By Grace Richey,
HUB Correspondent —
Even as a student at DHS, Kirsten (von Kugelgen) Gilardi knew her passion for science. Now working for UC Davis as an associate director of the Wildlife Health Center at the School of Veterinary Medicine, the mother of two DHS students is able to apply the skills she learned in high school to her career.
Gilardi, alumna of the class of 1983, noticed her inclination toward the scientific field in classes such as Advanced Biology, which she took as a sophomore. Splitting sites between the DHS campus and UC Davis as a senior, Gilardi participated in an assortment of classes from Intro to Analysis to Music Theory.
Although she enjoyed the sciences, the most memorable classes at DHS for Gilardi were those with exceptional teachers.
Of the ones who most stood out to her, Mrs. Vanderwold who taught English 10, helped her develop the writing skills that she now uses in her professional career. She especially credits the class for preparing her for the grant writing and research reports that she must now complete today.
Gilardi also recalls her fondness toward her Intro to Analysis and Music Theory teachers, Mr. Gelatt and Mr. Brunelle. “The classes were very enjoyable mostly because of the quality of the teachers,” she said. “They made the subjects more interesting.”
After graduating from DHS, Gilardi moved on to attend UC San Diego, later transferring to UC Santa Cruz to complete her bachelor’s degree in biology. Gilardi was fortunate enough to study killer whales in British Colombia while partaking in her Senior Thesis. Such scientific studies served as a precursor to the work she now does with mountain gorillas in Africa.
Gilardi’s work focuses on the health of wildlife and the impact that human diseases, in particular, have on species like gorillas, and visa versa. The Gorilla Doctors project that Gilardi is co-director of helps conserve and protect rare mountain gorillas in central African countries.
Although she is doing the rewarding work of defending the endangered primates mostly from afar, Gilardi claims that there is nothing quite like seeing mountain gorillas in the wild.
“When one of them looks you straight in the eye, you feel like you’re meeting a cousin or long-lost family member for the first time — really an amazing experience” she said.