How it all Began

Dr Zara Dennis talks about how Sci-Fly came to be

20170303_112737.jpgI'm not quite sure exactly what initially triggered the idea of establishing an airborne education outreach program. I remember more clearly the reaction from a few close friends when I put it past them. The question I asked was one many people with a novel idea recognise, "is this crazy?" Unanimously however, the response was a very positive one, and so the fledgling ambition to be a fly-in fly-out science teacher was seeded in my mind. But for a few months that is all that it was: an idea, a pipe dream, something I would do as an amazing retirement plan. The smouldering idea was suddenly ignited through, firstly by the involvement of PrimeSCI! Science Education who provided the platform to launch the Junior Aviators programs, and secondly by the support of Lilydale Flying School, who facilitated a base to host those pivotal inaugural programs. Sci-Fly STEM Outreach was clear for take-off!

I moved to Melbourne from the UK in 2008 to complete my PhD in Geophysics. I love Science; I always have and I imagine I always will, and whenever opportunities arise I fully intend to continue my own personal advancements in the subject by way of short projects and research. As proud as I am of my academic achievements however, the magic for me came when I started working as a Science Educator while my thesis was under examination. To be passionate about something is awe-inspiring. Perhaps it sounds clichéd, yet it is irrevocably true that passion burns like a fire in your belly, motivating you to get up in the morning and try something wonderful. To be able to share that passion and induce the same sense of wonder and excitement in others is a privileged occupation. Between specialist science programs, extracurricular projects and full-time teaching, I've gained about 6 years of experience as an educator. In 2015 I honoured to be one of three inaugural winners of the Teacher Tall Poppies Award. An accolade in partnership with the University of Melbourne (among others), in recognition of my inspiration and ingenuity in teaching all veins of Science from year five, to VCE, and through to first year university. And it is upon the Growing Tall Poppies pedagogical framework, the Sci-Fly programs are now being built.

Evidently my enthusiasm for Science runs parallel to my eagerness for adventure, as I keep myself busy with flying. Something which has been eating away at me since I was about 12, “I will learn to fly one day”, must have been muttered over a thousand times. Then in January 2015, “one day” arrived. It was a Tiger Moth aerobatics flight that had me at Lilydale aerodrome, but that same afternoon I also picked-up a leaflet for the flying school’s trial introductory flights. In short, a TIF was booked, and the addiction started. Fast forward, I gained my RPL at the end of 2015, and then ploughed headlong into my navs, gaining my PPL in August 2016. Early 2017, I have passed 200 total flight time and am now in deep in CPL theory… never stop learning!

Sci-Fly is thus the culmination of all of this: Science, Flying and Education. Like many Scientists I have my quirks, so I was never one to settle for ‘normal’ – lots of people do that. Life should be an adventure, and flying out to rural communities across Australia certainly matches that description. But what matters more, is what this can achieve way beyond the dreams of one person. The goal is thus to take the wonders of STEM into rural and remote communities. Providing exciting, informative, and most importantly inspirational experiences for children and young adults, who due to their rural location, might otherwise miss-out on such opportunities that city kids often take for granted. Not every child will grow up to be an aspiring scientist, but to foster curiosity, inspire young minds to ask questions and to set out on a path of discovery, is a fundamental aspect of ensuring the future of scientific literacy in our society. In an ever-increasing global community, location should not be a limiting factor on the opportunity for scientists to share and inspire the next generation to achieve their dreams.

As far as my aviation specific endeavours go, CPL and then IFR is a logical plan. I can well imagine the disappointment of a class of enthusiastic students somewhere up north, waiting excitedly for a 10am lesson while I'm at the mercy of low cloud sitting over the Yarra Valley. I am keen also to do an aerobatics endorsement. Partly as I recognise the extent to which it will improve my skills, but mostly because why not? It will be fun!

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