By Gianluca D’Elia
The Model United Nations (U.N.) team is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and, years after its founding, the student-led initiative is still providing a rare learning experience in world affairs. Alumni from this program have gotten into law school, joined congressional staffs, and even landed positions in the U.S. Department of State, according to Head Delegate and senior political science major Aasim Johnson.
After a rigorous selection process in October, students take the Model U.N. course the following spring, in which a specific country is assigned to the group. Then, the group researches topics of interest to the U.N. and applies them to the country. At the National Model U.N. Conference in New York City, groups speak on behalf of their country and engage in discussions with other college students on the global issues they researched.
“To go to the conference, you must almost pretend like you are an actual U.N. representative,” said junior political science major Jesse Flood, a Model U.N. team member. “So in a way, you eventually start pretending less and actually become well versed in U.N. procedure. This event requires intelligence, preparation and charisma. All of these skills are applicable to the real world.”
Past successes of the team are what drew freshman political science major Carissa Zanfardino to attend Rider.
“It is crazy to think that this team has been around for so long, yet still has a young and lively vibe surrounding it and the conference,” Zanfardino said.
At this year’s conference, Rider’s team is representing Panama. In previous years, Rider has represented Hungary, Lebanon, Nigeria, Peru and Venezuela.
Regarding Panama’s position in current affairs, Johnson said, “The country itself is experiencing economic prosperity and is really one of the up-and-coming countries in Latin America, economically. The canal is as much of economic importance to the world as much as it is of strategic military importance.”
Zanfardino explained, “Panama is an important factor in global affairs because of its location and its prized possession, the Panama Canal. The Canal was the linkage between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, creating an entirely new era in international relations and trade.
“Even now, with such sophisticated air travel and the introduction of drones, ship trade and travel is still extremely important and Panama is right in the middle of it. Panama also has one of the fastest growing economies and [gross domestic products] in the Latin American region. The country is really trying to eradicate the issues its people face and breakout as a truly successful nation.”
In Model U.N. teams, students are split into committees on specific issues. The team has written about 33 different topics across 11 different committees, Johnson said. The topics are based on hot-button issues that are actually discussed at the U.N., such as global nuclear disarmament and access to healthy food. Zanfardino is part of the Sustainable Development Goals committee, which is focused on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 created at the U.N. General Assembly in 2015. Meanwhile, Flood is researching the role of science and technology in international security.
“By doing this in-depth research on a particular country and listening to different students from all over the country and the world doing the same, you begin to appreciate the world a little more and become a much more worldly person,” Zanfardino said.
Students expressed that the skills they have learned in Model U.N. can be carried into future careers.
“Model U.N. has taught me a lot about how important emotional sensitivity is,” he explained. “To push your agenda, you need to know how to talk to people, and how to make them like you and think you’re intelligent. Otherwise, it’s hard to get anything done at the conference or in life.”
Flood added, “Many of the people here at these mock conferences could very well end up in the actual United Nations one day, representing our nation and interests to the world.”