WILMINGTON — Dreams and ideas are alive and well at Ursuline Academy, and beginning in the new year, they’ll have a new home where they may come to fruition.
A group of Ursuline students gathered in the basement of the upper school on Sept. 8 to learn about the new idea studio, a multi-tiered space taking shape where the cafeteria used to be. It will be a place where students can create, design, learn and, perhaps just as important, grab a cup of coffee.
Anthony Pullella, the school’s director of operations and campus planning, laid out the vision for the dozen or so attendees at the announcement. One side of the room will have a classroom. The middle of the space will include a wall on which the Wall Street ticker and other technology will be displayed, along with space for financial literacy and business learning, including a student-run café. At the other end of the space will be the “fab lab,” a hands-on room that will include items such as a t-shirt press and 3D printers.
“All of you young ladies will be learning about how to run a business and how a business operates,” Pullella said. “The whole area will be multipurpose. It should be a busy area. Definitely excited to get this project completed and the ability of all of you young ladies to be able to use it.”
Ursuline president Trisha Medeiros said students from the upper school will staff the café.
“You will learn how to do budget, inventory, supplies. All the proceeds can be donated to a charity,” she said.
Noting that many students show up in the morning after a stop at a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts, the café will offer a place in-house where they can pick up a cup of joe. There will be smoothies and less-caffeinated options available for middle-schoolers and others who can’t or don’t drink coffee.
Of course, that’s just one incidental part of the project. The possibilities for Ursuline students who are thinking about college and their careers are endless, Medeiros said.
“Imagine, you go get your coffee, and then you come over here, and the stock ticker’s going, and you’re managing your own portfolio of stocks. We hope to get a schoolwide stock game,” she said.
Erin McNichol, who teaches innovation, told the young ladies that the space is theirs and that it is being called the idea studio for a reason.
“In a studio, you try stuff. It’s a blank wall usually. You make things happen. It’s really up to you,” she said.
Middle school science teacher Eileen Koenig said students at that level will be doing projects that cut across all subjects. They can make those projects come alive in the idea studio.
Some of those ideas will be born in the lower school building, where a companion project is taking place. The dream lab is being installed where the computer lab used to be.
“Little ones are talking to one another,” lower school principal Samantha Varano said. “They are designing, they’re being creative. They are innovating. But how do we give them a time and a place and a space to do some of what the older students are doing?”
At one time, the computer lab was innovative, so this is a natural growth from that, Varano said. In the dream lab, the younger students can think of possibilities and solutions to everyday problems. They can design products. The room will have elements of design and engineering, such as a green wall and graphic visual art technology. The furniture will be flexible and moveable.
The space will be available for any class, she continued. Fifth-graders will have time in the lab built into their schedule. The expectation is that the dream lab will be completed by January, when the idea studio is scheduled to open.
Medeiros said talk about the idea studio began before the covid pandemic in the spring of 2020. The discussions involved a group of students, parents and faculty “and had a facilitator lead what pieces of technology and what next-generation classrooms would look like. We had this big report that I had in my hand probably March 13, 2020.”
That was the last day schools were open until the following September.
Two seniors, Kate Pool and Grace Sill, were among those who attended the announcement. They are excited about being able to use the new facility before they graduate and about the promise it holds for future Ursuline students.
“I think it’s going to be a great space for collaboration. In our early phase meetings about the coffee bar, we were talking about how this could cross so many different disciplines,” Sill said.
Pool said when the pair was running for student council, they talked about what students need. A space on campus like this was one of them. She is excited about the business possibilities.
“I think the Wall Street section is going to be really cool to see because we don’t get a lot of that in our core classes,” she said, noting that it is more of a college topic.
She is pleased that the space will be so adaptable to new curriculum and ideas.
“Our courses change all the time. They offer new courses year to year. So having a space that’s so adaptable will lend itself to let it grow as the student body grows,” Pool said.
Sill added that the start of a financial literacy club last year fits in nicely ““because a lot of Ursuline girls are either going into STEM or business-related fields, so to be able to get a head start in high school on that is going to give you such a leg up in college.”
It is important for Ursuline students to learn how to get a car loan and how a mortgage works, McNichol said. Financial literacy also can cover the danger of running up credit card debt, how to invest in the stock market and how to check one’s stock portfolio. This happens too late for too many young women, she said.
The idea studio also will help the teachers become better at their craft, she added. “Teachers should not be telling them what to do. We should be guiding. And now, this is really going to happen.”
Sill can’t wait to get started in the idea studio.
“One of our mottos is ‘Ursuline girls lead,’ and this is really making that tangible by giving us this freedom at such a young age.”
Photos courtesy of Ursuline Academy.