Lilly Endowment grant to help Zionsville Community High School teacher explore love, fear of water


By Mark Ambrogi

A Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity Fellowship grant will help Zionsville Community High School business teacher Diann Vernon explore her love and fear of the water.

CIZ COM 0124 Diann Vernon

Each fellowship recipient receives a $12,000 to support a project of personally and professionally fulfilling activities. The grant will allow Vernon to spend six weeks in the Florida Keys, where she will learn to scuba dive and explore the 126-mile coral reef.

“This grant provides the funding that is necessary for me to do that.  Plus, while I love the ocean, it is no secret with my family and friends that I am scared of water. I know (it’s) quirky, so receiving this grant will force me to learn to scuba dive,” Vernon said. “I mean, I have always wanted to do it, but have been too chicken to. This grant will take me out of my comfort zone and give me the push I need to do it.”

Vernon previously received a Lilly grant in 2006.

“I have a passion for the saltwater aquarium hobby, more specifically for seahorses,” she said. “There is a seahorse aquafarm, Ocean Rider, in Hawaii that I did a brief internship with during that summer, as well as visited a number of other aquafarms, including the Honolulu Aquarium, ORA in Ft. Pierce, Fla., The Dig at the Atlantis on Paradise Island in the Bahamas (and)  the Secrets of the Seahorse Exhibit at the Birch Aquarium in San Diego.”

As part of the 2017 grant, Vernon plans to start a volunteer/community service organization at ZCHS. Her plan was to help students find their passion projects, but she realized ZCHS has created a new position called the extended experiences coordinator.

“So now I am in the process of re-working this part of the grant to accommodate my commitment to student passions without stepping on the toes of the new coordinator,” Vernon said. “I still plan to volunteer at the various places this summer while in the Keys in order to get experience in this area so that it will help direct me for the service organization that I hope to start at ZCHS.”

Vernon is teaching Preparing for College and Careers, Personal Financial Responsibility, and Introduction to Business this semester. Vernon, who is in her second year teaching at ZCHS, previously taught for 28 years at Logansport High School.