Appreciating our Differences, Discovering Our Similarities

Photography provided by St. Ursula Academy


Even though they’re out of school, students from St. Ursula Academy spend part of their summers engaged in education. Through the Community Services Learning Program’s mission and immersion trips, rising juniors and seniors learn firsthand about the needs of others living around the world, the country and in Cincinnati.

The purpose of the program is two-fold, says Rachel Kemper, trip organizer. “It’s about our students getting to know people who are different from them, getting exposure to different countries, and not just appreciating the differences, but discovering the similarities. Secondly, they get to know people who are struggling and disenfranchised, and they see that it’s not about us helping them but it’s really about working together in solidarity and seeing their success as our success.” The hope is that students will bring that message back to the classroom and become active advocates in their own communities.

Week-long summer mission trips focusing on service to local, national and international communities take place in June. Each trip accommodates 10 to 15 students. Recent expeditions included the Nicaragua immersion trip (partners with Batahla Cultural Center in Managua); Tanzania service trip with Village Life Outreach; Pine Ridge, South Dakota, Indian Reservation service trip; the Christian Appalachian Program service trip; and the St. Vincent DePaul Urban Plunge Service Experience in Cincinnati’s Over the Rhine and West End neighborhoods.

A sensitivity to and an appreciation for the struggles of the less fortunate in an increasingly diverse and global world have never been more critical, adds Kemper, who has organized these trips for 15 years.

The application process, which includes an interview, begins in the fall.

For St. Ursula Academy senior Julie Ahrnsen, last summer’s tip to Nicaragua offered her a welcomed chance to experience a new country rather than merely read about it. “I really just wanted the chance to witness another culture, to actually be in that culture,” she recalls. “It really opened my eyes.”

Senior Sarah Gerahty also experienced Nicaragua last year. “Going to a foreign country was a dream come true,” she recalls. She hopes to one day do medical field work involving the Hispanic population. “It’s important to go beyond what we have in the United States and discover how what we know can apply to other people to create a better world.”

The level of poverty and pollution prevalent on the Pine Ridge, South Dakota, Oglala Lakota Native American reservation exceeded the worst of what she witnessed in Nicaragua the summer before, says St. Ursula Academy senior Rosemarie Bingham. “When you go to a Developing country, you can prepare for some things that you can’t prepare for on a national or local level,” she says.” I knew I would see some poverty and pollution and corruption in government in Nicaragua but there was no way to prepare for what I saw in South Dakota.”

The local trip to OTR and a week’s stay on Main Street finds the students utilizing public transportation, learning what it’s like to have to prepare healthy meals for a family of four though the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as food stamps. The OTR experience can have a bigger impact on students than the national and international mission trips it because it is in their city and shows a totally different perspective than what they’re used to in their daily lives, Kemper notes. Exposure to urban culture in the summer often sparks discussions about social justice in social studies classes the following fall.

“Now, after coming back, when they see what’s happening in our city, they feel inspired to act,” she says. And it’s inspiring to see the evolution in their thought processes. “We have to figure out how to work with people from different backgrounds, cultures, locations and living arrangements. It’s important that our students realize how much more similar than different we all are. Their mission trip experiences allow them to learn how to be comfortable having different points of view and to realize it’s OK to talk about them.” 


Quick Facts about St. Ursula Academy

  • All-Girls School: Girls take center stage
  • Known for a tradition of academic excellence and its welcoming environment
  • Rich in opportunities for service, athletics, co-curriculars, personal care, and fosters a commitment to build a better world
  • Students this year come from 83 different grade schools and about 63 different zip codes in the Greater Cincinnati area including Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.
  • Student-teacher ratio: 13:1
  • Average class size: 19
  • The Class of 2017 earned more than $21 million in college scholarship offers in academics, athletics, the fine arts and service.
  • 100 percent graduate each year
  • 17 APs offered, and endless electives
  • SUA has earned the exclusive Harold A. Meyer Award for Sportsmanship, Ethics, and Integrity from the Ohio High School Athletic Association for 13 consecutive years, and the OHSAA Commissioner’s Award in 2016, given to only one Ohio high school each year.


St. Ursula Academy is located at 1339 E McMillan St, Cincinnati, OH 45206. For more information, visit