UMass Lowell and the Dean Bergeron International Relations Club (IRC) held the sixth annual Model United Nations Conference for area high school students in April.
The conference simulates debate on many of the prevailing international issues and conflicts that confront the U.N. Participants play the roles of particular countries’ officials or diplomats, facing challenges similar to those faced in reality at the U.N. They are expected to learn about their respective nations’ involvement in selected issues, develop and communicate positions on these issues, test their negotiation skills and further the position of their states.
About 120 delegates from five schools gathered at this year’s conference. The participating schools were Timberlane Regional High School in Plaistow, N.H., Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School in Haverhill, Lowell High School, North Andover High School and Reading Memorial High School.
The students formed seven U.N. committees to discuss a host of current topics, including child trafficking and the promotion of global trade. Assoc. Prof. Aart Holtslag of the Political Science Department gave a brief introductory speech, a discussion of the history of indigenous peoples’ representation at the U.N.
The flow of committee accomplishments in the first session varied. In the U.N. Human Rights Council, which was trying to decrease maternal death rates in Sierra Leone, that country had concern over infringement on its national sovereignty. Whittier senior Emily Pomer, representing Mauritius, said she believed the committee could soon make progress.
“We found a base point where we can help people” without extensive political involvement, she explained.
In the Economic and Social Council, movement proceeded much faster on the issue of human trafficking.
“We’re speeding along,” said junior Scott Onignan of Reading, representing the United States.
The greatest endorsements of the conference came from the students themselves.
“It’s really well run ... this is very well organized, which is [rare] for a student-run conference,” said senior Molly Pevna of Timberlane, representing Chile.
Senior Jonathan Terrero of Whittier, who is considering a career in diplomacy and represented Uganda at the World Trade Organization, said, “[I’ve] met a lot of people here … [it’s] a good simulation of the U.N.”
Budget constraints affected many of the school systems and their ability to support the student teams.
“For the first time, we’re fundraising,” said faculty adviser Jana Brown of Whittier, which has participated since the first conference in 2004 and brought a 26-strong delegation to this year’s event. “Our kids enjoy it. They always have a great time.”
Lowell High School’s delegation also strove to come up with funds to attend the conference.
“We had to do extra fundraising [but] it was all worth it. … This is such an important event,” said adviser Mike Martel. Martel held a Cambodian egg roll fundraiser that brought in almost $300 for the school, ensuring Lowell’s return to an event the students always enjoy. “We’ve had kids from Lowell High join the IRC because of this conference.”
When three delegations were unable to come, IRC members did their best to make up the difference, doing double duty as representatives from Russia and France. The IRC faculty adviser, Asst. Prof. Ardeth Thawnghmung of the Political Science Department, said that the flexibility of club members in wearing “three or four hats” at once was a key reason for the conference’s success.
Bergeron, professor emeritus of history and founder of the Model U.N. at UMass Lowell, gave a heartfelt speech at the closing ceremony, which wrapped up three days of tireless work by the student teams. Whittier won the best delegation, Timberlane the outstanding delegation and the Reading delegation went home with honorable mention.