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Pol. Science class offers world experience in NYC

A political science class called Model U.N. is seeking applicants for the experiential learning class offered this spring where students learn by doing.

The class gives students the opportunity to travel to the United Nations headquarters in New York City to simulate a general assembly meeting.

Dr. Marc Simon, director of the program since 2000, selects a team of about 15 students through a competitive process based on the student’s application and interview performance. The class is open to undergraduate students of any level and major.

“The 15 students take a three-credit hour political science class called Model U.N., and during the class, we prepare them to represent the foreign policy of a country that we get assigned,” Simon said.

Model U.N. is a role-playing simulation with the same structures, committees and topics that the real U.N. deals with, he said.

“They usually use last year’s agenda from the U.N. to pick agenda topics for the simulation,” he said.

The class helps students realize the level of difficulty the members of the U.N. deal with on a daily basis.

“You learn a lot about diplomacy, negotiation, conflict resolution and how to get large groups of people with very diverse interests to actually agree,” Simon said.

The biggest challenge that Simon faces year after year is raising money for the trip.

Students enrolled in the class pay $375, which covers about half of the total cost of the program. Several academic departments and programs provide the majority of the other funds.

“All we want to do is safely and successfully participate in the conference,” Simon said.

Karen Kuns, a senior political science major who participated in the program last year, said the program was an eye-opening experience that forced her to examine the role of the United States in the international arena.

“In order to gain the most from the experience, it is essential that students really try to see issues through the eyes of their assigned countries,” she said. “Sometimes, it can be difficult to look past the accepted political and cultural policies of our western democracy, making decisions in an effort to preserve the ideals that are prevalent in other parts of the world.”

One of the main goals of the class is to improve students’ communications skills, and increase their awareness and understanding of international politics, Simon said.

Interaction and participation is essential during the simulation in order to get other countries to support your countries’ proposed legislation.

“You have to get out and interact,” Simon said. “You have to learn to work collaboratively, and learn to represent a point of view you often disagree with.”

Senior Sara Kaminski, also a participant in the program in 2004, said that it was difficult to communicate the views of the small West African country they represented even to groups with similar interests.

“You get a lot of people who want to talk, but not a lot of people who want to listen to what you are trying to tell them,” she said.

Participating in the conference proved how difficult diplomacy can be when dealing with so many differing policy opinions, said Kuns.

“Negotiation and compromise were essential throughout the process, illustrating the difficulties that any international body faces,” she said.

The knowledge of international politics has become seemingly more important because of the events that have occurred in the world in recent years.

“This is mostly because of what we casually call globalization,” Simon said.

“Events like 9/11 and the War in Iraq are one tangible way that students might see that our lives are connected to people in remote parts of the world.”

Students must come to terms with the fact that the United States is not the only country that impacts the world today.

“The world is becoming much more interconnected, and the idea that we in the U.S. can ignore what happens elsewhere is not realistic in the 21st century,” Simon said.

One of the successes of the program is the formation of a Model U.N. program at the local high school headed by veterans of the program at the University.

“The students were so moved by what they did and learned that they were able to share that knowledge with other people,” Simon said. “They got them interested enough that the high school group took off on their own.”

The knowledge that students have of how their lives are linked to people around the world has become vital to their own success.

“For a student to succeed in this world, it helps to understand the perspective of the other six billion people on the planet.”

The deadline for applications is Monday and they can be picked up at Simon’s office in 123 Williams Hall. Completed applications can be emailed to Simon at [email protected] or dropped off in an envelope on his office door.

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