Internationally Minded Students Represent Saint Leo at Model UN Conference for College Students

April 01, 2010

Internationally_Minded_StudentsA group of five undergraduates led Saint Leo University’s first delegation at a collegiate-level model United Nations conference recently. The team, pictured above, traveled to Pennsylvania State University, whose team hosted the conference.

Such conferences are held at many universities each year, and give undergraduates from participating schools the opportunity to study serious international issues in mock proceedings and then create solutions. Students are assigned to various teams that replicate actual governments, with each student assigned a particular role, such as minister of foreign affairs for a given nation, or attorney general of the United States. The topics are also modeled on real-life situations, and then further complicated by additional, unexpected problems that are thrown into mix as each group continues to wrestle with its original predicament. 

“We were in a crisis committee,” said Hayley Gibson, a freshman studying international relations, “a government handling an invasion and a rebellion at the same time.” It was the conflict in 2008 involving Georgia, the former Soviet state, and the breakaway province of South Ossetia. Georgia wanted to regain control of South Ossetia. Russia, the powerhouse in the region, was aligned with South Ossetia. Russia sent combat troops into the fray to back South Ossetia. Gibson played an advisory role on Georgian National Security Council, which Was staffed with students from other institutions including the University of Maryland, Brown University, the University of Scranton, as well as her fellow Saint Leo student, Pia Soesemann.

Meanwhile, senior Joshua Singer was “in Iran” acting as the leader of the reformist Green Movement when a coup d’etat destabilized the government. An opportunity emerged for a coalition to establish a new, more open government. Yet there was also the threat of a backlash and resurgence from right-wing forces. Singer, who in real life is contemplating a position in the Peace Corps, became engulfed by strong passions ignited during the role-playing. “I wanted to argue to the death that my people were right,” he recalled.

The destabilization of Iran spilled over into the workings of President Barack Obama’s National Security Council, where Saint Leo sophomore Collin Good was playing the role of Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The make-believe coup was complicated with a fictitious discovery of nuclear weaponry in Iran and resulting hostility from Israel, Good explained. The United States was essentially mediating. “We were on the brink of World War III. It was three days of constant brainstorming.”

Gibson said the experience of having to make quick but sound decisions could be applied to many academic disciplines, not just international relations or government, though in this case itwas the political science honor society Pi Sigma Alpha that organized the Saint Leo team. Business majors could also benefit from such an experience, Gibson suggested.
The students also observed how difficult and time-consuming it can be to craft a satisfyingresolution to real international issues that seem to flare up quickly, but stem from long-standing grievances. Soesemann, a history and international relations major, saw that from her vantage point as a military chief on the Georgian Security Council: “In the end, we set up a peace treaty that no one is happy with and that didn’t really solve the problem. It is a very complex problem.”
Saint Leo will continue sending student teams to collegiate model UN conferences in upcoming academic years now that a group with a continuing interest has formed, Professor Marco Rimanelli said. Students interested in joining upcoming trips are invited to contact him.

Picture, from left to right: Saint Leo students Collin Good, Pia Soesemann, Hayley Gibson, Joshua Singer, and Tiffany Carpenter participated in a model United Nations conference held at Pennsylvania State University. Like Saint Leo, Penn State claims a lion as its mascot, though the Nittany Lion, shown in the sculpture above, is based on a mountain lion.