Oakland Catholic: Creating Empowered Leaders 

Academic excellence. Global experiences. State-of-the-art technology. Athletics for everyone. All wrapped in a commitment to spirituality-in-action that inspires tomorrow’s leaders.  

These are the pillars of education at Oakland Catholic High School, and for the school’s students, parents, faculty and leadership, these pillars are essential to creating empowered leaders. 

“We have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to prepare our students to be leaders in the global world,” said Mary Claire Kasunic, President of Oakland Catholic High School. “We take that responsibility seriously,” she said, “and we dedicate ourselves to providing endless opportunities for these young women to learn, explore, get inspired and grow into the leaders they are meant to be.” 

At Oakland Catholic, “endless opportunities” is more than an idea, it’s a reality every day. The school offers 32 extracurricular activities, like Speech and Debate Team, Science Fiction and Fantasy Club, and a chapter of the national organization Girls Who Code; five foreign language classes including Mandarin, French, Italian, Spanish and Latin; seven science and robotics labs; 16 sports teams that have produced national champions and Olympic medalists; and two or more international trips each year where Oakland Catholic students are immersed in global languages, cultures and social justice experiences. 

Oakland Catholic student Molly Doerfler, class of 2019, has experienced these endless opportunities first-hand. Through academic preparation and exposure to collaboration between Oakland Catholic and local universities, she attended the PA Governor’s School at the University of Pittsburgh. She credits this and many other Oakland Catholic experiences with helping her to become an empowered leader. 

“Through my experiences at Oakland Catholic, I learned that becoming a leader is about more than just personal leadership ability. It’s also about recognizing the many forms leadership can take and understanding how politics, geography and socioeconomics hinder or enhance the rise of strong leadership,” said Doerfler. “Because of my education at Oakland Catholic, I was able to fully embrace all that Pitt’s Global Studies Center and the PA Governor’s School had to offer while still attending high school.” 

Experiences like Doerfler’s are not unique at Oakland Catholic, says Kasunic.  

“The Oakland Catholic experience is about empowering girls, giving them the opportunity to fearlessly try new things, learn from mistakes, overcome obstacles and embrace their talents,” said Kasunic. “It is an honor to educate and encourage our girls as they become successful, empowered, young women.” 

Expressing Herself 

The ability to clearly articulate an idea and present a compelling argument is vital to every facet of leadership, so Oakland Catholic prioritizes the Humanities for all students. 

“At Oakland Catholic, students with a strength in math or science also learn to become strong writers, and girls who have a natural inclination to be quiet gain the confidence they need to express themselves in public forums,” said Heidi Rinkacs, an Oakland Catholic English teacher who leads the school’s speech and debate team. “The skills learned in researching a paper, making a presentation in class or winning an argument in debate are the much-needed skills leaders have to have in order to communicate in an informed and knowledgeable way.”  

Building the Future 

Science, technology, engineering and math, often referred to as STEM, has been a major push in high school education for the last decade, and Oakland Catholic offers extensive courses and resources in each area.  

Oakland Catholic’s STEM-related courses include: traditional courses in Biology, Chemistry and Physics, as well as A.P. Computer Science, Java and A.P. Principles in Computer Science, and are complemented by E.P.I.C., an engineering elective, and Bioinformatics, where biology, computer science and big data intersect.  All STEM courses offer a range of levels from college-preparatory, to honors, to Advanced Placement, and College-Equivalency through partnership with the University of Pittsburgh. 

Moreover, Oakland Catholic’s labs are fully equipped for excellence in hands-on learning; the school’s Collaboration Center encourages the integration of design thinking, group brainstorming and technology with pods that allow students to share their laptop screen with the group or for the teacher to push out information to all pods at once; and every classroom features one to three white board projectors that teachers use to compare/contrast, create small group stations and display engaging content in every area of the room.  

Perhaps most importantly, every student receives an Apple MacBook Air and full IT support from the school at the start of freshman year, so every girl, regardless of personal resources, has access to the same high-tech devices, and the entire community, both faculty and students, work together on the same platform.  

“There is a famous quote that says, ‘she cannot be what she cannot see,’” said Kasunic. “At Oakland Catholic, we are proud to overcome that obstacle, creating classes where students can see themselves and one another successfully using the latest high tech tools and achieving success in STEM, robotics and coding every day.” 

Seeing the World 

At Oakland Catholic, students not only learn about the world, they see it up close and in person through the school’s Global Competence Initiative (GCI) and mission trips. Taking all that they’ve learned in the classroom – from foreign languages and literature, to social studies and world cultures, to leadership and spirituality – they venture out each year to the community around us, lectures, campuses and even new countries, hoping to make meaningful changes to the world and to themselves. 

This summer, Catherine Hassett, class of 2019, joined Oakland Catholic’s mission trip to Guatemala, where she learned real-life lessons that will forever inform the way she sees the world.  Although the Guatemala mission trip officially falls under Campus Ministry, it integrates with GCI as many student participants apply principles of social justice and their growing global consciousness to the experience. 

“I liked the idea of putting my faith into action and being a positive agent of change in the world, and my trip to Guatemala made that idea concrete for me,” said Hassett. “But it was much more than that. The trip also gave me the opportunity to apply my skills and knowledge in real-world situations. It challenged me to figure out group dynamics beyond my circle of friends, and it helped me realize that, while not everything works the first time, even the smallest contributions can be significant.” 

Hassett continued: “I feel that because I engaged with new people in a new culture trying new things, I now have greater confidence in myself and my ability to lead.”  

Empowering Results 

With a world-class high school education firmly in place, Oakland Catholic’s graduates have gone on to become successful leaders in business, politics, education and athletics. Most recently, alumna Peyton Kondis, Class of 2016, was named the University of Houston’s Female Athlete of the Year for her achievements in swimming while maintaining a 4.0 GPA. And alumna Jeimy Ibarra, Class of 2013, was named a 2018 “30 Under 30” winner by the Pittsburgh Business Times for her leadership at Casa San José, a Latino Community resource and welcome center in Southwestern PA.   

“Leadership takes on many forms,” said Kasunic, “but with an Oakland Catholic education, our students are prepared and empowered to lead in every facet of their lives.” 

For more information about Oakland Catholic, please visit: OaklandCatholic.org 

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