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Members of the Watkins Glen High School Model United Nations and Global Issues (MUNAGI) class at Cornell for the annual Model UN Conference there. (Photo provided)

WG students dwell in conflict, history at Cornell Model United Nations conference

Special to The Odessa File

ITHACA, April 19 -- The Watkins Glen Model United Nations and Global Issues Class attended the Cornell Model United Nations for a four-day conference April 14-17 with 800 delegates from all over the United States and five countries.

The Cornell Conference (CMUNC) is the product of Cornell’s International Affairs Society, whose members created a 15-committee conference with background guides on both current United Nations conflicts and historical simulations. Delegates took on the role of each member country and participated in general assemblies of 100 delegates, specialized committees of 50 delegates, and small crisis committees of 15 delegates.

Watkins Glen represented Iran in the following in UN committees: DISEC (Disarmament and Security), SOCHUM (Social and Humanitarian), UNESCO (Education, Science and Culture) and ECOFIN (Economics and Finance), debating issues such as nuclear policy, the role of government in education, and the prevention of global economic crisis.

Student Aidan DeBolt (of the DISEC committee) stated: "Being in a room filled with people across the nation and around the world was an amazing experience. There were so many great ideas that created really good debate. I would definitely do it again!”

Hannah Pulis (of DISEC) commented on the difficulty of representing a country as controversial as Iran and having to deal with the issue of nuclear capability. She found the most important factor to success to be that of confidence in making connections with other countries.

Alexis Bingham (of the UNESCO committee) defended Iran's right to sovereignty as delegates debated resolutions to diminish censorship in education.

Ashley Caslin (of the SOCHUM committee) was excited to co-sponsor a resolution with 16 delegates on the re-entry of victims of human trafficking while Kris Ayers (of ECOFIN) was impressed by how delegates held such different viewpoints but were able to agree on viable solutions. Jacob Carocci wrote clauses for working papers and acted as signatory to three working papers on the issue of Human Trafficking. His committee of over 100 delegates made for challenging speaking time!

Katherine Taylor served on the ICC (International Criminal Court) committee and acted as a lawyer representing Israel in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Taylor commented on the diversity of the students and the intelligent debate. Despite impassioned and rigorous defense, Israel was found guilty of four of seven crimes while Palestine was held responsible for three.

Will Fitzsimmons represented Botswana on the UNODC (Drugs and Crime) committee, where debate focused on the influx of migrants around the world. Botswana, with a large migrant population from Zimbabwe, was compassionate to the refugees' experience with a heightened concern for the xenophobic response of nationals. Fitzsimmons stated that the conference was incredible, the one time in his life that he balanced professional and academic stimulation with forming friendships and good fun.  

Sam Hanley held a position on FIFA (the international football association) as a Belgium national with medical and safety expertise. Debate raged on issues of corruption, and Hanley defended accusations against Belgium. Hanley was impressed by how quickly delegates adapted to one another and the almost family-like relationships that developed. He was delighted by the cross-cultural relationships where he was even able to form friendships with non-English-speaking delegates.

Patrick Hazlitt served as a campaign strategist for a fictional presidential candidate. Hazlitt’s role was to guide campaign finance in a legal and responsible manner and often had to regulate Super Pac enthusiasts. He was impressed by the global scale of the conference, with four countries and 13 states represented in his small committee. He grew confident in his role and said he felt great making contributions such as writing and co-sponsoring directives.

Jared Prien served as Russian Delegate Lavrentiy Beria to the Munich Conference. History was re-written, with Soviet attendance allowed at the conference and an outcome that had the potential for staving off WWII. Prien’s character was a brutal adviser in Stalin’s circle, directing the secret police and internal affairs. The role was a challenge for the reasonable and democratic Prien, who stated: "Representing a man who is known for being ruthless and even feared by Stalin was a rather eye-opening experience..."

Alex Gibson played a representative from Thessaly in Ancient Greece at the time of the Persian War. He worked with fellow city-states to create war strategy and to utilize the strengths of each city-state. Thessaly, renowned for its horses and crops, offered agricultural assistance and traded goods for protection. Gibson found the committee to be a great experience and was impressed by each delegate serving a unique role to bring peace to Greece. Gibson was called out for a Midnight Crisis meeting where delegates debated into the wee hours of the morning.

The elective class, MUNAGI (Model United Nations and Global Issues), is taught at Watkins Glen High School by Marie Fitzsimmons, who wrote the curriculum eight years ago as part of a TAH (Teaching American History) Grant. Model United Nations programs are often relegated to private schools or wealthy districts as the cost of conferences, travel, and lodging can be prohibitive. Fitzsimmons is a strong advocate of public school participation and states that the program is integral to excellence in education.  She firmly believes that students from every economic strata deserve access to Model UN and that offering the experience as a public education class breaks down economic barriers.

While attending the four-day conference, Fitzsimmons and fellow advisor Liam O’Kane met with six Watkins Glen alumni attending Cornell. Senior Jenna Gimbar, a student in the ILO (International Labor) who has lived in both India and West Africa, credits her high school Model UN experience with opening the doors to her rich collegiate experience.

Students in the current MUNAGI class at Watkins Glen will now shift their focus to a social activism project of their choice. Passion and commitment are required.

Photos in text:

From top: From left, Jacob Carocci, Sam Hanley, Patrick Hazlitt and advisor Liam O'Kane on the Cornell campus; students during a break; advisors Marie Fitzsimmons and Liam O'Kane; WGHS alums Jenna Gimbar (left) and Madison Gates, now Cornell students. (Photos provided)


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