It can be hard, sometimes, to make certain decisions. There are choices such as not hitting the snooze button, getting out of bed, going to class. Some days are easier than others when it comes to deciding what to do. Ultimately, what motivates people to do things they may or may not feel inclined to do is whether or not it falls within their best interests.
As hard as this evaluation sounds for an individual, imagine applying it to an entire country. What would it be like to not only determine what is most beneficial to an entire sovereign nation, but to eloquize those points in front of a group of individuals just as familiar, maybe even more so, with this country?
Then, inflate the crowd of observers to more than 4,000 peers from more than 40 countries and attach the stipulation that this exercise would represent the final culmination of intense study and months of preparation.
The resulting product is the course description for Vassar College’s own National Model United Nations course, INTL249.
The National Model United Nations course is offered only in the spring. While it was originally hosted by the Political Science department, it remains a strongly multidisciplinary course. Students who take the class also come from a wide range of backgrounds and intended majors.
As Tanvi Jaluka ’16 explains, “The students that take this class are diverse with multifaceted interests. Certainly, we draw mainly from the political science and international studies discipline, but this class focuses as much on public speaking as it does on foreign policy.”
Dutchess Community College co-teacher Professor Matt Murray had some additional insight as to the motivations of the class’s student demographic: “Most applicants tend to be interested in international affairs, political science, debate, government, or they have participated in past model UN or similar simulations.”
Because of the course’s multidimensionality, students looking to satisfy all manner of interests are assured these needs will be met in the course. In addition to advancing public speaking skills in cooperation with foreign policy knowledge, students may potentially research different topics.
Jaluka explained further: “Depending on the committee a student is assigned, they can engage in a myriad of topics like women’s rights, international security, poverty alleviation, climate change, technology transfer, and education etc.”
Students in this course are not solely limited to an educational progression. Due to the course’s unique paradigm, Vassar College students are engaged in collaboration with Dutchess Community College students.
Helped on by the establishment of the Hudson River Group (HRG) as a joint delegation between the communities of both Vassar and Dutchess Community College, students from both institutions are paired together. HRG is only one of a myriad of participating delegations at the National Model United Nations (NMUN) simulations held annually in New York City.
As Adjunct Professor at Vassar and Professor of Government at Dutchess Community College Richard Reitano explained, “NMUN New York (NMUN-NY) is the largest annual simulation of the United Nations; [it] is one of several Model UNs organized by The National Collegiate Conference Association (NCCA).
The NCCA also conducts a Model UN annually in Washington, D.C. and one annually overseas. The HRG, for example, participated in the NMUN held in the Czech Republic several years ago. Country assignments for NMUN-NY have included China, the United States, Canada, the UK, France, Germany, the Russian Federation and many, many others.”
It is of the utmost importance that students engaging in the simulation are prepared. The course itself is structured to teach students about the United Nations and its subsidiary bodies. Each student is assigned a country, and tasked with researching its history and foreign policy so that they can represent the country’s best interests.
The pressure remains, as HRG has high standards. They have represented the United States, China, Brazil, Germany, the Russian Federation and many other nations for over 50 years.
Recently, in preparation for the conference, the HRG delegation has held mock United Nation sessions with Marist as well. Due to the HRG’s distinguished past, this relationship has proven beneficial for everyone.
After all, the HRG is hardly ill-qualified; in Murray’s words, “The HRG has won a number of Outstanding and Distinguished Delegation awards for its performance in past simulations, and we have been fortunate in the last few years to have represented Sweden, China, Australia and Cuba.”
Formidable or intimidating as the course’s description may sound, both students and faculty extol the considerable value of participating in such a course.
As someone involved in the NMUN course for well over 40 years, Reitano is one to know. Reitano explained, “The course, which prepares our delegation, is very intense because each delegate must learn about the assigned nation’s foreign policy in general and specifically how it relates to the delegate’s assigned Model UN committee, which usually has three topics. Delegates must also learn negotiating skills, public speaking and how to work within the UN system. And, they must never lie, but they are to make the best case possible in their committees.”
In light of all this, Reitano explained the course’s outputs relative to its inputs. “Students have often said that it is the ‘hardest course’ they have ever taken,” he said.
He went on, “In any event, past Hudson River Group delegates have become U.S. diplomats, teachers, lawyers, physicians and government officials. Many have gone on to work for non-governmental organizations. One former Hudson River Group delegate even became a major Hollywood television producer.”
One such student with first-hand experience of the difficulties of the NMUN course is Madeleine Cavanagh ’18. She said, “Having taken the MUN course last spring, I’d describe it as demanding and intense, but ultimately rewarding. Students are expected to become experts on a given topic within a relatively short period of time. Professors expect high-caliber work and the pressure to live up to these standards is high.
But because of the time and energy students invest, the National Model United Nations Conference, with which the course culminates, is extremely satisfying. Vassar students come to the Conference exceptionally prepared, and our delegations are known to excel. Students who are interested in learning more about the UN, international affairs, or who are looking to strengthen their public speaking skills, will benefit greatly from this experience.”
Maximilian Cordeiro ’16 further undergirds Cavanaugh’s statements, though his most derived benefit of the course comes from an unlikely aspect of the NMUN-NY conference. “The real appeal to the Model UN class is definitely the Model Conference in New York which serves as the class’s final,” he said.
He went on, “The Conference is, of course, a rigorous academic space where students from all over the world gather to debate and negotiate according to their respective country’s policies; but by its very nature the Conference is also a performance.”
Cordeiro explained that representing his country was not as interesting and as exciting as interacting with the many other countries. “Last year my partner Anish Kanoria ’18 and I represented Australia on the Security Council, and while it was easy enough to inject Australian foreign policy into our various Resolutions, much of the fun came when we engaged with other diplomats in the character of Australia,” he said.
Holistically, it appears that there are innumerable facets of appeal to students of all types and inclinations to engage in this class. For those interested, the HRG will represent Cuba this upcoming spring. Potential participants in the conferences with lacking knowledge of Cuba should not fear having inadequate preparation.
Professor Reitano promises this uncertainty’s assuagement with the inclusion of a briefing by the Cuban Mission to the United Nations before the event’s occurrence.
Though the course requires its own separate application, the written application (to be completed by students from Dutchess and Vassar) generally consists of an essay about a student’s interest in taking the course, their intended contribution and their projected acquirement of learning and accomplishment.
Jaluka observed the course’s robust reception, saying, “This course has been one of the oldest and most popular classes at Vassar.” Cordeiro went on to add that there are many possible reasons for this.
He remarked, “At the end of the class, students are rewarded with not only a better understanding of the daily functions of the United Nations, but also with a reinforced belief that there truly are forces of good and evil at work in the universe.”