Western earns highest honor at National Model United Nations 2012

Olena Rypich
University Communications intern

The Western Washington University Model United Nations program was given the top honor of Outstanding Delegation on April 5 at the National Model United Nations conference in New York.

This is the third time the program has received the award at the conference, the pre-eminent conference on international affairs in the United States. The win solidified Western’s Model UN program’s reign in the highest tier – the 95th percentile – of similar university programs in the world.

Western’s 16-member delegation, which represented the Republic of Liberia on several special working committees, was among 4,000 international students at the five-day conference. This was the seventh time Western was invited to attend. The team has also previously won Distinguished Delegation in 2010 and Honorable Mention in 2008.

Western freshman Keira Alkema won the Best Delegate award for her work on the Conference on Sustainable Development; juniors Bill Campbell and Sean Kelly shared an award for Best Delegate for their work on the Arms Trade Treaty; and junior Mia Nafziger and freshman Chris Grote were named Best Delegate for their comprehensive and articulate work on the Commission on the Status of Women.

The delegates’ performances at the conferences were evaluated on their research, speaking abilities and accurate representation of their country. The students had to replicate the flow of the international system.

The conference is often regarded as a think tank, where students can brainstorm new ideas and possibly apply them in an actual diplomatic setting, Alkema says. Many of the attendees are diplomats in training.

“The National Model UN conference teaches delegates to think critically and engage the world from perspectives they don’t really get outside of the classroom,” says junior Jesse Barnett, president of Western’s Model UN program.

Part of the International Affairs Association and housed within the Department of Political Science, Western’s Model United Nations program is open to students in all majors. The members come from various academic backgrounds, but they share a passion for international affairs, which is a key contributor to their continuous strong performance, says associate professor Sara Weir, Department of Political Science chair and IAA adviser.

“The program emphasizes critical thinking,” she says. “The students are well prepared and have to be able to think on their feet and have good research skills.”

As they participate in conferences, students learn about current foreign policy issues and how international affairs play out on a globalized stage.

In the two months leading to the national conference, they compiled research and wrote position papers to become well-versed on the topics that concern Liberia.

“We try to teach delegates how to think from their country’s perspective,” Barnett says. “Each team represents a country and its interests – not the students’ own interests.”

Weir and Joan Blackwell, the Political Science department’s administrative services manager, help the program with logistics – registering for conferences and arranging travel. But the team has little contact with professors during sessions. While many schools send one or two professors with their delegation, Western students rely on themselves.

“We don’t have the resources other schools have,” Barnett says, “but we make do through our preparation.”

Once the delegation arrived in New York, the students met with George Patten, minister at the Liberian Permanent Mission to the UN.

“The two most practical pieces of advice he gave us were that, one – we needed to look out for our country’s best interest,” Alkema says. “And two – to hold back on our emotions.”

The conference came to an end with a debate on the floor of the General Assembly hall at the United Nations headquarters, which Alkema says was a chilling experience.

“This is the place where people pass all these important resolutions and you get a sense of awe,” she says. “It was a really great experience knowing that what we’re doing as a practice, people do for real. It made me think, ‘Maybe I’ll be a part of this someday.’”

The Model UN program aims to incorporate the real into what is otherwise a simulation, Barnett says. At the conference’s opportunities fair, students with interests in international relations networked with recruiters from prestigious agencies, such as the American Embassy and the Foreign Service. 

Weir says Western’s Model UN program brings a lot of prestige to the Department of Political Science.

“The department is very proud of them,” she says.

Several former program members are now working for the UN. One of the program’s previous presidents is involved with UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.

“They recruit people from International Affairs Associations and Model UN because they are probably some of the most versed people on topics of international studies and foreign affairs,” Barnett says. “For students who are interested in that subject matter, there really is no experience like Model UN.”

Tuesday, May 1, 2012 - 9:03am