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Student diplomats recognized at spring National Model United Nations Conference

A team of students at West Virginia University had the opportunity to represent Cuba and Antigua and Barbuda at the National Model United Nations Conference in New York City in April.

Forty-six students in the course Professional Field Experience: Model United Nations spent the semester learning about how the United Nations operates, how to be a delegate and the foreign policies of the countries they represented.

Clarissa Estep, associate professor of political science and director of the international studies program, said that students are paired into groups, where they study their assigned country’s position on 21 different committees so that they may represent them at the conference.

“[The students] really become issue experts on the country, committee and the topic of the committee [they’re representing],” Estep said.

The conference is essentially a simulation of the actual United Nations, she said. WVU made up the largest group of students from an individual school in attendance.

During the conference, student delegates met with the actual delegates from their respective countries for a mission briefing. This briefing included reviewing the topic and committees that have been assigned to ensure each team represented their country authentically.

Garrett Burgess, a junior majoring in political science and world languages, literature and linguistics with a focus in Russian studies, said this meeting was crucial to students stepping into the delegate role.

“Learning about different perspectives that skew from your own is exactly what the United Nations embodies, and what the Model United Nations promotes to its students,” said Burgess, who represented Cuba and served on the General Assembly Second Committee. “While there are disagreements, the dialogue which we engaged in really allowed us to harness our role as Cuba at the conference for the week.”

Burgess and other delegates on the General Assembly Second Committee addressed economic and financial issues, such as implementing the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, series of measures to overhaul global finance practices and generate investments in a range of economic, social and environmental challenges; harnessing the green economy to reduce global poverty levels; and designing policies to reduce social and fiscal inequality.

The team representing Cuba received an Outstanding Delegation Award, while the Antigua and Barbuda team received a Distinguished Delegation Award. 

Student delegates are evaluated based on three criteria: accurately representing their assigned country’s diplomatic style, keeping consistent with economic, social and geopolitical constraints; participating and showing leadership during formal sessions and caucuses; and understanding proper use of the rules of parliamentary procedure.

The students also submitted position papers, which are each written as a policy statement from the country they represent, based on the committee to which they have been assigned. The group of WVU students received 11 awards for their position papers.

In addition to learning how the United Nations works, the students spend the semester brushing up their public speaking skills. 

According to Burgess, who first became involved with Model United Nations in high school, the speeches are the best part of the conference.

“I love to try my best to assimilate into our specific country's background and points of view,” he said. “Cuba has a very interesting outlook on foreign relations and sovereignty that was very challenging yet enjoyable to try and capture.”

Students give multiple speeches throughout the semester to prepare for the conference. In addition to agenda setting and topic speeches, one of these speeches is completely spontaneous, Estep said.

“I give them a scenario and two minutes to prepare, then they have to give a 90-second speech based off of that two-minute preparation,” she said. “They really have to know what they’re doing.”

Any students interested in becoming involved with the Model UN club or course can contact Clarissa Estep at Clarissa.Estep@mail.wvu.edu.

Photo: Falcon Photography

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