Model students

CSULA’s team attended the 2011 National Model United Nations conference at the United Nations Headquarters in April. The team took home two awards: Outstanding Position Papers and Distinguished Delegation. Photos courtesy Tiffany Frank and Emily Acevedo.

They may not have the jet-setting lifestyle that comes with being a nation’s ambassador, but every spring, a handful of Cal State L.A. students get a taste of what it’s like to serve as diplomatic representatives while attending the National Model United Nations (NMUN) conference in New York City.

The NMUN—sponsored by the National Collegiate Conference Association—challenges students to engage in a simulation with other colleges and universities as delegates of a nation.

While offering hands-on learning to students, the NMUN also provides participants the opportunity to develop an appreciation of differing viewpoints, experience the difficulty of negotiation, reap the rewards of cooperation, as well as to gain a broader understanding of international relations.

“Some students misunderstand how the United Nations works,” said Emily Acevedo, political science professor and faculty adviser for the CSULA Model UN team. “They believe it just focuses on war and conflict. But the UN does work with respect to human rights, access to food and water, disaster relief, disarmament and more.”

The development of the team begins in the fall, where interested students enroll in a world politics course to learn about major issues among nations, international organization, conflict resolution and theories on policy-making.

“MUN is both a challenging and rewarding course; providing students with the opportunity to network and compete with students from all over the world.”

- Keith Gallarzo, political science major

The students then take two courses during winter. The first acquaints students with the UN system and prepares them for the spring conference, teaching the rules of debate and codes of conduct. The second course requires students to conduct intensive research on the country they will represent and the problems that nation faces.

The students break into committees that are each given three topics to address in a position paper, which is due one month before the conference.

After arriving in New York, students attend general assembly at the UN Headquarters, debate in hearings, engage in caucuses and even meet actual diplomatic representatives from their delegation country.

“A lot of the students were completely humbled because they never previously left Los Angeles,” Acevedo said.

Students worldwide attend the conference, however, Cal State L.A. students feel particularly empowered because other students know of their reputation, she said.

“The National MUN was the most rewarding experience I have ever been a part of,” said Gabriel Clift, a political science major and first-time delegate at the 2011 conference, where the team represented Spain. “I made friends with people from around the globe, got a chance to explore the best parts of New York, made tighter bonds with my classmates and Dr. Acevedo, and worked like a real diplomat for a week.”

As a result of the critical-thinking and diplomatic skills of the 17-member delegation, CSULA garnered two top awards at the 2011 conference in April: “Outstanding Position Papers” and “Distinguished Delegation.” This is the third year in a row that CSULA has earned national accolades.

The delegation is mainly made up of political science students, but word-of-mouth has been successful in attracting students of various academic interests in a way that benefits the team.

“There’s so much diversity that’s brought in with people of different backgrounds because they’re completely new to the system,” Acevedo says, “ … this is a new language for them.”

Acevedo, who took over as adviser in 2008, admits she has a reputation for being a tough educator with demanding expectations, but said it’s necessary because the team requires a big commitment and ample teamwork in order to meet the challenges.

The students are accountable to one another, because if one committee misses the deadline to submit the position paper, the entire delegation won’t be eligible for awards. If one student is struggling, the other students work together to help him or her, Acevedo said. If a student is not putting in enough time or effort, it’s time for some “tough love.”

“MUN is both a challenging and rewarding course; providing students with the opportunity to network and compete with students from all over the world,” said Keith Gallarzo, a second-time delegate and political science major.  “Definitely a class every student should try to experience at least once.”

For the 2012 conference, the team will represent Belgium.