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Model UN delegates complete Washington conference, prep for NYC

Lamar University’s inaugural team of Model United Nations delegates have returned from their first National Model United Nations (NMUN) conference in Washington and have begun preparation for their New York conference in March.

LU's inaugural Model UN teamAfter months of intense research on the United Nations’ structure, processes and powers, as well as structured and in depth research on Afghanistan (which Lamar represented in-conference), students were able to gain firsthand experience as delegates in a setting closely resembling real United Nations debate proceedings.

Seven student delegates from LU; Tara Hoch of Beaumont, Savannah Parfait of Vidor, Dillon Nicholson of Port Arthur, Nathan Henry of Winnie, Stephanie Smith of Beaumont, Alejandro Guadian of Jasper and Ricky Anyanwu of Houston; were able to debate in formal and informal caucus with more than 400 students from dozens of international and domestic higher education institutes by role-playing as diplomats from various United Nations member states and non-governmental organizations. In their respective committees, students set agendas, formed alliances and drafted resolutions.

International issues that the students debated included the preservation of linguistic diversity, marine plastic debris and microplastics, elimination of nuclear weapons, sustainable environmental management practices in refugee affected areas, external debt sustainability and more. The debate surrounding such topics allowed the delegates a greater understanding of the United Nations and the power play involved in international relations, global politics and diplomatic strategy that give way to international resolutions and the allocation of aid.

“The students learned much more by participating in the conference than they ever could have in a classroom,” said MUNLU program director and professor Amir Fakhravar. “I am proud of their hard work in their committees and think they all gained something from the trip.”

Team with Amir BagherpourDuring their trip, students had a set of unique opportunities outside of their respective committee sessions. They were introduced to Amir Bagherpour, then-director of data analytics in the Office of the Secretary of State, John Kerry. According to the New York Times, Bagherpour and his team of data specialists used “cutting-edge data gathering technology to help keep the peace in some areas and keep violence from flaring in others, saving both physical and fiscal costs of conflict.” Bagherpour, now chief political scientist at Global Impact Strategies, led the students on a guided tour of the U.S. State Department before engaging them in a conversation about their future plans over lunch.

Later that day, they were also able to sit within the House Foreign Affairs Committee room in a private meeting where they learned more about Afghanistan and world aid. In this meeting, they were introduced to Kenneth Katzman, an expert from the Congressional Research Service, and Matthew Zweig, a senior professional staff member in the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Both experts on Middle Eastern issues, Katzman and Zweig gave the students an important look into the regional problems surrounding Afghanistan as well as Afghanistan’s role in these issues before taking questions.

“Learning about a developing country like Afghanistan really took me out of my personal bubble and made me decide I want to help countries like theirs with my life,” nursing major Savannah Parfait said. “I even asked for my family to donate to an NGO in my name as my Christmas present. This whole experience was incredible and I am extremely thankful for it all.”

Informal debate meetingIn the evening, students were given the chance to partake in a graduate school fair where they learned about schools such as Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, American University, Seton Hall and IE School of International Relations in Madrid among others. Offered too were a variety of internship applications and financial aid packets.

“I think the students who traveled to DC this semester gained insight into the academic and career opportunities that are available in the State Department and the city in general,” MUNLU professor Sarah Schwartz said. “Participating in the conference allowed students the opportunity to practice their debating skills as well as their negotiation skills, which I hope will serve them well in the future.”

Students with statue of Eleanor RooseveltIn their free time, the delegates were able to explore museums, landmarks, shops, and a plethora of international restaurants, all while using the metro and public transportation. The trip, which took place over Halloween weekend, allowed students the unique opportunity to spend Halloween night out together in Georgetown, which they all enjoyed.

“Our experience as delegates was an incredible one; it forced us out of our comfort zones and thrust us into this environment where we had to consider international issues much more directly and from a vastly different point of view,” political science major Tara Hoch said. “But almost equally important were the opportunities we had to go out and explore Washington and soak up its culture as a city.”

The trip came to a close with the students being invited to the home of Richard Perle outside of Washington to discuss world issues. Perle served as the first Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Strategic Affairs under the Reagan Administration as well as the chairman of the Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee under George W. Bush. He now spends his time as a political advisor, consultant and lobbyist.

Student delegates at the dais“During our trip to Washington, D.C. I had the unique chance to interact with people from different universities around the world and thoroughly enjoyed it,” criminal justice major Ricky Anyanwu said. “I felt like an actual Afghan delegate discussing Afghanistan's policies and I would like to pass down the knowledge gained from this experience to others next semester.”

The student delegates have begun research with Schwartz on their next chosen member state, Botswana, which they will represent next semester in preparation for the upcoming NMUN New York City conference in late March. This conference pulls together more than 1,000 students worldwide and centers on the United Nations Headquarters, giving students an even closer look at international relations and the UN itself.

Display at Newseum“I hope students will come away from the class with an appreciation for the uphill battle developing countries such as Botswana, the country Lamar University will represent in the New York conference, face when negotiating with more powerful countries like the United States,” Schwartz said. “I aim to see delegates improve in three areas that I feel will serve them well in the future regardless of their areas of study: public speaking, writing, and research skills.

“I also plan to introduce students who haven't visited New York to a few of the things the city has to offer including Central Park, the view of the Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island ferry, and a Broadway musical. It's going to be a great learning experience on many levels and I'm really looking forward to it.” 

Model United Nations at Lamar University offers both a traditional classroom learning option and an application for general club membership. For more information or to apply for membership contact director Amir Fakhravar at (409) 880-7536.