Model UN Opens World of Possibility

05/24/2009
By From the Lowell Sun

By Robert Moreau

LOWELL -- Over the course of just a few days, the world became a more uncertain place.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was assassinated, inflaming the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and humanitarian crisis in Gaza. After discovering smuggled Russian arms were used in Livni's murder, the United Nations Security Council announced it would pursue an internal investigation behind the events.

In another, unrelated development, Russia, along with China, shocked the global financial system by announcing a proposal to roll out a new worldwide common currency, called the "commie."

Though these scenarios were works of fiction, neither was entirely out of the realm of possibility, and students from seven local high schools grappled with those and other issues for three days at the fifth annual UMass Lowell Model United Nations event.

Model UN is an academic simulation whereby students act as UN delegates in various committees, dealing with both pre-assigned topics and spontaneous crises. The goal for delegates is to negotiate solutions while holding to their countries' domestic and foreign policies, and the conference's format is designed to sharpen students' public speaking skills, as well as their creativity and problem-solving abilities.

The conference is hosted by UMass Lowell's International Relations Club, an award-winning program active on campus since 1985.

The conference featured seven committees this year, including three regional bodies: the European Union, Arab League and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
It also included more than 140 students from participating high schools from Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Six of them -- Lowell, Timberlane, North Andover, Tewksbury Memorial, Whittier and Reading -- were returning delegations. The seventh, Lawrence High School, sent a team for the first time, an opportunity made possible by faculty adviser Jon Cogswell, an IRC alumnus at UMass Lowell.

Cogswell, a History teacher at Lawrence High who served as IRC treasurer in 2004 and 2005, said that the IRC "has been trying to get us to come for the past few years" and an eventual chance meeting with IRC faculty advisor Ardeth Thawnghmung at UMass Lowell's campus was his inspiration for organizing a group.

Another faculty member greatly impressed by this year's UMLMUN was Mike Martell from Lowell High, which is in its second year participating. Martell said the opening speech at the conference given by Department of Regional Economic and Social Development Chair John Wooding was especially relevant to Cambodian-Americans in his delegation, as it mentioned the Khmer Rouge genocide as a tragedy the world had failed to stop.

"Students like to hear people talk about the suffering of their parents," he said.

The events also energized the UMass Lowell students hosting the conference. Most of them were new, according to Thawnghmung, with 17 out of 21 IRC members spending their first year in the club.

One of them was Matt Hanson, a Political Science major who ran as a candidate for the Chelmsford Board of Selectmen in the town's April elections. Hanson said Model U.N. was "so much better than a normal class. We need more things like this in high schools."

Conor Baldwin, a graduate student in Regional Economic and Social Development and this year's conference coordinator, said, "This year was, by far, the most exciting conference we've put on in the three years I've been in the IRC, mainly because of the excellent group of students in the IRC this year."

Most importantly, the high-school students had a great time.

Natasha Torres, a Lawrence High junior who represented Cuba in the Economic and Social Council, said it was "a fascinating experience" that inspires youths "to give back to the community and the world."

Robert Moreau is a student at UMass Lowell and a member of the International Relations Club.