Rocket girls: Ursuline summer camp brings together girls who share interest in fields traditionally staffed by men


Staff reporter


WILMINGTON — With the Wilmington skyline just a mile or so away, 16 sixth- through eighth-grade girls, a high school senior and two teachers prepared to launch a series of water rockets in the field next to the reservoir behind Ursuline Academy. The teachers, Amanda Williams and Alicia Burd, took care of the launches while the students stood some 30 meters away measuring the heights and flight durations of the rockets.

The girls were part of Ursuline’s second annual STEAM Summer Scholars’ Academy, learning about science, technology, engineering, arts and math in a fun and relaxed atmosphere.

The students rotated through three STEM projects during the morning sessions, concentrating on engineering, coding, mathematics, environmental science and biology. The projects included building and launching balloon and water rockets, and designing and testing water filters. The afternoons were dedicated to the arts, with the girls collaborating on a project that incorporated both dramatic and visual arts. It was presented on the last day of camp, July 18.

 Claire Binkley (left) and Chelsea Spratley discuss the performance of their water rocket at Ursuline Academy’s recent STEAM camp. (The Dialog/

Claire Binkley (left) and Chelsea Spratley discuss the performance of their water rocket at Ursuline Academy’s recent STEAM camp. (The Dialog/

Early in the camp, the focus was the balloon rockets. The girls were energized talking about the best way to get their rockets to carry a payload of paper clips to “outer space” — the ceiling — and about STEM topics in general.

Grace Yochem, who is transferring to Ursuline this year from Tower Hill with her twin sister, Joy, and will be in eighth grade, said she is fascinated by science and that it is important because it is part of our everyday lives.

“Science is an exploration of the world around us and figuring out how things work,” she said. “I think that’s something that is just awesome, and it’s amazing that we can do such wonderful things.”

That kind of talk is music to the ears of Williams and Burd.

“You use science and math in everything you do, from deciding what clothes you’re going to put on in the morning to using your money at the grocery store. We’re just trying to get them to enjoy it a little bit more,” said Williams, who teaches in the Upper School.

The teachers guided the girls and were available to answer questions, but they left most of the work for the students to figure out. For example, when they were preparing for the balloon launch, the teachers explained force, mass and momentum, but the design of the balloon rockets was up to the students, Burd said.

Burd, who works in the Middle School, added that a camp like this is “the best part of teaching. No grading, no pressure. We can take our time. Everything’s just really fun. And they want to be here.”

Claire Binkley, who will enter sixth grade at Ursuline this year, said she learned about pH, how to use a microscope and Newton’s Law, among other topics. The girls, who have two hours of uninterrupted instruction, are doing things they probably would not do during the school year.

“We’re doing a lot of fun things in science. We’re building robots. We’re doing balloon rockets, water rockets, all kinds of different rockets,” she said.

Claire’s classmate, Lucy Schofield, said she loves robotics and engineering, and that her mother’s an engineer.

“Not very many women are engineers, so I think that it would be cool to be an engineer,” she said.

Grace said her parents work in information technology, and she is leaning that way for a career. “So many women today aren’t that involved in technology, and that’s becoming essential to our future and more and more a part of our everyday lives.

“I could go anywhere with my life. I’m really into the STEM area. That’s why I’m here, right?”