Ursuline News

Faculty News: Accomplishments and Accolades
Faculty News: Accomplishments and Accolades

Jeff Girard's Inside Nazi Germany Class and Dr. Jason Surmiller's Church History Class could get more hands-on.

Social Studies Chair Olivia Ide traveled to Munich and Nuremberg, Germany and Krakow, Poland with Surmiller and Girard to scout a possible upcoming student trip. They visited sights in all three towns, including the Auschwitz concentration camp, the Jasna Gora monastery, churches, markets, and other key cultural places.

"The experience can be a very special one for our students," Ide said. "Learning about these places and events and then seeing them in person can really bring their learning to life."

JV Lacrosse Head Coach Sarah Dornak, who also teaches social studies, was inducted into the Dartmouth Hall of Fame.

As a senior, she was named First-Team All-American and 2012 Ivy Player of the Year (team-best 49 points). As a sophomore, Sarah recorded a point in every game, and Dartmouth captured the Ivy League championship one year later. Before Dartmouth, she won nine league titles in field hockey, basketball, and lacrosse, and was named a high school lacrosse All-American twice.

"I started playing lacrosse when I was 9 years old," Dornak said. "I loved the fast pace of the game and the girls that I had an opportunity to play with over the years. It's this love of being on a team that prompted me to start coaching after I graduated."

Other highlights:


Campus Ministry led an important employee retreat. The theme was "Searching for and Maintaining Peace."

Fr. Alfonse Nazzaro discussed Father Jacques Philippe's book by the same name, and faculty and staff participated in one of five breakout sessions:

  • The Beauty of the Peace-Filled Life (Fr. Jason Cargo)
  • Saintly Insights on Peace (Joshua Clemmons)
  • Unlocking the Peace of the Holy Spirit (Tori Harris)
  • Wired for Love: A Relational Response for Stress (Heather Casper)
  • A Little Peace of Mind (Fr. Edward Bentley)

"We value and prioritize the spiritual formation of our employees," Retreat Coordinator Kathryn Gibbs said.


Dr. Corby Baxter and Dr. Megan Griffin were panelists for the OESIS XP English Panel. The duo talked about innovative teaching and strategies used to overcome setbacks.

The English Department hosted "A Day with UA English: Teaching Writing, Critical Thinking, and Creativity." This exciting event was an all-day professional development and campus visit for 21 teachers from 11 middle schools across Dallas.

"Our goal was to create a dialogue between the different schools on best practices to teaching English, while also highlighting the innovative, student-driven approaches we are using to teach English at Ursuline," Baxter said. "The conversations were engaging, and it felt like people enjoyed the collaborative environment. I know we did."

The day included peer-to-peer collaboration, class observations, and lunch in Haggar.

Dr. Stephen da Silva collaborated with music teacher Jane Chambers on a lesson about Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata. The Italian opera plays an important role in Willa Cather's My Antonia. The book is read in Dr. da Silva's English III Honors class.

"Ms. Chambers brings apple juice in champagne glasses, and we toast the revelers on screen while we dissect the opera and the novel," da Silva said. "Students love to discuss the intellectual/pedagogical elements of this popular opera."


Jules McGee spoke at the recent OESIS XP High School Math Panel.

Three key ideas were discussed:

  • Transferable skills. McGee related writing in English to writing in Math where the skill is the same, but the audience is different.
  • TI-Nspire CX CAS calculator and Texas Instruments programs. Students visualize different learning concepts, and collaboration leads to important connections.
  • Sequence change in teaching. Teachers don't follow a textbook. Teachers align, so they don't spend too much time teaching what another teacher has already taught.

"I do direct instruction on the main concepts, but the students are the ones asking questions, challenging each other's thoughts, and working through different problems," McGee said.

Claudia Mathison and Katie Hayes discussed the Math Pathways System at the LLI Southwest Conference at the Oakridge School. They explored strategies for using pathways and self-assessment to facilitate student agency. In a self-paced math environment that relies on self-assessment, students take part in activities designed for exploration and collaboration. The activities also meet each student's learning level.

Visual Arts

Visual Arts Chair Jocelyn Holmes participated in a week-long artist residency with the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts in New York City where she presented a research paper entitled "Absence as Presence: Redefining Cultural Narratives." This research demonstrates how the artwork Ana Mendieta's site-specific Silueta series provides a personal cultural narrative of a diasporic immigrant's experience living in the United States.

Her proposal, "Time as commodity: Engaging 'I-Gen' by Finding the Artistic Voice" has been accepted for presentation at the biannual Foundation in Art Theory and Education conference hosted by Columbus College of Art & Design in Columbus, Ohio on April 4-6. Mrs. Holmes is part of a panel of art educators and administrators entitled "Reinventing Curricular Structures: Merging Student Voice, Studio Pedagogy and Creativity."


Allison Vanderwoude recently completed four years of board work for both the Genesis Women's Shelter Young Leaders and the George W. Bush Presidential Center 43 Club. These auxiliary groups were created by their respective organizations to inspire awareness and networking for young professionals in Dallas.