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Students learn global cooperation in Model UN course

St. Kate’s students with the Ecuador UN mission director in New York City.
St. Kate’s students with the Ecuador UN mission director in New York City.
Photo by Maria Tzintzarova.

In the Model United Nations, students step into the shoes of ambassadors from United Nations (UN) member states to debate current issues on the organization’s agenda. Last spring, St. Catherine University students served as delegates from Ecuador at the National Model United Nations Conference in New York City (NMUN-NY). This year, April 17–21, they’ll represent Moldova.

“When I found out about our Model UN course, I jumped at the opportunity,” says Elizabeth Natwick ’13. “I have a strong passion for politics and learning about the international community, and I thought, ‘What better way to learn about what I want to do with my life than this?’”

Natwick, who is majoring in international relations with a minor in economics, was one of 16 students who enrolled in Professor Maria Tzintzarova’s new class during winter 2010. The four-credit “Model United Nations” course is offered again this winter through St. Kate’s Department of History, Geography and Political Science. It covers the structure and functions of the United Nations and its agencies and prepares students for NMUN-NY — the largest UN simulation in the United States.

“Model UN can be offered in two different ways at a school, either as a class or club,” explains Tzintzarova, who developed the University’s course with the help of Katie Millerbernd ’10. “The advantage of having it as an upper-division political science course at St. Kate’s is that our students learn more in-depth about the UN and different forms of diplomatic behavior.”

The United Nations was founded in 1945, after WWII, by 51 countries committed to maintaining international peace and promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights. Today, the UN has 196 member nations. NMUN–NY draws more than 5,000 students from five continents and simulates 20 UN committees, including the Security Council and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Committee.

When registering for a Model UN conference, participants have to indicate 10 countries they want to role-play. Countries are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis and on the size of a team or school. Tzintzarova’s class of nine students will represent the Republic of Moldova — a landlocked country in Eastern Europe between Romania and Ukraine — on eight committees at the conference.


Did you know?

Heather Hodges ’68, who earned a B.A. in Spanish from St. Kate’s, is the U.S. ambassador to Ecuador. She was also the ambassador to Moldova from September 2003 to May 2006.

In addition to discussions, lectures and quizzes about the UN, St. Kate’s students are also learning all they can — in class and on their own — about Moldova and its position on certain topics or policies.

“The UN undertakes a lot of economic development, education and health care projects, and it can bring countries to the negotiating table to debate issues and start looking at solutions,” Tzintzarova says. “But one question keeps coming up, ‘Is the UN still useful for the international community?.’ I want my students to know what the UN can do and what its shortcomings are. It may not be the perfect body, but it’s the only one we have that really involves most countries in the world.”

Katies have participated in local and regional mock UN gatherings as far back as the 1960s. According to the University’s digital archives, there was a chapter of the NMUN Association on the St. Paul campus during the 1989–90’s school year. The 15-plus members that traveled to the 1990 NMUN Conference were said to be the first all-woman delegation to attend a national or international conference.

Opening and final NMUN–NY plenary sessions are held in the General Assembly Hall at the UN Headquarters. This spring, St. Kate's students are paying $800 to cover their travel expenses, which includes a plane ticket, hotel accommodation and the conference fee.

Being there was an amazing experience,” says Natwick, who, like all the student-delegates, had to employ a variety of communication and critical thinking skills at the conference. “I felt honored to be able to sit where the actual delegations sit and vote on resolutions.”

After the conference, Tzintzarova and her students debrief on the experience and continue to discuss at least two more topics in class on the United Nations' work. Students must turn in a final research paper on a subject or an issue related to UN.

“This class exceeded my expectations, and was by far one of the most memorable experiences I have had so far at St. Kate’s,” says Natwick. “It was a fun way to take what I was learning in the classroom and put it into action.”

Natwick liked the experience so much that she’s currently doing an internship at the National Model UN office in Minneapolis.


March 28, 2011 by Pauline Oo

See also: Leadership, Social Justice, Students