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LU Model UN students return from New York conference with inspiration, accolades

Secretary-General Jan EliassonEight Lamar University student delegates recently traveled to New York City under the direction of geography professor Sarah Schwartz as participants in this spring’s National Model United Nations New York conference, the largest conference of its kind in the world. The students, who represented Botswana, returned with two awards for outstanding position papers and an appreciation for New York culture, the United Nations and international affairs.

The student delegates were: Ayah Hamza of Port Neches; Amirah Mohammad, Port Neches; Shelby Murphy, Groves; Sarah Hughes, Batson; Kristin Chessher, Saratoga; Alexandria Toledo, Houston; Tara Hoch, Beaumont; and Christopher Smith, San Antonio. They represented Botswana in eight simulated UN committee sessions as the culmination of their semester’s work in Schwartz’s Model United Nations course, which aims to enhance students’ skills in and understanding of public speaking, negotiation, diplomacy, international relations, current affairs and problem solving among others.

Students at High Line Park“Model United Nations is a unique course that focuses primarily on participation in the National Model United Nations Conference in New York. This conference allows attendees to take on the role of UN delegate, engage in mock UN committee meetings, and draft mock resolutions,” Schwartz said. “Each attending university is assigned a different country and the students from that university form a delegation that strives to represent that country as accurately as possible throughout the conference.”

To prepare for New York, students in the course spent the semester researching Botswana's stances on numerous issues, writing and rewriting position papers that formalized these stances into succinct objective statements, reading lengthy UN resolutions and policy statements, practicing speeches and familiarizing themselves with countries that shared Botswana's views and goals on the topics at hand.

Group of Model UN participants“I was impressed with the commitment that all of the students exhibited during the preparation stage, and I was thrilled when two of our students, Tara Hoch and Alexandria Toledo, had their efforts formally recognized at the conference when they received Outstanding Position Paper Awards,” Schwartz said.

Once the conference was initiated by a speech from H.E. Motohide Yoshikawa, Permanent Representative of Japan to the United Nations, students worked alongside delegations from model UN programs spanning the globe—both in actuality and simulation.

“It’s important in model UN that we consistently remain in character while negotiating in our committee sessions,” Hoch, who served as head delegate, said. “So while we live in the United States, we for all intents and purposes were Motswana, or ‘Botswanan,’ and had to represent the struggles, ideals, stances, and needs of Botswana’s people and government. For example, some students represented Estonia who were from the Dominican Republic, Japan from Germany, Armenia from Mexico, and so on. There was just such a culture of internationalism and inclusivity. Although we were simulating United Nations proceedings and had to stay true to real-life alliances and disputes, borders were down in so many ways.”

Over the course of four days, students debated issues including peace and security in outer space in the General Assembly, human rights and climate change in the Human Rights Council, and improving sustainable forest management practices in the United Nations Environmental Programme. After voting on the topics of highest international concern, delegates merged into blocs—some regional, some issue based—and penned comprehensive resolutions to combat real issues on the forefront of the UN agenda.

View from Empire State Building“Being pre-med, I was immersed in an unfamiliar political science-heavy environment during the class and conference. I worked primarily with law and business students from all over the world on passing draft resolutions that reinforced the universal rights of humankind,” Ayah Hamza said. “Going outside of my comfort zone allowed me to not only grow as an individual and become involved in issues which were not directly related to my studies, but to grow as a global citizen as well. By the end of the conference I was making speeches to the committee and creating solutions to real problems”

Schwartz said something that stood out to her was the success the African Bloc countries had in one committee—blocking a resolution that would have negatively affected Botswana by campaigning against it.

“I spent most of my time walking from committee room to committee room and I was always proud to see members of our delegation giving speeches and enthusiastically expressing their opinions to fellow delegates while remaining cool-headed, even in the face of some heated debates or setbacks in their groups.”

The students worked independently during their committee meetings but were able to meet as a team during breaks and at night.

At Rockefeller Center“The team spirit was special—we felt a sense of connectivity and responsibility not only to Botswana, but to one another,” Hoch said. “I saw students in our group exemplify leadership, pitching bold ideas to other working groups and rallying support for their resolutions, even after-hours when other delegates had put their work down for the day. Some shined in informal debate proceedings, some gave powerful speeches about human rights, and you could tell we all had a zeal for what we were doing. Then in the evenings, we’d all regroup and talk about the successes and frustrations of our days.”

Outside of committee sessions, students took advantage of their close proximity to many of Manhattan’s landmarks and visited the Empire State Building, the Museum of Modern Art, Times Square and Central Park; saw Broadway musicals, rode the Staten Island Ferry, ate ice cream in Chinatown, and took a walk on the High Line—a park converted from an elevated railway.

Staten Island Ferry with Statue of Liberty beyond“I was really pleased with how the students embraced the city in the little free time that they had. Several attended Broadway musicals, a group traveled by subway to Brooklyn, and they all visited Times Square,” Schwartz said. “They were also open to trying new foods—including lychee ice cream, rugelach, authentic Chinese food and pastrami sandwiches—and I was proud of them all for that.”

At the close of the conference, delegates divided up to attend General Assembly and Economic and Social Council Plenary sessions in their respective rooms at the United Nations Headquarters, and were able to sit and vote where Botswana’s delegation is seated during UN proceedings. Following plenary sessions, the delegates gathered in the General Assembly room for closing remarks by the UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson, who gave a speech over the power of unity.

“The word ‘together’—it’s perhaps the most important word of all,” Eliasson said in his last remarks. “You yourself have power in your own life, but the power of ‘together’ is above all. This room in which you find yourself is a symbol of that word.”

The trip came to a close with a private dance thrown for the delegates at Terminal 5, a famous music venue and club in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood.

“The experiences I had representing both Botswana and Lamar University in New York completely exceeded my expectations,” Hamza said. “Overall, the trip was unforgettable and I would highly recommend model UN to students of any major. You really feel you’re a part of something bigger than yourself.”

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 Amir Fakhravar at (409) 880-7546.