Collaboration Across the Curriculum: Model UN Program at Monroe Community College
The Model United Nations (UN) program is extremely popular throughout the United States and globally, with hundreds of thousands of students from all levels of education participating every year (United Nations, n.d.). This UN simulation enables college students to engage in and learn about international political issues and the UN while developing their communication, deliberation, leadership, and debate skills. According to National Model United Nations (NMUN) (n.d.),
Cooperative, hands-on, experiential learning allows students to confront a range of topics with the perspective of their assigned country or organization. Through these experiences . . . students develop an appreciation of differing viewpoints, experience the challenges of negotiation, see the rewards of cooperation, broaden their world view, and discover the human side of international relations and diplomacy. (para. 2)
This periodical focuses on Monroe Community College’s (MCC) Model UN program and how it has impacted students’ academic experience, leadership development, and student performance. Results from MCC assessments and evaluations indicate that role-playing and simulation-based learning can have an incredibly strong impact on a students’ education. In addition, the skills learned in the simulation position them for long-term academic and personal growth.
It is no secret that professionals from different backgrounds, with different mind-sets, and, especially, with different areas of expertise, have an impact on student success. MCC developed a program that not only contributes to student success, but also involves faculty from across the curriculum. We believe student services are becoming more specialized to meet the needs of groups like international students, minority students, first-generation students, veterans, and returning adult students. At the same time, there is growing recognition of the value of collaboration across departments to better support students’ academic goals. Many educators across various disciplines, including international relations, use active learning as a superior strategy for teaching (Orlov et al., 2020). It allows students to experience deep learning and develop skills unattainable through conventional methods. Model UN, already a mainstay of many undergraduate institutions, provides a useful framework for active learning in political science and international studies classes.
Model UN started at MCC as a cocurricular endeavor, organized and led by students in a club. Independently, club members researched participation in the NMUN Conference while trying to find a faculty advisor to help with more difficult projects and provide the in-depth knowledge needed to qualify and succeed at the event. The students were so dedicated to being involved in the conference that one of them obtained temporary volunteer assistance from a professor at a university. However, many of the students lacked funding to cover the cost of traveling to and participating in the conference, as they were often unsuccessful securing sufficient financial support through the college or via their own fundraising efforts. While students obtained some funding from MCC’s Student Government, it was not enough to pay for all their costs. Unfortunately, many of the students who worked so hard to be part of this experience ended up backing out due to financial barriers as well as the need to keep up with classes and the demands of their personal lives.
Students were doing all the work involved in Model UN coordination—putting in many hours before and after their classes—because, at this time, the college saw Model UN as strictly a cocurricular activity. No matter how many obstacles were put in front of them, however, the students came back every year to try to organize a Model UN team. For students at a two-year college contending with outside factors, such as employment and family responsibilities, as well as a limited period of time on campus, the drive was amazing. Considering the work it takes to be a part of Model UN, however, students felt they should have had more support from MCC.
Student committees at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change,
General Assembly Hall, United Nations Building, New York, NY, 2016
Turning the Tables
After several years of observing students’ efforts to participate in Model UN, Shirley Batistta-Provost, then Assistant Director of Student Activities, attended the Model UN Conference with some of them in 2010 to learn more. With conference organizers and faculty from throughout the U.S. and other nations, she attended information sessions and observed students in their deliberations on the floor of the conference. What she saw and heard was eye opening. Over 3,000 students from schools such as Cornell, Yale, New York University, Columbia, and foreign universities were totally immersed in the experience.
Batistta-Provost compiled what she had learned and researched the conference, the history of Model UN, and the stakeholders who fund Model UN at various colleges and universities. She then asked the logical question: How can MCC create a curriculum that involves as many students as possible and provide these students, including underrepresented and international students, with the rich global learning opportunities of Model UN?
The first order of business was to determine how to implement a program that would include faculty from across the curriculum. The second challenge was to figure out how, as a two-year college, we could organize and build a simulation-based curriculum that would imitate what students would experience at the NMUN Conference. During the research phase, we learned that most participating institutions were four-year colleges and that at least a year of preparation was typically needed before competing in the conference. That alone created another issue: How would we engage students to be involved in such a rigorous program as a commuter college whose students have comprehensive family, work, and social responsibilities outside of school?
Laying Out a Plan
The World Languages & Cultures faculty, Global Education & International Services Office, Student Life Office, Political Science faculty, and a college Research Librarian agreed to help teach, train, and prepare students. Our intention was to develop a simulation that puts the students in charge. While faculty deliver the essential tools, including research techniques, public speaking skills, diplomat behavior, negotiation skills, and cultural facts, students work together to apply the information and plan how they will use what they learn at the conference. Our goal was to build a Model UN program that could be embraced by the college.
Once we developed the program, we presented a proposal to the Vice President of Student Services, Vice President of Academic Services, and Faculty Senate President. At the meeting, we were given a directive to fine-tune our plan—design the curricular and cocurricular aspects of the course, identify outcomes, and execute the objectives and goals—and to demonstrate a need for the Model UN program at MCC.
