Model UN will defend its #1 national ranking.

Mount Holyoke students practice for Model UN competition. Photo by Jim Gipe.

By Emily Harrison Weir

This fall, Mount Holyoke College’s Model United Nations team is defending its spring-semester ranking as America’s number-one women’s college team, and the third-ranked team among all liberal arts colleges.

On October 3, the team traveled to New York City, where they won three “honorable delegate” awards competing at Columbia University against teams that include students from much larger institutions. Mount Holyoke sends about a dozen delegates to conferences at institutions throughout the East Coast, including Harvard, Yale, Cornell, and the University of Pennsylvania.

“On such a competitive circuit, MHC’s Model UN at times is considered the underdog,” said Onji Bae ’17 of South Korea. “We absolutely love proving people wrong about that.”

Deep preparation proves powerful.

Since its mid-September kick-off meeting, between 25 and 50 Mount Holyoke students have been training to participate in Model UN. Delegates prepare intensively for up to a month before each conference, researching their topic and the position, person, or country they’ll represent.

This is part of what attracted Hashma Shahid ’17 to Model UN. The Pakistani-born Shahid once represented a government minister in Thailand. She had little knowledge of the country. After a week of research, though, she had a working knowledge of Thai history and politics, and found the crash course “an extremely rewarding experience.”

To hone delegates’ skills, MHC’s Model UN holds weekly sessions that include practice in writing speeches and resolutions, strategic planning, speaking, and negotiating. And although the competitions are challenging, participants say the MHC team builds students’ prowess through collaboration and peer mentoring.

“Model UN is really for everyone,” emphasized MHC Model UN President Marwa Mikati ’17 of Beirut, Lebanon. “No one is born a natural at Model UN, but the skills can be acquired with training. It is definitely like a sport, and we act as a team.”

Putting a global education to use.

Conference delegates represent real or fictional people or countries and debate issues of international importance. Those might be historical or contemporary—such as handling political instability in Myanmar or the North Korean nuclear issue.

Whatever the topic, winning competitors must deploy a deep knowledge of the subject and expert speaking skills.

“We train our members in not only the technicalities of collegiate committee structure and parliamentary procedure, but also on the nuances of power dynamics, the art of effective negotiation, and the creativity required to stand out among other competitive delegates,” said Maria Saraf ’16 of Sharon, Massachusetts. These skills, she said, “transfer easily to many areas of our lives now and beyond.”

Competition skills are also skills for life.

Students say the benefits of Model UN extend far beyond winning accolades.

Elisabeth Lee ’18 of Edina, Minnesota, said her first year in Model UN taught her “to be confident, push myself to work hard, manage people, lead a team, become more comfortable at public speaking, and work with all types of people.”

“Model UN is an effective way to apply academic knowledge and gain or strengthen ‘hard’ skills needed in the workforce,” added Fatima ez-zahra Ouadif ’16 of Morocco. “As an international relations and economics major, I’ve found that the topics I research and debate in Model UN have been useful to me in class discussions and also helped me unfold new interests and passions.”

Effective public speaking is also essential for success at a Model UN competition. Training teaches participants to deliver speeches that have an impact in as little as 45 seconds.

Ouadif credits Model UN for enhancing her skills as a persuasive public speaker. “It has also taught me to be diplomatic and cooperative, yet competitive and determined. All these skills are transferable to the workplace.”

Mikati has been with Model UN since her first semester at Mount Holyoke, long enough to see herself and others develop these transferrable talents.

“I have seen students transform from being shy to being great public speakers and negotiators,” she said. “And I feel a lot more confident after doing Model UN. I am pre-med, and I want to get into real health-policy change and make a difference in the world.”

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