Inside USD

Model U.N. Sharpens Students’ Global Focus

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

University of San Diego senior Katrina Manalo is passionate about her International Relations major. Yet for her and several other USD students, participation in the recent Orange County Model United Nations (MUN) Conference provided a new and rewarding experience.

“It was so fun to be around people who have the same passion as you about international affairs,” said Manalo of MUN, which simulates the real United Nations as students are placed in the role of representing countries on key issues, debating and working with other countries to create resolutions. “Everyone wants to make a difference. Everyone wants to make something happen in the future.”

Students, however, can’t use their personal beliefs to help sway resolution. They must fully research their respective country prior to the conference and do what’s legitimately best for the country. Sometimes, the research requires special attention, as Manalo knew when she drew Libya. Currently experiencing a major power shift in the wake of actions involving former dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Manalo was ready.

“I came in a little intimidated because it was my first conference and I knew there would be high expectations, but getting Libya helped me. I stayed up on current events and it helped my research and public speaking skills,” she said. “I did some resolution writing, too, so that was new. Now that I’ve been to one conference, I think I’ll be better prepared next time.”

Manalo will get her chance, as she will represent Libya again when USD Model United Nations students go to a conference Nov. 4-5 at University of California, Santa Barbara.

Seeing students have this educational exercise is also fun for Political Science and International Relations Professor Mary McKenzie, PhD, JD, who is USD’s MUN advisor.

“I think it’s one of the most wonderful pedagogical exercises, especially for students in international relations,” McKenzie said. “It gives them a view you just can’t get even if you’re sitting in a classroom and talking about international relations.”

McKenzie said a core group of 25-30 students participate in USD’s program and several more are at least part-time members. “This year is the most active MUN group we’ve had and we’ve never been as successful at winning awards as we did (Oct. 15).”

Sophia Carrillo, a junior political science/sociology double major and peace and justice studies minor, and sophomore International Relations major Tanner Boisjolie earned research awards at the conference. Carrillo (pictured) and Natasha Mahapatro, a sophomore International Relations major, were chosen as outstanding delegates.

“My experiences have given me a greater appreciation for international relations,” said Carrillo, a third-year MUN participant who has worked for USD’s Trans-Border Institute and spent part of this past summer at the Fulbright Roehampton University Summer Institute in London.

“It’s very gratifying to see MUN grow through these committed students, especially someone like Sophia who takes it on as her own and just goes for it,” McKenzie said. “With each conference the students attend they become more self-confident, show they can take on greater responsibility and have the ability to make analytical connections. To see this done, all from a global perspective, is so rewarding because it’s absolutely crucial in today’s world.”

The Orange County event assigned USD to countries such as Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Panama, Russian Federation, Senegal and Tanzania. Students participated within one of the following groups: General Assembly, protection of indigenous rights; World Health Organization, immunizations in developing countries; UN High Commission for Refugees, protection of refugees in camps; African Union, Sudanese peace process; Group of 20, combating the global finance crisis; and UN Security Council, open agenda.

Boisjolie, representing the Russian Federation in the UN Security Council, earned a research award for his one-page, pre-conference position paper on Russia’s stance on UN policy against Syria. During the conference, the Security Council focused on issues involving the Kurdufan (central) region of Sudan. Boisjolie said his high school speech and debate background helped him during the conference.

“We contested a lot of evidence. It’s more personal, though, because it’s a smaller group. There’s more pressure to up your game here,” he said. “There are clear power blocs like Russia and China and western powers such as the U.S., France and Great Britain. The big countries wield a lot of veto power. There’s a lot of contention and pressure to reach a compromise. If it’s not acceptable, they can shut you down.”

Nevertheless, USD’s MUN program has experienced financial stability. McKenzie said a 2010 anonymous $100,000 donation, spread out over 10 years, helps cover conference entry fees and expenses. The program, as it did last year, will send a few students to New York this spring for a national MUN event. The program is hosting a MUN high school conference Feb. 25 at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice, giving USD students the chance to run the event from start to finish.

It’s likely, too, that a high school student at the February conference will get as much out of it as USD’s Mahapatro did representing the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the World Health Organization committee on immunizations.

“It was a pity party because the Congo’s ranking on the Human Development Index is 168th out of 169 countries. People were coming to me, knowing I wanted money for the re-establishment of clinics. But, because I looked at it from an objective view, short-term goals, and not really focused on just getting the money, I wanted to find ways to directly impact the most vulnerable people in the country. I learned a lot about how the UN works in a realistic sense. By the end of the day, I was so into being the DRC rep. This experience was so powerful.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

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