We knew that students could not realistically raise required funds on their own based on the significant demands of their academic work and lives. While some monies could be obtained from the college’s Student Government, we needed to look for other funding sources. Ultimately, we sought a meeting with MCC’s vice presidents and deans for their advice. In an overwhelming show of support, the Academic Services and Student Services divisions agreed to contribute resources to support the Model UN Program. In 2011, this program became a four-hour cocurricular academic course; two years later, it was offered as a four-credit honors course.
Model UN at MCC
The Model UN program at MCC is a unique, simulation-based, experiential learning opportunity that is focused on both the intellectual and personal development of the students selected to participate. The program is formalized within the academic curriculum in a writing intensive honors course offered each spring. All MCC students are encouraged to apply to the program, regardless of major. Five MCC faculty from Academic Services and Student Services co-teach and facilitate the core knowledge and skill sets, including
- UN structure and history;
- Foreign policy;
- Country profile, culture, and history;
- Public speaking;
- Writing intensive position papers and resolutions;
- Team building;
- Diplomat role and demeanor;
- Negotiation; and
- Conference rules of procedure.
Students who are interested in participating must apply through a three-stage, selective process, including an information session, written application, and personal interview. Each year, we receive from 25 to 40 student applications. Because of limited resources and funding constraints, only 12 to 15 student delegates are chosen each fall to participate in the course the following semester. Successful applicants are bright, energetic, mature, reflective, curious about the world, open-minded, flexible, not afraid of challenges, and interested in developing their minds and themselves. We also intentionally look for diverse students for the program. Students’ majors are not important because the program is designed to awaken awareness in any student who wants to make a difference in the world or to change the social discourse that divides people. The delegates attend a program orientation and begin research on their assigned country in December and January, prior to the spring semester. They are assisted by the research librarian, who provides ongoing research assistance throughout the course experience.
Faculty start working on the program in summer, organizing the class syllabus and staying in contact with National UN Conference organizers. In the fall, we start advertising the program, providing informational sessions, taking applications, and, finally, selecting students for the program. After the students are selected, we register them for the class. From the initial get-acquainted session in the fall, everything is focused on our participation in the annual NMUN Conference in the spring. Throughout the 10-12 weeks of intensive research, writing, and practical training, our goal is to help students become the most effective UN delegates possible as they represent our assigned country and strive to develop an authentic delegate role in preparation for the week-long simulation conference—the capstone learning event of the semester. In March or April, our students join more than 5,000 students from around the world as international diplomats in New York. Although we are one of a small number of community colleges attending the conference, and the preparation for the simulation is very demanding, our MCC student delegations are well prepared and trained to compete with any other participating college or university.
Since the conception of the MCC Model UN Program, our students have proven that a two-year college can compete with the best universities and colleges in the world. Below are just some of the awards and recognitions we have received.
- 2008: Honorable Mention Award
- 2010, 2011, 2013: Distinguished Delegation Award
- 2012: Position Paper Award
- 2014: Distinguished Delegation Award
- 2015: Outstanding Delegation Award
- 2018: Honorable Mention Award
- 2019: Honorable Mention Award
How MCC’s Students Have Benefited From Model UN
- Two students now have full-time jobs at the United Nations in New York City.
- One student was recognized and received entrance into Harvard to continue her studies based on her Model UN involvement.
- One student was introduced to an NGO official through Model UN and traveled to France with that diplomat.
- Several underrepresented students who were planning to enter the workforce after completing a degree or certificate at MCC continued their education. Two of these students are now at the University of Rochester, three went on to Brockport University, and one went back to New York City to attend New York University.
- One student traveled to India and started her own nonprofit organization.
- Several students have transferred to four-year institutions and joined the Model UN at their chosen university.
At MCC, we don’t just teach our students; we help develop what’s already inside them. The faculty who developed and teach Model UN wholeheartedly believe that student success is a top priority. We have worked tirelessly to create a well-informed, comprehensive, student-focused program. It is our responsibility to provide each student who is accepted into the program a solid foundation of knowledge that ensures a rewarding and intellectual experience, both in class and at the NMUN Conference. We place a high premium on student success, professionalism, and preparedness. The Model UN program immerses students in the histories, cultures, and politics of other countries. We have seen students come to question former ways of thinking and often develop broader outlooks after participating in Model UN conferences. As we watch students enter our program one way—some shy, some introverted, some overconfident, and some not knowing what they want to do in life—and leave displaying leadership and reflective thinking, and charting their own course, we can’t help thinking we have truly made a difference in student lives.
Orlov, G., McKee, D., Berry, J., Boyle, A., DiCiccio, T., Ransom, T., Rees-Jones, A., & Stove, J. (2020). Learning during the COVID-19 pandemic: It is not who you teach, but how you teach. National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 28022. http://www.nber.org/papers/w28022
National Model United Nations. (n.d.). About UMUN. https://www.nmun.org/about-nmun/mission-and-history.html
United Nations. (n.d.). Model UN. https://www.un.org/en/mun
Lead Image: Monroe Community College Model UN Class of 2016 outside of the United Nations Building, New York, NY
Shirley Batistta-Provost is Director, PRISM Multicultural Center and Native American Initiative, and Professor, Visual and Performing Arts, at Monroe Community College in Rochester, New York.
Opinions expressed in Innovation Showcase are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.