La Trobe honours Distinguished Alumni

A star AFLW midfielder, a renowned Australian genetic epidemiologist and one of the most respected journalists in Australia are among six distinguished La Trobe alumni to receive one of the University’s highest honours.

The 2019 recipients include two-time Walkley Award winner and host of ABC Melbourne Mornings, Virginia Trioli; Australian Rural Women’s Movement pioneer, Alana Johnson; renowned Australian genetic epidemiologist Professor John Hopper AM; food rescue and food waste reduction advocate, Simone Carson AM; and Young Achiever Award winners AFLW player Daisy Pearce and surgical resident Dr Batool Albatat.

La Trobe University Vice-Chancellor, Professor John Dewar, said the calibre of La Trobe alumni is second to none.

“I’m continually impressed by the diverse pool of La Trobe graduates who, as innovators and leaders in their individual fields, continue to enrich the lives and welfare of others in their communities,” Professor Dewar said.

“Virginia, Alana, John, Simone, Daisy and Batool have taken the values and knowledge they have learned at La Trobe and used those skills to shape the history of Australia through the incredible achievements they’ve made in their individual fields.

“We’re proud to honour them as Distinguished Alumni and will follow their stellar careers with great interest.”

Since its opening 52 years ago, La Trobe has conferred this prestigious award to only 88 of its more than 210,000 graduates.

2019 Distinguished Alumni Award recipients

Virginia Trioli is one of Australia’s best-known journalists with an established reputation as a radio host, television presenter, news reporter, features writer and columnist. She recently left her role as co-anchor of ABC News Breakfast to make a return to radio, to host Mornings with Virginia Trioli on ABC Melbourne. Ms Trioli is a Quill and two-time Walkley Award Winner. She completed Honours in Arts at La Trobe.

“I transferred my Honours year to La Trobe University because there was a freshness and an intellectual curiosity about the campus and about the tutors out there that I really responded to. What I learnt at La Trobe was just a greater sense of application to the real world.”

Daisy Pearce graduated from La Trobe with a Bachelor of Nursing and Midwifery.  She is widely regarded as the face of women’s Australian Rules Football, becoming one of the first female ambassadors within the sport. Growing up in Bright, Ms Pearce started playing Auskick at the age of five. By 2005 she was balancing full-time work as a midwife while playing for the Darebin Falcons in the VFL Women’s, where she played in 10 premierships. She was drafted by the Melbourne Football Club and named captain for the inaugural AFLW season in 2017.

“My time at La Trobe was a really enjoyable time of my life. I ended up studying Midwifery which, I think came about because my mum had kids when I was a bit older, so I remember being fascinated by her pregnancy and the birth of my little brother and sister… I feel so lucky that I get to juggle the football career and the midwifery career, and even the media career as well.”

Professor John Hopper AM has published more than 1,000 papers addressing the genetic environmental aetiology of diseases and health. Professor Hopper has made seminal contributions to understanding the roles genetic and environmental factors play on Australia’s major cancers and other diseases, underpinned by the innovations he developed as part of his PhD in Mathematical Statistics at La Trobe. He is currently a Redmond Barry Professorial Fellow and Director (Research) of the Centre for Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the School of Population Global Health at the University of Melbourne. He is also a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Senior Principal Research Fellow and Director of Twins Research Australia.

“During my PhD at La Trobe, I realised the I could get the computer to make up for my weakness in mathematical knowledge and do things much more clever than me, and quicker… I would sit there for hours trying different models and then I would wander out to the car park and I’d get close to my car and I’d suddenly realise I had a new idea, so I’d turn around and go back to the office. I’d try again.

Simone Carson AM is co-founder and Director of SecondBite, an organisation that provides access to fresh and nutritious food for people in need across Australia. The not-for-profit has an established research team that is committed to furthering the understanding of food insecurity in Australia and providing long-term solutions to this issue. Ms Carson graduated from La Trobe with a Bachelor of Education.

“La Trobe gave me confidence. It gave me knowledge and research skills, and it encouraged me to think more deeply.”

Alana Johnson graduated from La Trobe with a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Social Work. Ms Johnson is recognised nationally and internationally for her work in rural development, women’s advancement, leadership and social activism. Raised in Victoria’s Western District, she is a pioneer of the rural women’s movement in Australia, instrumental in establishing the Victorian Rural Women’s Network and Australian Women in Agriculture Inc. Ms Johnson is currently Chair of the Victorian Women’s Trust and a member of the Victorian Ministerial Council on Women’s Equality.

“At La Trobe, I chose Sociology because it held a magnifying glass up to the world… We were there [University] being exposed to ideas and thoughts about women and society and how things worked that, when we returned to life in rural Victoria, it was never going to be the same again.”

Dr Batool Albatat graduated from La Trobe with a Bachelor of Biomedical Science. Dr Albatat overcame much adversity to become a qualified doctor and is currently a surgical resident at Northern Health. When she was a child Dr Albatat’s family fled their home in Iraq during the Gulf War and became refugees in Iran. Unable to apply for Iranian citizenship, her family decided to pay smugglers to travel to Malaysia then Indonesia, before boarding a boat bound for Australia. Rescued by the Coast Guard, the family landed on Christmas Island, were granted asylum and arrived in Melbourne in 2001. Dr Albatat is passionate about helping others, especially refugee women and youth, and is an advocate for the children of Nauru.

I had a very good time at La Trobe, it was a friendly environment. I made close friends there who I’m still in contact with today… I spent two months [in the Bachelor of Biomedical Science] working with cadavers, dissecting and preparing different sections for fellow students. It was very challenging work… That’s when I became even more fascinated by the human body and its functions.

PHOTO (top left to right): Professor Clare Wright, Vice-Chancellor Professor John Dewar, Chancellor John Brumby, Professor John Hopper AM, Alana Johnson, (bottom left to right) Simone Carson AM, Virgina Trioli, Daisy Pearce, Dr Batool Albat

Media contact: Dragana Mrkaja – 0447 508 171 –