Rocket Science

Nazareth Academy became the first ever rocket team from Philadelphia to qualify for Team America Rocketry Challenge’s annual competition.

Soaring Pandas: Nazareth Academy became the first ever rocket team from Philadelphia to qualify for Team America Rocketry Challenge’s annual competition. Out of 836 teams last year, they finished in sixth place. JOHN COLE/ TIMES PHOTO

Each student on the Nazareth Academy High School rocket teams has her own unique reason for joining, but they do share one thing in common — a love for competition.

Just three years ago, while they were students at Our Lady of Calvary, teacher Gregory Severino had encouraged them to get involved with rocketry. There were many who showed an interest toward math and science and were excited about an opportunity to expand their knowledge in those fields.

Korianna Rosenthal, a freshman at Nazareth Academy and captain of the Soaring Pandas, has competed with the team since its inception. At the time, she was in sixth grade and thought this would be an excellent opportunity to expand her horizons.

“He (Severino) pushed us out of our comfort zone because it’s not something that a lot of kids get to do every day, and I thought it was really neat to get to do something unique and I really loved the math and science that’s involved,” said Rosenthal.

Rosenthal is one of seven members on the Soaring Pandas. The others are co-captain Mackenzie Kephart, construction specialists Fiona Buck, Ilinca Vilceanu and Annalise Schuck, field captain Ciara Dubeck, and lead design specialist Gianna Brock.

During their first year, students recalled spending countless hours making their own rockets and allocating different tasks for the team. Rosenthal looked back on their first year and couldn’t help but think how much progress they have made.

“When we were in sixth grade, our rockets were so small,” she recalled. “Under the confidence of Mr. Serevino, he believed in us. He was our believer, you girls can do it, I believe in you.”

It’s quite evident while talking to Soaring Pandas how important it is to be a cohesive unit for them to achieve their goals. Each member of the team has a specific role including captain, co-captain, construction specialist, lead design specialist, field captain and outreach coordinator.

The team recognized it was time to enter competitions to see how it would size up against different students. In statewide competitions held at Rowan University, Nazareth’s team — at the time known as the Soaring Six, now the Soaring Pandas — finished in first and second place in Rowan University’s Blast Off.

Severino, Soaring Panda Rocket supervisor, recognized the talent these girls possessed and thought it was time to showcase their skills on the national stage.

The Nazareth Academy team became the first ever rocket team from Philadelphia to qualify for Team America Rocketry Challenge’s annual competition. This competition allows students in grades 7–12 to qualify and showcase their rocketry program. While the group was still in elementary school, they became not only the first Philadelphia school to qualify, but one out of only four middle schools nationwide to qualify, as well as just one of two all-female teams.

The group recalled that they were looked down upon because of their age, but they did not let that deter them in not only qualifying for “TARC,” but to also take home some awards in the process.


Out of 836 teams last year, the Soaring Six as eighth-graders finished in sixth place.

“What’s remarkable is, as eighth-graders, they still managed to beat out over 800 teams, which are mostly high school teams last year,” said Severino. “So that’s how good they are.”

Big-name companies are in attendance for this nationally recognized event and often award scholarships to students preparing to further their education at universities. The Soaring Six last year was able to grab the attention of everyone in the field, according to Severino.

“They captured the hearts of TARC,” by winning five awards, said Severino. “They captured the hearts of national corporations.”

Through this remarkable experience thus far, the team has gone to the United States Senate and has conversed with astronauts and spoke with Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. The students took pride in speaking to Kenney, who found genuine interest in the girls rocket team.

The girls are preparing to qualify for the third year to compete in “TARC” and have their sights set on even surpassing their results from the previous year. The Soaring Pandas and Team Stardust at Nazareth Academy are eagerly awaiting this year’s competition and feel optimistic as the national competition is just a couple of months away.

Team Stardust members include captain Katherine Braun, 1st lieutenant Julia Davis; and 2nd lieutenants Helen Dotchel and Ruby Malak.

Gianna Brock, freshman and lead design specialist, has seen this group positively impact her life in areas outside of math, science and technology as well.

“I’ve made friendships that aren’t going to break,” said Brock. “I’ve become more confident in everything because of that.” ••

For more information or to see live updates on social media from the team, visit

John Cole can be reached at