Saint Ursula Academy: Big School Changes Lead to Student Growth

Saint Ursula Academy: Big School Changes Lead to Student Growth

For 110 years, Saint Ursula Academy has prioritized not just academic excellence but also the wellness of the whole student in mind (academics), body (cocurricular activities and wellness), and spirit (faith and personal growth). SUA administrators, faculty, parents and students strive to create the best spaces and resources to improve the learning experience. 

“One of the things we know from the International Coalition of Girls’ Schools is that an all-girls education allows them to grow in their confidence as it relates to science, technology, engineering, and math — all areas dominated by males,” says Principal Mari Thomas. 

“Given that that’s such a foundational component of our decision making, we realized that while our teachers had the curriculum to put in front of the students, we didn’t have the furniture and resources that allow them to take it to the next level.” 

When it came to infrastructure changes, SU A administrators started by looking critically and carefully at their furniture. 

“We wanted to move away from the ‘sit and get’ experience, and instead, let the students get their hands dirty with the con- tent, which is certainly a 21st century skill that our seniors heading off to college need,” Thomas says. 

In each classroom, staff at SUA installed customized furniture that can be moved into different configurations, giving students more surface area upon which to work. 

“We’re excited that all of our classrooms have new furniture that promotes extended thinking and experiential learning,” Thomas says. “It takes what our teachers are doing and brings it to life in a whole new way.” 

Saint Ursula Academy also revamped its library to become a media center. It took a space with rows and cubicles for independent study and expanded it into a broad-based makerspace. Students are encouraged to exercise their creativity with 3D printing, Cricut creations, technical support products, and more. 

“We’re proud of our librarian’s willingness to lean into growing a space that traditionally has been quiet and self- contained and move it into a space full of energy, excitement and creativity,” Thomas says. 

Specific classrooms also have their own makerspace. Emily Rosen teaches physics at Saint Ursula. The school began offering engineering electives a couple of years ago, but the limited space was a challenge. 

“To do physics well, students need to have a lot of freedom to develop projects where they’re all over the place,” says Rosen. 

“You want them to be able to try something and fail and go through the whole engineering design process.” 

Now Rosen has moved to a new STEM area where half of her room is a makerspace with workstations, and the other half consists of traditional lecture and classroom space. The room setup and furniture promote collaboration and problem-solving, making math more approachable for students. The 3D printers, whiteboards and bulletin boards are all conducive to brainstorming sessions. 

“The students have the space to lay out papers, do the mechanical drawings and store their work,” Rosen says. 

Last year’s engineering class was proud to help design this new space, choose the furniture and lay out the room. 

Rosen vividly recalls feeling that her male collegiate class- mates had an advantage in soldering or using CAD because they’d gotten previous experience in those areas. “It’s important for our students to feel comfortable using that equipment so that when they go to college and transition into those studies, there’s not a confidence issue that studies show women in STEM struggle with,” Rosen says. 

Training and wellness take center stage in the new collegiate- level training center and cardio deck. In the training room, SUA staff incorporated custom equipment, all new racks, dumbbells and new flooring. The school also hired a sports performance coach who comes in before school on certain days and stays after school every day. 

“We wanted it to be a space not just for the athletic teams to use but also any student who was interested,” says Athletic Director Kelly Powers. “We thought that using the equipment may serve to bolster student confidence. Students may even join a sport after being in this collaborative environment.” 

The cardio deck features three elliptical machines, two curved treadmills, two bikes, and a rowing machine. 

“There’s no reason our young ladies shouldn’t have access to the same amenities and facilities as all-boys schools,” Powers says. 

Want to learn more about Saint Ursula Academy? Visit or call 513-961-3410. SUA is located at 1339 E. McMillan St., Cincinnati, Ohio 45206.

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