Ursuline President Trisha Medeiros on 125 years of Producing Female Leaders

Ursuline Academy

Ursuline senior Lilli Bifferato with Dr. Trisha Medeiros, president.

I began my journey at Ursuline Academy at the age of four.  When it eventually came time to decide on high school, my experience visiting other schools reassured me that the sisterhood at Ursuline was unparalleled – a very special bond like no other.

Of course, it is with great excitement that my fellow classmates and I will be graduating in 2019 as part of Ursuline Academy’s 125th graduating class.

The 125th anniversary is not only an exciting milestone in Ursuline’s history but an important birthday for its students. In combination with the school’s opening of the new Student Life Center this winter, the anniversary could not have come at a better time.

 

The staff and students’ shared enthusiasm evokes the spirit of St. Angela when she started the first all-girls’ Catholic high school.

School President Dr. Trisha Medeiros is especially passionate and proud of all that Ursuline has accomplished in the past 125 years and what the future entails.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Medeiros and ask her about this important occasion and how she is keeping Ursuline’s proud heritage alive while transforming the school for the needs of the future. I hope it conveys the excitement on our campus as we embark on Ursuline’s 125thschool year!

Bifferato and Dr. Medeiros discussed Ursuline’s year-long plans to commemorate their 125th anniversary.

Lilli Bifferato: We have an exciting year ahead of us. What does this milestone mean to you and what is planned to celebrate it?

Trisha Medeiros: For me, it means celebrating the balance of rich history that we have here at Ursuline with our innovative future.

We have a lot of great events planned throughout the year, including the birthday celebration with our students, the Raider Run 5K, and the Anniversary Gala.

I’m also excited about our upcoming uniform display. We have contacted Ursuline alumnae from all over the country and the world to send their uniforms to us for the exhibit. We are finally getting old sports uniforms back! Our collection of old school uniforms, sports jerseys, and other keepsakes from over the years will be displayed in the Student Life Center. It will be interesting to see how your uniforms have changed!

We are also launching our four-year strategic plan, which includes new goals the school aspires to fulfill in service to our students.

Bifferato plans to study journalism in college.

Bifferato: My aunt graduated from Ursuline, and she likely has some uniforms too. It will be fascinating to see all of the fashions throughout the school’s history. Over 125 years I am sure many things have changed, while others have remained the same. Can you talk about how Ursuline’s core values have remained steadfast, and have guided our continuing transformation?

Medeiros: Your question makes me think of St. Angela. She was very dedicated to service, our core value “Serviam,” Latin for “to serve,” which still holds true 125 years later. That will always remain the center of all we do. We talked a little about our academic program and how we like to prepare our graduates. For me, it’s about giving our students the tools to make a positive change in the world.

Bifferato: That has definitely always been a theme every day at Ursuline. When you think of Ursuline’s heritage, what are the big moments or decisions that come to mind?

Medeiros: A big moment was in 1535 when St. Angela was a trailblazer in her own right making bold moves to create the Ursuline schools to do good in the world. It is amazing that hundreds of years later, that still holds true and is so relevant to today.

Another would be St. Angela’s work to build all of these schools across the globe. In 1987 the Ursuline Education Network was formed to connect those schools with one another. That is something that really helped our global programs begin to flourish. I don’t know of any other school in the area or in the region that can compete with what we have in terms of our global program.

I would say that was a major milestone — creating a network to link all of our schools together so our global programs could prosper.

 

Bifferato: I still keep in touch with the student that I met on my trip to the Ursuline in Paris.

Medeiros: There is a new group of students visiting from Paris in October!

Bifferato: Enrollment has increased this school year. What can a new student expect at Ursuline that makes their experience here unique?

Medeiros: I think what’s unique about Ursuline is that we are intentionally small. You are not a number here, you are known. Each student has an individualized program – everyone knows your strengths, your quirks; everyone knows what makes you uniquely you and we focus on that to help you grow and develop to be the best version of yourself that you can be. I think that’s what students can look forward to when they come to Ursuline.

Bifferato: That is definitely what I have experienced. What do you envision for Ursuline’s future in the next 1, 5, or even 125 years?

Medeiros says the Ursuline family is both local and global.

Medeiros: I imagine we will continue to be just as strong as we are now while keeping those core values as the center for all that we are.

Near-term, I mentioned the four-year strategic plan that will focus on strengthening our already great academic program to ensure we meet the needs of tomorrow’s learners. To provide students like you the skills you need to not only go to college but to lead a fulfilled life. Students experience many pressures in their lives. And it’s about making sure they have the intellect and the perseverance to take on the world and to find that balance of happiness.

And we will continue to graduate alum who continue to spread the Ursuline mission. In one year, or five years — at the end of this year — I hope everyone locally and beyond really knows the mark that Ursuline education has made for 125 years.

For me, this school year is about that celebration and opening the Student Life Center, which is huge and part of our history. This is where all of the Ursuline sisters, who worked so hard to develop this school, lived and resided.

Five years from now, I hope to see our strategic plan come to fruition. Not just focusing on the excellence of our academic program, but making sure that young women have the tools they need to feel balanced, fulfilled and joyful.

Bifferato: You mentioned alumnae. Are there any notable alumnae in diverse leadership positions that especially have spread Ursuline’s core values?

Medeiros: There are hundreds of amazing women who have graduated from Ursuline. We have women on the front lines of the military, judges, leaders of tech companies, and entrepreneurs. We have an alumna who is one of the only women that leads a medical unit for one of our largest military bases. Jessie Woolley-Wilson ‘81, is the creator of Dreambox Learning. This is a tech company with a global reach.

Well-known actress Aubrey Plaza is very much involved in community service and giving back. She is supporting hurricane relief in Puerto Rico. In fact, Aubrey and Elena Delle-Donne were both noted as the most famous people in Delaware, and both are Ursuline alumnae. Elena runs a foundation that supports causes ranging from special needs to Lyme’s disease. They both live our core value, Serviam.

Additionally, we have global marketing directors in the fashion world and arts fields who are doing great things and making a difference in their professions. We have an alum who is a helicopter pilot in the United States Navy. These are go-getters — trailblazers of the world.

Bifferato: What are three things that you think everyone in the greater Wilmington community should know about Ursuline and what our school stands for?

Medeiros: I would say how Ursuline focuses on the individual child and helps them to develop their strengths and be the very best versions of themselves. The service piece would be number two for me. We are about bettering the world as part of that personal fulfillment and being a change maker.

Additionally, family is the word for me that comes to mind and the sisterhood students have here. It is so strong and unlike any that I have seen — and I have visited hundreds of girls schools. It is something very special. And when all of these alums come back, they reflect on it, and it is a source of strength and unity. Our graduates have a sort of family that they can always come home to and that home isn’t just here in Delaware, it’s a global network.

Those would be the three things – service, individualization, and certainly our special family that we have here at Ursuline.

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About the Contributor

Lilli Bifferato

Lilli Bifferato

Ursuline Academy senior Lilli Bifferato plans to study journalism in college. She is a member of the Student Council, runs cross country and track, is hosting an exchange student, and is savoring her final year of student traditions as part of the 'Ursuline sisterhood.'