Inspire a ten year old ... this is what can happen!
The very first time Zara Dennis visited the Coal Mining Museum, was with a school trip when she was 8 or 9.
"The Museum must have made an impression as it wasn't long before I was back with my Dad. Caphouse (as it is known to me) will always be a "special childhood place" to me"
Zara explains that Caphouse was always a great day out which she looked forward to greatly, and in fact her tenth birthday (see photo) was the tenth time she visited the museum, and this small child with a cheeky smile and blond pig-tails made the local paper way back in 1992!
"I loved the ponies and the adventure playground, and was gifted by the museum a pair of miners' knee pads to assist in adventuring both in the museum crawl-way and of course underground AND my own very special miners' helmet... underground or over ground it would stay on my head the entire time as my visits reached 20+ times."
Of course, as Zara visited so often, she soon got to know the staff (some of whom Zara has now reconnected with via Facebook)...
"Jeff Thompson (may his good soul rest forever in peace) was the guide who, as a ten year old I took a particular shine to! When the opportunity arose I would be off exploring everywhere I was allowed when we went underground - my clearest memories are of the huge machines, the speed of the cage, and most of all looking for fossils! My poor Dad had so many bits of shale in his back garden that I had collected. Some from where the museum railway shed was, and also some collected during our occasional treat when Jeff would walk us out of the mine via the drift."
High school happened, exams, part time jobs... but the fascination and inspiration from the Museum never went away. As High School studies drew to a close, the overwhelming desire to pursue Physics returned.
"So that's what I did... 2008 Salford University Physics with Space Technology. First class honours and the highest ranking student in the year! Not bad after getting an E in year 12! ... I guess that is my personal inspiring story in many ways, and never once have I looked back!"
What next? Zara decided to keep climbing the academic ladder and started a Phd in Geophysics.
"I was keen for a new adventure and one that would see me make the biggest and best decision of my life. Moving to Australia! I had spent 18 months working in a cutting edge facility, with clean room procedures, lab coat, gloves and goggles everyday. Geophysics would take me back outdoors, to research in a science area I loved and rekindle the inspirational spark of Caphouse."
Zara tells us that she honestly believes, had she not had those wonderful experiences when she was small, that her PhD may never have happened... or at least not in the form it did... the one which saw her move to Australia and make her mark on the geophysical research world.
Zara's thesis can be accessed here: http://arrow.monash.edu.au/hdl/1959.1/534313).
"It was during an interview for an Earth Sciences student publication during my PhD that I credited Caphouse with my interest in Earth Science. I was prompted to contact the museum in the faint hope that someone may remember me... and for the simple reason I thought it would be a nice gesture. As it happened, the article found it's way to Margaret Faull (the Museum Director), a few weeks before she was visiting Melbourne! This was an amazing coincidence and we were able to catch up for dinner. Finishing on the promise that when I eventually visit the UK I will come visit. Of course I will be... January 2016!"
So, Zara is now teaching Physics, Science and Maths full time in a Melbourne high-school. With her PhD (and five published papers) she has made an impact on the scientific world, one of which she is extremely proud.
"It's very rewarding to feel that I am now inspiring students to follow in scientific footsteps. I have recently won an award for ingenuity and inspiration in the STEM subjects from Melbourne University - it is a unique career in which you really can make a difference, and my love for what I teach has been described as "infectious"".
Zara is now, on the cusp of a new adventure, currently working towards attaining her pilot's licence, with a fledgling plan to one day combine all she has experienced and set up an Education Outreach program, with a unique twist. As a qualified pilot she will be able to take all of her enthusiasm and energy to the air, and to rural outback communities who otherwise may not have such opportunities.
"Inspire a ten year old... this is what can happen! Thank you Caphouse! Forever a special place!"
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