Oakland Catholic Goes Global


Increasing technological interconnectedness brings world events to our attention sometimes seconds after they occur.  A simple alert and some brief text across the your phone’s home screen, and in that moment, you are called to make snap decisions about an event and how it might affect your immediate surroundings.  The simple concept of “global awareness” – a basic knowledge of a culture, an appreciation of its arts, literature, or language – is no longer sufficient to understand the world in which we live. Instead, we require “global competence”.  In this interconnected world, where interactions take place across time zones in the blink of an eye, a greater understanding of the situation, thoughts, and values of the individual on the other end of that phone call, text message, or tweet is necessary.

Over 15 years ago, Oakland Catholic High School made a conscious decision to include global leadership as a core element of its mission statement. Since then, program and curriculum development have reflected that mission and are integral to the educational experience provided to the young women who attend Oakland Catholic. Daily exposure to international authors and artists, to global issues that directly impact current affairs, and to the perspectives of different cultures through foreign language studies have all been incorporated into a curriculum designed to move a student from global awareness to global competence. By welcoming students from Asia, Africa, and Europe, the student population itself reflects a more global perspective. This global outreach and global consciousness is a natural extension of the school’s Catholic identity and value-centered focus.  Annual travel experiences through mission and service trips to Jamaica, Washington DC, NYC, Appalachia, and Guatemala complement more traditional student travel tours to China, France, Greece, Italy, and Spain. With such emphasis on global experiences, the development of a more encompassing program seemed a natural expression of the Oakland Catholic’s mission.

Enter the Global Competence Initiative certificate program.  One of Oakland Catholic’s more recent innovative endeavors, it represents a culmination of the framework in global perspective built at the school for the last two decades.  More commonly referred to as GCI, this intensive 4-year certificate program offers OC Students the opportunity to actively engage with different cultures outside the classroom setting, to strive to understand the importance of issues that impact the human race cross culturally, and to develop leadership and presentation skills that will lay a foundation for their own eventual roles as global leaders.  At a time when many schools are just beginning to develop programs that clarify this concept of global competence, Oakland Catholic’s Global Competence Initiative certificate program stands out as a structured, clearly articulated, and mission driven program that serves to educate informed, college-bound high school students as they seek to understand the world.  By forming opinions grounded in research, on broader issues placed within cultural contexts, GCI Scholars are representative of the school’s mission “to educate young women to serve as future global leaders and agents of change in the world”.  Introduced to Oakland Catholic by former English Department Chair and current Social Studies instructor, Cindy McNulty, GCI is also unique in that it is accessible to ALL students, not just those who achieve a particular GPA.  Now serving as the Director of the Global Competence Initiative, McNulty was inspired to create the program by her own personal travel experiences and encounters with other cultures, as well as her extensive work with the University of Pittsburgh’s Global Studies Center.  Her 40 years as an experienced teacher in both the social sciences and literature contribute directly to the comprehensive vision of the program, and its dual emphasis on scholarly requirements and experiential criteria.

To be awarded a GCI certificate at graduation, a student must pursue two years of World History and one year of World Literature, achieve a certain level of Foreign Language proficiency, and complete a research project on a cross-disciplinary issue of global significance that is paired with a public presentation. In addition, students must attend twelve “Encounters” and participate in three “Engagements” throughout their four-year commitment to the program. Encounters consist of lectures, seminars, films, and cultural events. With Oakland Catholic High School prominently located in the heart of the educational and cultural center of Pittsburgh, near the world-renowned institutions of the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, there is no shortage of “encounters” readily available to the students.  Engagements are different in that they demand a more intensive investment of time on the student’s part, but, as a result, permit her to connect on a deeper level with the international world. Examples of “engagements” include international travel experiences like those mentioned earlier, the World Affairs Council Summer Institute, or the school’s internal GCI Book Group. After each encounter and engagement, students must write a reflection on the event.  In these reflections, students are encouraged to challenge their thinking, critically assess their immediate environments and cultural norms, and focus on a broader understanding of the concerns and achievements that impact the larger world.

The Global Competence Initiative certificate program is a unique offering at Oakland Catholic High School that encourages young women to become globally conscious agents of change through scholarly and experiential immersions in other cultures and different parts of the world.  With a deeper understanding of the world and the ability to effectively communicate with a broader cultural audience, Oakland Catholic High School students are actively preparing to be global citizens.