the SOLAR lab - the Science of Language and Reading lab.
She said the aim of the program was to promote scientific understandings and approaches around reading and literacy.
"If that's something we can influence in the next few years, then that would be fantastic," she said.
The SOLAR lab's first short course has already gained interest from more than 800 people around the country. Professor Snow said La Trobe had been strong supporters of the program.
"The Dean of Education is supporting our endeavours to ensure La Trobe is known in this space for taking a scientific, rigorous approach," she said.
While 2020 was a challenging year for many, Professor Snow said it had not been a horrible year.
Her speaking engagements in New York and Manchester were altered as a result of the pandemic, but she was also recognised for her work.
Professor Snow won the editors award at the American journal, Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools. She was also made a life member of Speech Pathology Australia.
"I was absolutely bowled over," she said. "They don't necessarily award a life membership every year and it's usually, at most, one person a year. So I was really surprised and deeply honoured."
But despite all of the accolades, Professor Snow said her family was the most valuable part of her life.
"All of the professional stuff is lovely but what is really important to me is family," Professor Snow said.
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