From Chemical Reactions to Sweet Creations: Elena Inspires Students and Tastebuds

Santa Maria College holds great importance in acknowledging our exceptional staff members who serve as inspirations to the next generation of young women. Among them is Elena Comninos, a devoted Science and Chemistry teacher who brings boundless enthusiasm to her mission of making these subjects relevant and empowering girls to venture into STEM careers.

In this article, we delve into a plethora of captivating topics, including the world of chemistry, teaching insights, industry trends, inspirations, and even side hustles. 

What inspired you to become a chemistry teacher?

As a younger female chemist working at an all girls’ school, I was inspired to become a chemistry teacher by my own experiences and the desire to make a positive impact on young minds. I wanted to share my love for chemistry and inspire a new generation of female scientists. Additionally, being able to contribute to the education and empowerment of girls in a STEM field was a significant motivation for me.

What do you enjoy most about teaching chemistry?

One of the things I enjoy most about teaching chemistry is empowering my students to develop critical thinking skills and apply concepts to real-world applications, which is especially crucial in our region of Australia, where mining plays a significant role in the economy. Witnessing those “Aha!” moments when students grasp a challenging concept or make connections between different ideas is incredibly rewarding. Seeing their curiosity and enthusiasm grow as they realise the practical relevance of chemistry in addressing the issues faced by the mining industry and our local community is inspiring. By fostering a collaborative learning environment where students engage in hands-on experiments, discussions, and problem-solving activities, I strive to cultivate their ability to think critically and analyse complex situations, preparing them to become the next generation of chemists who can contribute to solving challenges.

How do you make chemistry engaging and interesting for your students?
I use various teaching methods and resources to make chemistry engaging and interesting for my students. I incorporate hands-on experiments and demonstrations to make the subject more tangible and relatable. I also encourage active participation through discussions, group activities, and problem-solving exercises. Additionally, I try to relate chemistry to real-world examples and applications relevant to my students’ lives and interests.

How do you incorporate real-world applications of chemistry into your lessons?

I believe showing students the practical applications of chemistry in their everyday lives is crucial. I incorporate real-world examples by discussing topics such as environmental chemistry, pharmaceuticals, food chemistry, and materials science. This way, students can see how chemistry is applied in various careers and industries, sparking their interest and showing them the subject’s relevance.

Are there any current trends or developments in the field of chemistry that you find exciting or intriguing?

As a chemistry teacher, I find the field of natural product synthesis and the development of new antibiotics particularly exciting and intriguing, as I have a passion for organic chemistry. The discovery and synthesis of natural compounds with antimicrobial properties have the potential to address the growing challenges of antibiotic resistance. Researchers are exploring innovative methods to synthesise these complex molecules, often derived from plants, marine organisms, or microorganisms.

We heard that you also make wedding cakes as a side hustle! How did you become interested in the art of wedding cake making?

While studying through university, I worked at a cake and patisserie supply store which helped me develop a hobby of baking and cake decorating. Making cakes allowed me to unwind and express my creativity outside the realm of chemistry. The opportunity to contribute to people’s special occasions and create something memorable sparked my passion for the art of cake making.

Can you share a memorable or favourite wedding cake creation that you have made?

One of my most memorable wedding cake creations was a two-tier vegan wedding cake for a PhD student in the organic laboratory where I studied. I really enjoyed the challenge of creating a cake that not only looked beautiful but also catered to the couple’s dietary preferences, making their day extra special.

Do you have any quotes or sayings that you live by?

I live by Rosalind Franklin’s quote: “Science and everyday life cannot and should not be separated.” This quote resonates with me deeply as it highlights the interconnectedness of science and our daily lives. Science is not confined to laboratories and textbooks; it permeates every aspect of our existence. Embracing this mindset reminds me of the importance of fostering scientific literacy and curiosity in my students so that they can appreciate the relevance and impact of science in their own lives.

We express our gratitude to Elena for sharing her inspiring story with us. We eagerly anticipate the journey that lies ahead in Elena’s teaching career!

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