Seven Johnson State College students traveled to Boston Feb. 13-16 to join 3,000 undergraduates and faculty advisors from 73 countries to participate in the Harvard National Model United Nations Conference.
The students are the first from JSC accepted into the annual event, which for 60 years has brought together undergraduates from across the world for mock sessions and hands-on learning about the United Nations and its 193 member countries. Students are accepted on the basis of a one-page paper they submit as their application.
Each group of students is assigned a country to represent other than their own. The JSC students represented Lithuania and spent several months researching the country to prepare for the event.
“It’s a classic example of experiential learning,” said their advisor, David Plazek, associate professor of political science at JSC. “It’s one thing to learn terms and theories in the classroom; it’s a completely different experience to participate and be actively involved outside the classroom and work hand in hand with people from across the globe. Students get out of their own ‘national box.’ Once they see and meet people from other countries and work with them face to face, they learn that ‘Wow, we’re a lot alike. We’re all participating in this together’’ It breaks down barriers.”
In fall 2013, Plazek obtained a two-year, $8,000 Special Initiatives grant from JSC President Barbara E. Murphy to support the students’ travel and participation in the event, which was held at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel. He and the students also started the JSC Model UN Club, sponsored by the SGA. Later this spring, the students will present a slide show and discussion on campus about their experience. Students must write a one-page paper to apply for the conference, and Plazek offers guidance on how to write a successful paper.
This year’s participants were Vermonters Colin Santee, a senior political science and biology major from Fairfax and the club’s president; Alan Bickings, a junior political science major from Waterville and the club’s vice president; Pamela McKenna, a sophomore business and political science major from Milton; Jennifer Many, a sophomore environmental science and pre-law major from Richmond; John Dabrowski, a sophomore political science major from Essex Junction; Jacob Koonz, a junior history major from Waterville; and Mercedes Stengel, a senior political science major from Irasburg.
Participants were assigned to the mock U.N. General Assembly or to committees, economic and social councils, regional bodies, specialized agencies such as the Security Council, or the press corps. They researched, debated and voted on a wide range of resolutions and issues, including decolonization, the status of women, criminal justice, regional issues, disarmament, international security, sustainable development and more.
“Our group met virtually every week for four months to prepare for the conference,” Plazek said. “We tracked down information on Lithuania and worked on individual and collective research projects. We also talked about the significance of the United Nations and the role it plays in the world.”
Participating in the event is a rewarding experience that engages students of different interests and abilities, Plazek noted. “There’s a strong academic focus, of course, but the students have fun, too. There are dances at night, and they get to meet students from all over the world.”