“Science is everywhere,” says Head of Science Kellie Saunders. “As a career it can be anything that you make it."
With her own personal journey from the research laboratory to the classroom and an honour roll of past science students who now live and work all over the world, this energetic teacher is more than qualified to back this up.
“I’ve had a Year 7 student discover a new species of beetle (and have it named after him), another who now studies marine reefs off Lizard Island for her Phd and another who combined his love of languages and biology and now translates forestry field guides in Borneo," says Mrs Saunders who joined Mentone Girls’ this year from her previous role as Head of Science at Caulfield Grammar.
“It is about bringing Science alive for the students and showing them how it is relevant to absolutely everything."
The only problem with sparking enquiring minds, she says, is that the answers they find can sometimes seem a little bleak.
“Students come alive and start seeking answers to some important questions like ‘If only 8% of fuel used in Australia is renewable then why do we burn so much?”’.
“Or why in 2018 can’t everyone have access to a reliable water source or education?”
The flip side however, she believes, is that it puts young people in the hot seat to be part of the solution.
“It’s then that we see young people in all different fields looking for answers in a way that extends far beyond Science."
What drove Mrs Saunders, a self-confessed country girl who once contemplated joining the Navy, toward her life time love of science, is something a little closer to home.
“My life as a student was tough. I grew up in a small coal-driven town in Gippsland with shift workers and hard working families that unravelled when the State Electricity Commission became privatised."
Unemployment was high, the hospital closed and then the library, but after an explosion blew up three quarters of her school and when it amalgamated with another, things went from bad to worse.
“Access to resources and research materials were virtually non-existent,” She said of the pre internet days. “We had no choice but to be self-starters."
She admits she did get in trouble in high school - only once – and that was for traveling to the neighbouring town to study in their library. “I got detention every day for a week”.
After earning a Bachelor of Applied Science in Biochemistry, a double degree in education and science followed by a brief gap in a “dodgy retail job”, she was determined to help students just like her.
“I wanted to help foster talent and make sure that other kids didn’t get stuck, just because of their circumstances.” says Mrs Saunders who did just that teaching at a high school near Frankston for the next eight years.
Now aged 39 and living in Parkdale with husband James and daughter Lilly who started in ELC 3 this year, she has found something at Mentone that is new to her.
“These girls seem to know how lucky they are to be here…did you know that almost every class I have the girls thank me as they walk out the door,” she smiles. “Now that’s something I have never seen anywhere else”.
The decision for have their daughter become a Mentone girl was also something different.
“As locals we would see the smiling, polite girls walking to and from school who would be the first to walk out of the way when the pram was coming."