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Shea Gopaul portraitAlumna Shea Gopaul now on world stage at United Nations

by Nancy Commella

"Actually, I never sat still," responds alumna Shea Mihm Gopaul, speaking about her time at Point Park, where she completed high school (yes, high school) and two bachelor degrees, in dance and history, in only six years.

The same determination, discipline and desire to learn can be seen throughout Gopaul's professional life, which has culminated in her position as the director of administration for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

"The structure of the programs was such that you had to be disciplined, you had to be organized, you had to be determined and hardworking to get through what we had in front of us, the challenges, and I think I've always kept that."

Not surprisingly, then, this former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and Civic Light Opera performer oversees OCHA administration at headquarters offices in New York and Geneva and at 33 field offices. During natural disasters and complex emergencies, Gopaul and the teams she directs work to provide ground resources to coordinate humanitarian assistance. This includes support in areas such as human and financial resources, procurement, travel and general administration. With government approval, OCHA sends a U.N. Disaster Assessment and Coordination team within days of an emergency.

In Haiti, for example, OCHA's existing small office and staff luckily survived the earthquake; however, some staff lost family members. OCHA dispatched additional teams, which established an office within days and undertook a "flash appeal" worldwide to secure resources, Gopaul explains. "Our staff on the ground, even though they had lost some of their own family members, they were still trying to work in the relief effort for Haiti, which is absolutely incredible."

During crises, Gopaul and her staff work long hours, including weekends. But long hours have been a way of life for Gopaul since she was 12 and first introduced to Point Park through ballet classes at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. After school, the Pittsburgh native would ride a bus to Point Park for rehearsal every night and weekend, preparing for shows such as the Nutcracker. That scenario continued when Gopaul entered Point Park's Academy for Performing Arts, a high school that operated from 1970-1973.

She received early admission to Point Park College, and after graduating cum laude, obtained her master's in international development from Columbia University in New York City. She moved with her husband (fellow Point Park alumnus and new University trustee) Kishore K. Gopaul, to his home country, Mauritius, where she simultaneously started a ballet school and taught world affairs at two schools.

She lived overseas for 32 years, working in the private and public sectors ? Amoco and the British Embassy in Gabon, the International Labor Organization and World Health Organization in Switzerland ? all while raising a son and daughter. While overseas, Gopaul visited Pittsburgh every year, where her family still resides. It is her family and the diverse, rigorous curriculum of her education that this classical ballerina attributes to helping her move gracefully through her life.

"There's no question that I credit my success, both in my career and life, to the very strong education that I received at Point Park," says Gopaul. "It was not just a question of reading books, but also understanding and appreciating contrasting views and cultures."

Photo by Jim Judkis