Students learn diplomacy through Model UN


Effective communication can be the key to diffusing various explosive situations, from roommate disputes to national security crises. BYU’s Model United Nations prepares students for all shapes and sizes of predicaments — both foreign and domestic.

Cory Leonard, assistant director of the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies and program director for the BYU Model United Nations, said the program is a class that allows students to learn about diplomacy and international affairs.

“I always describe Model U.N. as an internship — it’s experiential,” he said. “It’s really focused on the applied aspects of diplomacy and leadership. Students learn how to play the role of representing one of the 197 members of the U.N. They are assigned a country and then through a series of practice skill exercises, lectures, readings and simulations they begin to negotiate as their real-world diplomatic counterparts would.”
Leonard, who has been involved with the MUN program for more than 15 years, said his students participate in simulations about every three weeks during the course.
Recently, Leonard and his students went on a class retreat where they simulated a historic negotiation.

“They had the chance to sort of recreate history and see if they can do better,” he said.

Leonard said MUN focuses on improving public speaking, research, writing, government rules and diplomacy. He said the five course skills will help students succeed in both their personal and professional lives.
“The policy writing we do in the class is the kind of writing a lot of people will be doing throughout their profession,” he said. “It’s a very succinct style that is helpful practice for writing memos, position papers and speeches. You’d be surprised how many of BYU alumni end up on city councils, running a family organization or on a board of directors where parliamentary procedure skills are used.”
Fall Semester for the class is open enrollment, while Winter Semester is more selective.

“Fall Semester is open to students from any major,” he said. “During the fall, we have the class retreat and run a high school Model U.N. conference for about 450 high school students. To be in the Winter Semester’s class, you have to apply from fall. During winter, we select students for our national competition team.”

Leonard said BYU’s Model U.N. National Conference Team has a history of excellence.

“We’ve had the Model U.N. program here for over 50 years,” he said. “In the last 15 years we’ve consistently won top awards at the National Model U.N. Conference in New York City, competing among about 4,500 students from all over the world. And in the last seven years, both of our teams, have won the top award — the Outstanding Delegation Award.”

One of Leonard’s TAs, Debbie Sutton, a sophomore from Camas, Wash., studying international relations, said the BYU MUN team is different than other groups that attend the New York conference.

“Our team is really unique compared to other schools,” she said. “A lot of other universities have Model U.N. as a club or extracurricular activity — students will do it year after year and be veterans at it. BYU is unique in that every year we have students come in that have no idea about Model U.N. — they’re starting fresh. So it’s been really fun to teach the students who come in and watch them grow and become the winning team that we are.”

Sutton said BYU’s Model United Nations team has built quite a name for itself over the years.

“Each spring BYU takes a team of about 30-40 students and we compete against other schools from all over the world at the New York conference — students from Europe, South America and China,” she said. “BYU has a reputation at this conference. Not only do we win, but people really like us. We don’t win because we backstab, we win because we’re good.”

Matt Whitlock, a senior and MUN team member last year, from Los Altos, Calif., said he learned valuable skills that benefit students from all majors.

“You learn leadership skills, how to talk to people, to write — it’s a very technical set of skills that can be applied in a much bigger way,” he said. “You learn how to reach out to people of different backgrounds and to bring people together. This is something that anyone, from any major, studying anything can really find their niche in. United Nations and international policy relates to every possible issue you could be studying. Model U.N. is for anyone who wants to learn more about what they’re studying and implement it on an international level.”

Those interested in BYU’s Model U.N. can sign up for IAS 351R. Fall Semester is an open-enrollment, three-credit hour class.

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