Students in Model UN Heading to Washington, D.C.


Fifteen students in the Model United Nations co-curricular program will represent two countries, Mali and Croatia, and a city, Quito, Ecuador, at the 2022 North American Invitational Model United Nations in Washington, D.C., in February. One of the oldest UN simulations for high school students in North America and the world, NAIMUN is staffed and managed by over 250 undergraduate students from Georgetown University, “all of whom have a keen interest and substantial understanding of international relations," according to the conference.

Gunn students will be among more than 3,300 participants from around the world who will convene in Washington for four days, “simulating their role as delegates to the United Nations from a particular nation and serving as representatives of that country's policies.” The format includes 40 mini-simulations, “from standard committees like the UN General Assembly and the Security Council to crisis simulations of various regional organizations, national cabinets, corporate boards, and political organizations,” organizers said.

“The NAIMUN conference has been the de facto national championship conference over the past three years, drawing top schools from across the country,” Frank Pobutkiewicz of the All-American Model UN Program said on the conference website. “No other competitive U.S. conference has a higher ratio of top tier teams attending, edging out other major conferences.”

For the last several years, students in the MUN Winter Term co-curricular program have participated in the Harvard Model United Nations in Boston, with the exception of 2018, when they joined NAIMUN at Georgetown. “You may have better name recognition with Harvard, but there is no conference that is better than this in terms of the caliber of the delegates and the schools sending them,” said Educational Technology and Library Director Ed Surjan, who serves as Model United Nations Advisor alongside Karoline Theobald P’09 ’14 of the English Department faculty. 

In addition to representing the Republics of Mali and Croatia, Surjan noted that this year, Gunn students have been selected to participate on three different crisis committees at the conference. “It is one of the most exciting things that students can participate in at MUN,” he said, explaining, “These tend to be simulations based on current, recent, or historical world events. Conference crisis managers literally call students out of their hotel rooms in the middle of the night. Rain Ji ’19 was brilliant at this. She served as the Iranian Ambassador to Syria at her conference (in 2019). The students just get so into that because there is all of this intrigue, back-stabbing, and they are trying to out maneuver each other.” 

In winter 2021, in lieu of traveling to a conference during the global pandemic, Surjan and Theobald organized a highly successful virtual Major Global Issues Forum for Gunn students. The forum featured several notable alumni guest speakers, including Nathan Weinstein ’05, CFA, Head of Healthcare Equity Research at Aegis Capital Corp., Adlai J.J. Small ’91, JD, an attorney with Spiro Harrison, James Devanney '10, D.O., MPH, who at the time was completing his residency program at the University of Michigan Hospitals in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Douglas C. Greene ’73, who served as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer for 35 years, and Jesse Kaplan ’13, who served as a research intern for the American Foreign Policy Council, and as an intern and then an officer at NATO, in the Office of the Secretary General’s Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security.

While the NAIMUN conference does have a contingency plan to allow students to participate virtually if necessary this year, Surjan is hopeful that they will be able to join in person. “You think about how Maggie Wu ’22 and Sophia Novoa ’20 engaged with students from other delegations to build support and develop resolutions and then get a resolution passed,” Surjan said, referring to two of the 15 Gunn students who represented El Salvador at the 66th session of the Harvard MUN in 2019. “That robust participation — standing up in the room, talking in the moment — you can do a lot of this in a virtual way, but it just doesn't have the same impact or effect of being in person. It’s the difference between watching a game on TV versus being in a stadium. You feel that energy.” 

In the weeks leading up to the conference, Surjan said students will be completing their MUN delegate training, learning about the various committees to which they have been assigned, and writing a research paper in response to specific questions or topics developed by the conference. “Beyond answering a specific question, the students need to do a fair bit of research to understand the country they are representing, their policies, diplomacy, and UN voting, so they can with some degree of accuracy represent the country in question,” Sujan said. 

“This is a conference that gives these students so much exposure to government, business, international affairs, and diplomacy. All of that is very real, meaningful knowledge and skill that they can apply in almost any career path that they choose to pursue,” he said. In fact, he shares with students that a surprising number of people who participated in MUN in high school have ended up working for the actual United Nations. The UN has featured them in a photo series, “From Model UN to the Real UN,” which “shows the impact that Model United Nations has had on diverse United Nations personnel across the globe.”

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