Higher Education

Global Scholars Build Bridges in Oklahoma and Abroad

By John Osborne
Athens, Greece, August 22, 2022: Tourists entering the Parthenon in the Acropolis of Athens. (VictorHuang/Getty Images)

Athens, Greece, August 22, 2022: Tourists entering the Parthenon in the Acropolis of Athens. (VictorHuang/Getty Images)

After 2020, COVID-19 restrictions raised awareness on college and university campuses about the need for students to engage meaningfully with others.    

Many students on campus today entered college having missed important milestones and leadership opportunities in high school; it became clear that they needed curated opportunities to connect and lead. Interfaith efforts to engage students in the pandemic have gained momentum at some higher education institutions.   

Meanwhile, global learning has become essential to fostering understanding and cooperation among people from different cultural and religious backgrounds in an increasingly interconnected world. With these realities in mind, Oklahoma Christian University initiated the DEI Global Scholars effort in 2021 to develop emerging leaders who can promote a more inclusive and harmonious global society.   

Oklahoma Christian University’s “Building Bridges, Deepening Faith” campus grant from Interfaith America helped catalyze efforts to develop student leaders who will reach out to their peers and spark interest in interfaith engagement at the university. Participating students in the scholar’s program took part in study abroad experiences in Athens, Greece, and Vienna, Austria, spending three weeks in these locations – taking classes, visiting significant historical and cultural sites, and engaging with religiously diverse others.     

In Vienna, students toured the central synagogue and Mauthausen concentration camp, learning how dehumanizing others because of religious differences can have subtle to devastating consequences for society. In Athens, refugees from Afghanistan hosted students for a meal and shared about their lives since arriving in Europe. Both experiences created fertile dialogue and learning opportunities and deepened our global understanding of religious diversity.   

DEI Global Scholar Madison Leger shared, “These valuable learning experiences helped me see a world quite different from where I grew up in Newcastle, Oklahoma. I was challenged to wrestle with understanding the everyday realities of how other people live their lives.”   

I was challenged to wrestle with understanding the everyday realities of how other people live their lives.

Part of the scholars’ curriculum came from the Christian Leadership in a Multifaith World initiative, co-led by the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and Interfaith America. Through writing and discussion, students learned to consider the value of appreciative knowledge, narrative imagination, and reflective commitment as they sought to grow their capacity as global leaders. Perhaps more importantly, the DEI Global Scholars had the opportunity to put into practice these virtues of interfaith engagement as they interacted with community members in their host countries.    

The convergence of global learning and interfaith engagement provides a powerful opportunity for positive change. At Oklahoma Christian, we saw the DEI Global Scholars initiative bear fruit in the following ways:   

  1. Building bridges: Experiential learning helped students develop skills to bridge divides and promote peaceful coexistence. Students had multiple opportunities to build relationships across boundaries and cultivate the desire to work together for the common good.   
  2. Fostering empathy and understanding: Interfaith learning exposes students to diverse belief systems and helps them see the world from different perspectives. Their experiences abroad help them see firsthand the value of tolerance and respect.   

We developed emerging leaders who can build a more inclusive, interconnected, and peaceful world by utilizing global learning and interfaith engagement. Through these efforts, we can build bridges between all people who celebrate and respect the beauty of diverse humanity.   

John Osborne

John Osborne serves as Director of International Programs and Assistant Professor of Communication at Oklahoma Christian University. He teaches communication and leadership courses and leads global education efforts, including study abroad and strategic global partnerships. He has over 20 years of industry experience as an international education consultant and nonprofit organization leader. He frequently speaks at conferences and workshops on global education and leadership topics. He serves on the boards of two global non-profits and is an Oklahoma Governor’s International Team member.     

“Building Bridges, Deepening Faith” campus grants were made possible by generous support from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations and The Pew Charitable Trusts.