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Students Triumph in International Arena

April 14th, 2009

By Sarah Pride

CONTACT:  David Halbrook
Patrick Henry College
(540) 338-8727

Part of Patrick Henry College's delegation to the NMUN. (From L to R: Joseph Gallop, Rebecca Beach, Jonathan Roose, Michaela Martens, Jonathan Carden, Alyssa Farah, Nikki Georgacakis, Tim Snyder, Grace Lichlyter, Storm Swendsboe, David Kurashige, Matthew Lukowiak)

Already known for their skills in public speaking, 20 Patrick Henry College students have again distinguished themselves, this time at the prestigious National Model United Nations (NMUN) conference in New York City—an activity that is more about relationships than sheer powers of argumentation. Out of 325 participating schools and more than 3500 students in attendance, PHC was honored with the Outstanding Delegation award, the highest award given at the United Nations simulation conference. The College was one of only 14 schools to be so recognized in a conference that included the London School of Economics, Catholic University of America, University of Cairo, University of Munich, California State Polytechnic University, Goethe University, Istanbul Bilgi University, Pepperdine University and Baylor University.

Ben Rogers and Kyndra Jamison, Outstanding Delegates

Juniors Rachel Blum and Jordan Spencer also received much-coveted individual awards for Outstanding Delegate in their committee, the high-pressure Security Council—known as the “super bowl” to NMUN conference faculty. And juniors Kyndra Jamison and Ben Rogers received the same honor in their committee. This is an award selected by other committee participants, representing a vote of confidence from one’s peers.

"Patrick Henry College students do it again!  I'm thrilled, but not surprised," said PHC President Dr. Graham Walker. "Our students lead the way, because they have the skills and the Christian commitment to truth that make them an 'outstanding delegation' wherever they go.  I'm looking forward to congratulating our NMUN group personally when they return to campus."

Cheryl Banks, executive assistant to the PHC President and Provost, has provided much support to the NMUN teams during the College's four years of participation. “PHC has become recognized, not just around the US, but around the world now," she observed, "as a school that fosters excellence, intellect and character, as witnessed [at Model UN] when they are observed in action.”

Model United Nations is an academic simulation of the UN, which aims to give students first-hand experience in multilateral diplomacy. It brings together students from a variety of different countries, backgrounds, and political views to discuss solutions to global issues such a nuclear proliferation and human trafficking. At the conference, students from across the globe represent delegations from different countries and serve in UN committees, such as the Security Council, the World Trade Organization, and the General Assembly. Acting as foreign diplomats, students are expected to remain in character, referring to each other only by country name. The contest helps students to better understand the purpose and methods of the UN—which students from more conservative schools typically view with deep skepticism—and to see global affairs from an international perspective. Such a perspective, says PHC Chancellor Dr. Michael Farris, is crucial to leaders in this day and age.

"To preserve its liberty, America needs able advocates who have a deep understanding and commitment to the importance of American sovereignty, yet who can effectively communicate that message in the international arena," says Farris. "PHC students have just demonstrated that they have this absolutely unique set of skills that America so desperately needs. We are incredibly proud of their accomplishment, but even more excited about the hope this offers for the future."

To join the prestigious NMUN competition, a college usually creates an official “for credit” class under a faculty sponsor, picks a country to represent, and spends several months studying key issues intensely. These delegations often study their adoptive countries under the tutelage of an actual UN delegate. These advantages were unavailable to PHC this year. With no funds in the College budget specifically for the Model UN Club, students took the initiative themselves to maintain the club, raising more than $11,000 for their trip through a tag sale and letter-writing campaign to relatives. Additionally, two generous donors matched those contributions.

Seniors Matt Lukowiak and Nikki Georgacakis assumed roles as Head Delegates, attending regular NMUN planning sessions and accepting the country of Luxembourg, a small landlocked country in western Europe, bordered by Belgium, France, and Germany, as their country of origin. Jennifer Olmstead, an alumna who earned Outstanding Delegate at NMUN last year, served as chaperone and unofficial coach during the last three weeks of preparation.

Rebecca Beach, member of PHC's "Luxembourg" delegation

In New York City, PHC's shorter window of preparation didn't seem to matter. Coaches from other schools recognized the College’s “Luxembourg” delegation as leaders, even soliciting their help. Olmstead attributes this to the Christian faith of PHC students.

“Others commented that our students were not just using others. They didn't talk over others; they listened, and soon, everyone was listening to them. They seemed like real people,” she explains.

Jordan Spencer, a junior in the Government: American Politics & Policy track, was asked by junior Rachel Blum to serve as her partner only a few months before the NMUN conference, and together they served as delegates to the Second Security Council. In New York City, they provided calm, cool heads during several simulated crises and were eventually recognized as Outstanding Delegates. Throughout the conference, they never lost sight of their ultimate mandate to represent God and PHC.

“We looked at people as ends, beings made in God’s image, not means to get what we want,” emphasizes Spencer. “We actually cared about them.”

Olmstead explains that NMUN is “about building relationships and convincing people on a human level. Model UN prepares people for a real-life impact, wherever they end up,” she adds.

Other PHC students cite the tremendous educational benefit they’ve gained from the experience. Lukowiak, a Government: International Politics & Policy (IPP) major who hopes to become an intelligence officer in the Navy, says that NMUN has helped him prepare for his future career.

“In IPP, we are related to the Strategic Intelligence track, but we have a wider focus that takes in social, political, and cultural factors of a country as well,” he says. “NMUN is an excellent simulation of how states react with each other.”

Jonathan Roose, a junior in the IPP track, says that he may become a diplomat some day. At NMUN, he was selected from several applicants to serve as Chair of the General Assembly First Committee. Here, he was able both to rub shoulders with the very international students who may become UN delegates and to observe the process of reaching consensus, with all its inefficiencies. He notes that PHC graduates who enter the international arena will encounter the UN, along with its controversial positions and tactics, and will need to understand how it works. Roose has found that his time with NMUN helped him visualize the different blocs of the international world and be able to explain how they interact with each other.

“As for the spiritual aspect,” he adds, “we were tossed into an atmosphere that was atheistic, or, rather, ‘UN-istic.’ Out of 300 schools, only three others are evangelical. The opportunity for light to shine is huge.”

Those who have tasted NMUN have found it to be an invaluable experience—so much so that some PHC alumni who participated in the past donated money this year. Students hope to keep the club going, ideally with a faculty sponsor, so that they can earn academic credit.

“I think we’ve shown that we can carry the majority of the workload,” says Roose. “We did our own thing and did it very well, even without funding or academic credit. With school support, I believe there’d be no stopping us.”

Members of the PHC delegation receive Outstanding Delegation award for the College. (L to R: Ben Rogers, Storm Swendsboe, Michaela Martens, Jonathan Roose, Rachel Blum, Kyndra Jamison, Jordan Spencer, Grace Lichlyter, Nikki Georgacakis, Tim Snyder, Rebecca Beach, Joseph Gallop, Alyssa Farah, Jonathan Carden, David Kurashige)