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Students Earn "Outstanding Delegation" at NMUN

April 23rd, 2012

By Sara Foss.

CONTACT:  David Halbrook
Patrick Henry College
(540) 441-8722
OfficeOfCommunications@phc.edu

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The 2012 NMUN team from Patrick Henry College: (from L to R) Chandler Karadsheh, Michael Brooks, Robert Saunders, Steven Osborne, Alan Carrillo, Aaron Strassner, Greta Pilgrim, James Nelson, Megan Conlon, John Ehrett, Laura Fennig, Adam Smith, Ryan Hauser, Logan Spena, Seth McKinnis

A large room transformed into the “UN General Assembly” swarmed with delegates from all over the world taking their seats. At the front of the room, behind a large, elevated desk, the committee chair called them to order. Himself a representative from the “Kingdom of Denmark,” he recognized a member of his own delegation, who presented a position on the Arms Trade Treaty that he and a partner had worked on all week.

Unlike at the actual United Nations, there was not a gray hair in the room. It was the 2012 National Model United Nations (NMUN) competition, and the “Kingdom of Denmark” was actually a coalition of Patrick Henry College students who had studied, fundraised and organized themselves to get to New York City. By the time the competition was over, they had won the highest possible team award of “Outstanding Delegation” at the 2012 New York NMUN conference for the third time and second consecutive year, beating out about 300 other delegations. The students agreed that their experience was, indeed, outstanding.

“Where else can you walk through Times Square to meet for lunch with two law students from Quebec, a German college student majoring in Development Economics, and a student from Netherlands?” asked junior Seth McKinnis.

James Nelson chairing his committee

At PHC, NMUN is a student-led club and not an official forensic activity. Members receive no academic, logistical, or financial support from the college, and keeping the club alive has been a challenge. The board of student leaders interviews and selects members, and heads all fundraising, organization and research.

Natasha Malik (’11) found herself running the club alone in 2011 when her other head delegate left college to work full time for the Laura Ingraham Show. She turned to Timothy Hrushka (’11) and then-sophomores Aaron Strassner and James Nelson to help head the team and raise the $14,000 they would need. When they only raised $6,000 they had to cut the team by ten members and rearrange partnerships. In so doing, the nation of Montenegro disappeared entirely, and PHC attended the conference as only the delegation from Hungary. 

This year’s team of 15 students met once a week leading up to the conference, also spending a great deal of time on their own and with their partners researching the positions they would take on the issues in the committees to which they were assigned. They worked in seven different committees and won the College’s greatest number of awards to date. Seniors Megan Conlon and Logan Spena won PHC’s first position paper award, and three of the seven teams won the highest awards in their individual committees. The club’s president and head delegate, James Nelson, chaired the Arms Trade Treaty committee.

In reflecting on the experience, Nelson stressed that while the team took on leadership roles and earned several awards, they “were able to skillfully exercise real-life diplomacy in order to build friendships and alliances with other students for the purpose of drafting and building consensus around treaties and resolutions.”

Unique among forensic activities, NMUN is valued -- not for the competition, for there is no winner -- but for the opportunities it offers. For many, the benefits reach even beyond increased knowledge in international relations.

Alan Carrillo, Ryan Hauser and Adam Smith in the General Assembly

Junior Aaron Strassner, who along with partner Adam Smith won the peer-voted award for his committee out of over 150 delegations, does not anticipate a career in the international realm. Still, he believes that the diplomatic skills acquired through his NMUN experience will be valuable to his future aspirations.

“Whether my future rests in business or American politics, I am a better communicator and negotiator because of my Model UN experience,” he said.

“I have no love for the United Nations and little interest in international relations,” said Spena. “NMUN will still assist me in my future plans, as it bolstered my skills in negotiation and networking, especially with people from other countries, cultures, or even schools.”

McKinnis does plan to pursue International Relations and a position in either policy or the Foreign Service Office of the U.S. Department of State. Yet though he values the practical experience offered by NMUN, especially its international diversity, the true reward is elsewhere.

“For me, the best moment of the week undoubtedly was discussing the meaning of life and sharing my faith with several students from Quebec and Germany,” he said. “They likely had never heard the gospel before. NMUN is certainly a competition, but even more it is a mission field.”