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Student Leaders Guide Model UN Club to Success

High School students participate in Carnegie Mellon's Model United Nations Conference in early March. Herb Thompson, a teacher at Butler Area High School, says Carnegie Mellon's event is one of the top two that his students attend.

The United Nations may be under siege by American politicians, but at Carnegie Mellon, it's thriving.

Six members of the university's International Relations Organization (IRO)/Model United Nations will attend the National Model United Nations Conference from Tuesday through Saturday in New York City. About 3,500 students from the United States and abroad will take on the role of UN delegates, representing various nations, to debate real-life international issues.

This is the first time the university's nascent Model UN club will be participating in the New York conference, which is the world's largest collegiate Model UN event. It comes on the heels of the second annual Carnegie Mellon Model United Nations Conference for high school students, which took place March 3-5, and was attended by more than 200 high school students from 17 schools across the U.S. and Canada.

The conference focused on global sustainable development, and included topics such as landmines, child labor, nuclear proliferation and the weaponization of outer space.

"(The high school students) learn how to speak formally. They really learn diplomacy skills and the compromise of politics," said IRO co-president Shalin Shah, a senior majoring in mechanical and biomedical engineering.

Three years ago, the IRO/Model UN was virtually nonexistent. Today, it has about 20 active members who have participated in Model UN events at institutions such as Stanford, Harvard, the University of Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania.

Each event requires extensive research and preparation. "It's almost like another class," Shah said.

Shah participated in Model UN as a high school student. Fellow IRO co-president James Tong joined the Model UN club here because he was a member of his high school's debate team.

"The Model UN was a way I could stay involved in debate, and also something that is very useful in the real world," said Tong, a senior majoring in computer science and policy and management.

The high school event quickly has become an excellent way to showcase the university to high-achieving students who may consider applying to Carnegie Mellon, said Stephanie Wallach, advisor to the International Relations Program and the IRO/Model UN. She said that participants have told her that Carnegie Mellon's conference is among the best.

"We go to between five and seven other conferences a year, and we have one of our own, and (Carnegie Mellon's) is one of the top two that we go to. They've done a tremendous job," said Herb Thompson, an English teacher at Butler Area High School and advisor to that school's Model UN club.

"It's as well-organized and professionally done as any place we go," Thompson said.

The Carnegie Mellon high school Model UN event was supported in part by the Student Senate, the Division of Student Affairs and the departments of History, Modern Languages, and Social and Decision Sciences. Wallach said the students handle all logistics, preparations and fundraising for the high school event as well as the collegiate conferences they attend.

"These particular leaders have taken charge of all the aspects of this with such incredible control and devotion. ...Of all the things I've seen in my 10 years here, this stands out as one of the most amazing," Wallach said.

Jonathan Potts
April 10, 2006

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