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Opinion23rd January 2020

Alumna credits Ark for ‘inspiring’ her to continually push boundaries in science career

Ark alumna Marcella Cilia studied at Burlington Danes Academy (BDA), in White City, London, from September 2012 to 2014. Throughout her time at BDA, she fell in love with the natural world and went on to study geology and physical geography at the University of Birmingham. As well as undergoing various internships, she has travelled across the world and is now working on a scientific paper.

Marcella, what have you been doing since leaving school?

After I completed my A-levels I went on a six-month internship with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) undertaking geophysics research. This was part of a learning and leading gap year scholarship funded by the Royal Geographical Society. Throughout the summers in between university I also pursued other personal interests related to engineering geology, investment banking and private equity. I am now writing a paper on the devastating damage caused by the magnitude 7.5 earthquake and tsunami in Palu, Indonesia in September 2018.

Talk us through your love of geography and what sparked the passion?

I’ve always had an interest in the natural world, particularly with the processes underpinning how things interact, and my A-level module on earthquakes and volcanoes reaffirmed this. There were many exciting opportunities available through studying geography, not just from fieldwork, but also through lectures, summer schools and workshops run by the Royal Geographical Society. One of the great things about geography is that it’s so broad, so there is always something interesting to learn!


You have previously described sixth form as an “emotional rollercoaster”. Did your teachers help you through it?

I was very fortunate to be surrounded by great mentors including my geography teacher and my head of year. All my teachers were helpful and supportive, but these two were extremely inspiring and saw potential in me that I often struggled to see myself.

During sixth form, I was very much in my head a lot of the time, which I think most people are, but the support system in place at BDA helped to bring the best out of me and I’m very thankful for that.

How did the Ark network and its teachers help you achieve your goals?

My two most distinctive memories of Ark were the high-quality teachers and the incredible opportunities available to students. I loved learning at school and I had a strong sense that my teachers saw potential in me and wanted to push me to become the person I am today.

I vividly recall an opportunity presented by Ark which involved a five-week scholarship in the USA at Phillips Exeter Academy Summer School in New Hampshire. It was a life-changing opportunity for me, and this was a huge turning point in my life.


What was the best advice you received from your teachers at BDA?

I received lots of advice from many teachers, but I think the best piece of advice probably came from my geography teacher, who was also my mentor. When I received my mock grades, I felt like a failure and very discouraged. I remember sitting in a meeting with my mentor expressing this when she waved my mock grade sheet in front of me and said: ‘This is just a piece of paper. It doesn’t mean anything at the moment. You can easily turn this around. Grades are important but they don’t define you.’

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I want to continue to push past barriers and embody the best version of myself, professionally and personally.

What advice would you give to current sixth form students?

Remember that you are bigger and more powerful than anything you experience in your life, but those experiences are still a necessary part of your growth. Make sure to closely observe and embrace the whole spectrum of your emotions, learn from them, and better yourself every day.

Are you an Ark Alumnus and want to share your success? Sign up to the Alumni Community here or contact Alumni Engagement Manager Maia Gibbs on