Most students only read about world conflicts, but one group of Toreros researches ways to resolve them. Members of USD's Model United Nations Program put their knowledge of international diplomacy to the test each time they take on the challenge to represent a new country as UN ambassadors.
"Students train for and attend conferences with students from around the world, where they work together to devise solutions to the world's problems," Advisor Mary McKenzie, PhD, JD said.
To date, USD MUN students have traveled to Riverside, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. to attend conferences. Countries they have represented include Uganda, Russia and the United States. Next semester, they will represent Cote d'Ivoire at the National Model UN conference in New York. The experience, they say, is always fun, often challenging and sometimes full of surprises.
"I always tell my MUN students, ‘When you walk in the door of a conference, you are no longer you. You are your new country.’ It is really impressive what you can learn if you are able to do that."
Mary McKenzie, PhD, JD
"One of my favorite Model UN experiences was when I went to Washington, D.C.," Jessica Chapman '11 said. "Five of the students in a crisis committee were pulled out of the room they were delegating in and assassinated."
It's moments like those that require quick thinking and negotiating on the part of participants. When the goal is resolution and compromise, none of the delegates want a crisis to impede their progress. However, the conferences are designed to be realistic, and real life resolution can be difficult when countries are in conflict. Chapman, who earned a delegate award for her work in 2009, described a particularly memorable conference during which one country attacked another with a missile.
"The permanent five members almost fell apart but, luckily, at the last minute the delegates were able to pass a resolution that made a compromise between both sides," Chapman said.
Compromise is always a great achievement for MUN students. Good results require diplomatic skill along with a great deal of research into the politics of their assigned countries. Sophia Carillo '12 won a delegate award while representing a nation she hadn't studied much prior to her MUN research.
"I find it very rewarding that MUNers gain a depth of understanding of important global issues and how they affect our daily lives that is not always achieved in a normal classroom setting."
Mary McKenzie, PhD, JD
"I was Ukraine, a country that I definitely didn't feel qualified as an expert in," Carillo said, "and I was able to pass a resolution that would effectively change the structure of the United Nations Security Council to include members of states that are flashpoints."
In addition to the fun memories they create at conferences, delegates agree that the program has helped them develop skills and attitudes that will serve them well later in life.
"I've gained a much deeper perspective of global politics, security issues, international human rights and the applicable perspective of privilege," Carillo said.
"My experiences as an MUNer have improved my professional skills exponentially," Chapman said. "I have been able to negotiate better with my peers, find compromises in difficult situations and more importantly, learned how to properly communicate my opinions and ideas with others."
More than anything, McKenzie said she hopes her students gain a deeper understanding of other countries and cultures.
"As an MUNer, you learn to leave your preconceptions behind because your main job is to represent 'your' country accurately," McKenzie said. "I always tell my MUN students, 'When you walk in the door of a conference, you are no longer you. You are your new country.' It is really impressive what you can learn if you are able to do that!"
MUN@USD is active all year. Students may either participate as members of the club, or enroll in the one-unit class. According to McKenzie, anyone with an interest in world affairs can join, and now is a better time than ever to get involved.
"Largely due to a donation from a generous anonymous benefactor, we have begun to grow and lay the groundwork for a long-term successful MUN team at USD," McKenzie said. "In the past two semesters, three USD students have received awards for their work and research at MUN conferences. I couldn't be more proud."
- Anne Malinoski ‘11