March 7, 2014
Undergraduates Show Competitive Skills in Diplomacy at Model UN
Dec. 9, 2013
UT Dallas students were recognized for their participation in a Model United Nations Conference in Washington, D.C. Back row, from left: Ray Xia, Joshua Wyllie, David Weisser, Nancy Fairbanks, Bobby Gottam and Andrei Rosu. Front row, from left: Kathleen Alva, Hyunjoo "Eunice" Ko, Brooke Knudtson, Hope Steffensen, Megan Simons and Ana Vives.
Even though most were first-time competitors, UT Dallas students demonstrated the academic preparation and diplomatic savvy needed to take home the highest honors in a recent United Nations simulation held in the nation’s Capitol.
Twelve UT Dallas students achieved the award for Outstanding Delegation in the National Model United Nations conference in Washington, D.C. The students served as representatives of Mexico during the October conference, and only two of them had ever competed before.
The 650 international student delegates at the conference also voted one of the novice UT Dallas teams – Megan Simons and Joshua Wyllie – as Outstanding Delegation in Committee.
The Model U.N. competition is unique in that it involves “diplomacy as well as raw brainpower,” said Michael Seeligson, assistant provost for the Honors College and one of the chapter’s advisors.
“You have to not only work hard and think quickly; you have to successfully build a coalition to support your cause,” Seeligson said.
The UT Dallas undergraduates included 10 new delegates and two experienced head delegates, David Weisser and Hyunjoo “Eunice” Ko. Most of the students are pursuing degrees in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, though students in management, the natural sciences and engineering also participate.
“We had people competing who had never heard of Model UN before this fall. We typically have represented well, but for 10 rookies to take highest honors is outstanding.”
The UT Dallas chapter’s showing at the D.C. conference was especially strong given the number of its first-time delegates, Seeligson said.
“We had people competing who had never heard of Model UN before this fall,” he said. “We typically have represented well, but for 10 rookies to take highest honors is outstanding.”
UT Dallas students sought to represent Mexico because it is well-positioned to be a geopolitical leader in Latin America. It also has a stake in most of the topics the conference focused on, including maternal health and population development, Seeligson said.
Before attending conferences, students do intensive research on their countries as well as the issues within the U.N. committee to which they are assigned. Once on site, students must demonstrate preparedness, spontaneous public speaking skills and diplomatic tact.
Wyllie, a mechanical engineering freshman, said his team prepared by researching speeches and voting patterns of Mexican delegates in the United Nations. His team’s resolution on sustainable energy for the environmental committee was the only one that was unanimously adopted.
“It was a very new experience for me, drafting resolutions in a short timeframe and gaining skills in compromising,” Wyllie said. “I had never heard of Model United Nations before coming to UT Dallas, but it’s been a great way to meet like-minded people and learn about world affairs.”
Being able to think on your feet is “incredibly important” for delegates, said Ko, a biology sophomore.
“You’ve never seen these people before, and you have to make friends quickly, and then hold your ground,” Ko said. “I was totally impressed with the way our students would control the room.”
The real work is done in breakout sessions, where representatives of different countries must draft proposals and muster support, Seeligson said. He added that all of the resolution papers that the UT Dallas students put forward were accepted.
“Our students were regularly at the center of conversations,” Seeligson said.
Valerie Brunell, program coordinator for the Honors College and co-advisor for the Model U.N. team, said the conference was a big win for the UT Dallas chapter.
“Our students worked well with other students, making new friends and winning them over. This is such a great start,” Brunell said.
UT Dallas will participate in two more Model United Nations conferences this academic year. Ten students will represent Canada, France, Cuba and Ethiopia at the February competition in Portland, Ore. In April, about 18 students will represent Rwanda at the New York conference, where they will join an estimated 5,000 students at the largest annual conference of its kind.