When Steve Zan decided to start a tennis club in his first week at Darwin, he found himself at the Societies Fair sitting next to a fellow PhD student, Della Wilkinson, who was beginning a netball club.

“I didn’t know what netball was, so she tried to explain it to me over beer,” he recalls.

Now with over 30 years of marriage behind them, Steve and Della live in Ottawa, near another British DCSA member from their late 1980s cohort.

“He claims I recruited him!” Steve laughs, of the unlikely Canadian conversion of much of the team.

Having already begun a career in research, following his undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto, Steve completed his PhD in Aeronautical Engineering in just three years.

“I had three years of funding from my employer, so I couldn’t really push it much beyond that,” he says. “They were paying me some salary to go away for three years and get a PhD, but the focus wasn’t specified. I ended up with some funding from the UK – from what was then known as the Royal Aircraft Establishment, now DSTL (Defence Science Technology Labs). So they actually funded the project.”

Steve’s research looked at the behaviour of aircraft wings under non-ideal conditions of flight, when they deviate from standard flying conditions. In the Engineering department’s Markham tunnel, he tested a wide variety of wings, looking at their motion and vibration in unsteady conditions.

“I think it also helped me to finish in three years because I had three years’ work experience in wind tunnel testing. I didn’t walk in completely blind and naïve – I had some experience and had probably already gone through the first 20 or 30 mistakes that most graduate students would make. But I also worked at it like an employee – I worked 9 to 5. Not all grad students function that way, but I just saw it as a continuation of my job, doing something slightly different.”

After completing his studies, Steve returned to Canada and his research role at the National Research Council of Canada, where he progressed to team lead and then to Director of Aerodynamics, a position he held for 12 years.

“I was running a national lab with about 65 people, 30 of whom were PhDs, and then 35 technicians and a whole suite of facilities for supporting aircraft development in Canada.”

His career involved significant international travel, and he made a point of reconnecting with Darwinians around the world – both lifelong friends and those he hadn’t seen in decades.

“It became easier to find people with the internet,” he points out. “I would ring people up I hadn’t seen for 20 years, or email and say ‘I’m going to be in Frankfurt next week, I think you’re still living there, let’s meet for dinner one night.’ It was great to catch up with people that way.”

Steve has been a frequent visitor to Darwin over the years, and keeps up with changes to the College and its site. He remembers being impressed by the way that, from the outset, Darwin had planned for its future growth.

“The Dining Hall had a big glass window onto a brick wall. I remember first getting there and saying ‘who would put a beautiful big window onto a brick wall?’ And someone said ‘Well, that’s for the College expansion. Eventually it will go down there (to Newnham Terrace) – it may be 100 years but they will go there. That struck me as not the kind of thinking that many places have. We’ll put this here because in 100 years, or less, it will pay off for us.”

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