High school students from around the tri-state area will gather on campus this weekend for a mock United Nations conference.
Gannon University will host its 65th annual Model United Nations (UN) competition on Friday and Saturday. The event will see approximately 500 students from 40 different high schools represent countries from around the world and debate topics such as immigration, social security and urban health.
Delegations of students who represent a country are split up into smaller groups called committees that are assigned a specific topic of debate. Proposals for a solution are then discussed, submitted and voted on by the committee. At the end of the conference, the highest-performing delegations receive awards.
While Gannon’s Model UN competition is the longest-running of its kind in the country, this year it will offer something new: a press committee. Heba Alsahlani, a sophomore physician assistant major, Donoven Chase, a junior history major, and Anjali Sahay, Ph.D., an associate professor in the political science department and faculty moderator of the Model UN conference, started the committee and hope to see it add a new dynamic to the competition.
The press committee acts as a group of media outlets that report on the delegations’ progress. Alsahlani, who will act as the chair of the press committee, said that each student in the committee is assigned a news agency to represent, such as CNN or Al Jazeera and is required to write articles and take pictures by predetermined deadlines each day. She will then score and compile each reporter’s material to make available to the delegations at the end of the conference and award those with the best articles.
Philip Vargo, a sophomore political science major with a minor in pre-law, is the assistant secretary general of the Model UN club at Gannon and has been in charge of coordinating with Gannon faculty as well as representatives from the participating high schools to ensure that everything is ready to go. Although he had no prior experience with Model UN in high school, his adviser recommended it to him as a freshman at Gannon.
“I really enjoy working with the club members and high school students, so I really am pleased that I made the decision to join,” Vargo said.
The purpose of Model UN is to bring awareness to international affairs and give students a glimpse at what the real United Nations actually does, but that doesn’t mean it only benefits those with an interest in political science. Alsahlani, who has been involved with Model UN since she was in eighth grade, said that she joined simply because of her passion for learning about the world and its variety of cultures, but along the way has seen her public speaking and writing improve as a result.
By the time she was an upperclassman in high school, she had the confidence to speak up for her delegation at large-scale Model UN events and became editor-in-chief of the school newspaper.
“In a way, a large part of my passions are connected to Model UN in some way,” Alsahlani said.
Even now, as she works toward a degree in the medical field, Aslahlani finds her experience in Model UN beneficial to her future career.
“I want to be familiar with policies that the government or UN may place, not only related to health care but also to other topics worldwide,” Alsahlani said. “I need to be familiar with not only how America works or what affects our nation, but also be comfortable having an apathetic view when I have patients with horrific experiences, speak a different language or have been involved in circumstances I only read about.
“We must keep ourselves informed about our neighbors in order for us to actively represent them in the future and to speak up when injustice is promoted — no matter what your major is, it is always a good idea to learn about how the world works.”