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Model UN Club: A Template for Future Education (Part I)

Note: This article is part 1 of a two-part series on the Model UN and the Model UN Club.

Over the past number of months, educators have spent a tremendous amount of time discussing the future of education in the post-COVID world. While it is always tricky to predict the future, specific trends that started in the pre-COVID era have emerged and will likely shape the post-COVID educational landscape.

These trends include:

  • Hybridization of education (the merger of in-person and online formats)
  • Focus on interdisciplinary education
  • Adoption of project-based learning inside and outside the classroom
  • Globalization of education
  • Need for an authentic embrace of both diversity and inclusiveness, broadly defined

The COVID-19 crisis illustrated that institutions must also attend to the mental health and the social and emotional needs of students. Finally, the COVID-19 crisis demonstrated the value of skills such as flexibility, adaptability and persistence.

Since 2018, our Model United Nations Club has served as a testing ground for many ideas identified as emerging trends in education. The club’s success, both before and during the pandemic, provides a template for other schools looking for a roadmap to navigate the post-COVID future. 

Admittedly, a simulation of the United Nations involving college students is not a new idea. Thus, it may seem odd to some to discuss Model United Nations as the future of education.

In fact, the Model United Nations simulation may be celebrating its 100th anniversary, depending upon whose origin story of the simulation one believes. Some claim that the current version of the activity traces its roots back to a Model League of Nations conference hosted by Oxford University in 1921; others cite post-World War II conferences like a 1947 event at Swarthmore College as the earliest Model United Nations simulation.

Regardless of the origins of the simulation or its age, the Model United Nations experience and other simulation activities provide valuable learning experiences for future generations of students. And the skills learned by students and faculty alike are transferable inside and outside the classroom.

Student-Centricity and Openness Remain Hallmarks of Model United Nations Clubs

The Model United Nations Club is a completely voluntary, open and non-credit experience. It was formed, in large part, to provide online students with a grades-free opportunity to participate in Model United Nations competitions without fear of failure or a poor grade.

Our Model United Nations Club has won numerous awards over the years, including six at a virtual conference hosted by the Osgood Center in February 2021. The club remains committed to its founding principles as all students interested in participating are free to experiment and learn. The club’s embrace of virtual conferences has allowed even more students, who are spread across the United States and the world, to participate in several recent conferences.

Moreover, keys to the club’s success are its ethos focused on student success and empowerment. University faculty share their expertise, ideas, and experiences while students retain control of their own learning and the direction of the club.

Model United Nations Simulation Embraces Interdisciplinary and Project-Based Learning

In its current form, participation in Model United Nations simulation asks the students to engage in role-playing as they are assigned beforehand to represent countries on a specific United Nations committee. Before attending the conference, students must research various problems they may confront on their designated committee and understand their assigned country’s positions on multiple issues.

Then, they write a short position paper from their given country’s viewpoint that addresses its prior actions and proposed solutions. At the conference, either in-person or virtually, students stay in character and advance their assigned country’s positions, working in cooperation with potential allies, and mitigating conflict with adversaries.

Model United Nations thrived in the 20th century and the activity remains the template for the future of education because it will continue to attract students worldwide due to its interdisciplinary nature and project-based learning. These two themes are repeatedly identified as “emerging trends” in discussions on the future of education.

Not only do students learn writing, research, and public speaking skills as they prepare for and compete in a Model United Nations, but they also gain exposure to a wide range of academic subject matter. For instance, a student delegate might confront global issues that touch upon multiple subjects including international law, science, and medicine, to name just a few. Students tackle real topics and issues taken from the dockets of UN committees, rendering complex subject matter relevant and topical.

Bryant Ezeamama, a student who is completing degrees in both international relations and global security as well as political science, praised his experience on the World Health Organization committee during the February 2021 conference. He focused his comments on the interdisciplinary and project-based method of learning.

On the committee, Ezeamama dealt with complex issues dealing with law, public policy, medicine, and biology. He also was instrumental in the crafting of several resolutions to address the current COVID-19 crisis.

Specifically, Ezeamama noted, “I learned, discussed and contributed on issues of global health, addressing international cooperation in the field of health in this pandemic era. A highlight of the conference was when my team’s two resolutions passed with votes of acclamation.”

Model United Nations Clubs and Simulations Embrace Diversity and Inclusiveness

The Model United Nations simulation has always embraced broadly defined diversity and inclusiveness. By adopting the perspective of an assigned country, students learn to appreciate the views of people with different backgrounds who often possess differing national interests and worldviews. In their dealings with fellow competitors, respect for others and diplomacy are both demanded and expected.

Hannah Via, an English and psychology student who served as the Club’s Media Officer, represented China on the Security Council at the February 2021 conference. She received an award for “Outstanding Delegate,” the conference organizers’ highest honor.

In describing the value of her experience, Via said, “Arguing the position of a country you disagree with is not easy, but it does require you to think outside yourself and your own biases. The conference gave me the chance to look at things from a different perspective and culture.”

In a highly polarized world, playing the role of a person from another country provides students with valuable insight that may teach them to respect, if not necessarily agree with, differing perspectives.

In Part II, we will examine the role that video conferencing and virtual conferences play in providing greater access to underserved communities.

James Barney is a Professor of Legal Studies in the School of Security and Global Studies. In addition to possessing a J.D., James possesses several master’s degrees, including one in U.S. foreign policy. He is currently completing his Ph.D. in History. James serves as one of the faculty advisors of the Phi Alpha Delta law fraternity as well as the Model United Nations Club and is the pre-law advisor.

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