What’s one of the best ways to understand the world of international relations? Get involved in the Model United Nations. And that’s just what students from the College did recently when 10 of them participated as delegates at the Southern Regional Model UN conference in Atlanta in late November. It’s a testament to their passion and preparation that they returned to campus with an armful of awards.
Under the direction of international studies and political science professor Max Kovalov, these students represented Venezuela, and they performed superbly. In fact, they won every possible award at the conference, including the overall Best Delegation Award. Only three out of 77 universities in attendance received this distinction.
“It was an amazing weekend,” recalls Kovalov. “My students were well prepared and they were truly in character, always expressing concern about states’ sovereignty and the imposition of imperialist programs by Western states (a position actually taken by Venezuela in international negotiations). It’s no surprise that they won Best Delegate in each of the five committees. They also won Best Position Paper for the entire delegation, and Outstanding Delegate in the Press Corps.”
Senior political science major Claire Bjerke served as the team’s head delegate. “Participating in and preparing for the Model UN conference is a perfect complement to my major,” says Bjerke. “The written materials I prepare for the conference, as well as the speeches, debate, and resolution writing in which I engage while I am there, are the culmination of all of the skills I have developed in this major.”
Bjerke and her fellow delegates from Charleston also participated in the College’s Model UN conference the weekend before. She says that’s one of her favorite weekends on campus each year. “Some 80 or so students come together because of a shared passion in debating global issues, and everyone always leaves the conference feeling like they’ve learned a significant amount.”
This was Bjerke’s third year participating in the Model UN, and she says she thoroughly enjoys it. “The regional conference requires us to meet and form working relationships with students from other schools and then work together to produce substantive material as well as alliances. This is where the element of real-world diplomacy comes into play…. On top of that, the environment is always extremely competitive. Some of the brightest and most ambitious students in the Southeast compete for a few awards each year, and that means it’s an intense and rigorous experience, but it’s also consistently enriching.”
A highlight for her this year was serving on the Security Council. “One of the topics discussed was the recent spate of attacks perpetrated by ISIL,” says Bjerke. “This is of particular interest to me because I’ve concentrated on the study of radicalism in my major. I took Professor Desjean’s fascinating class ‘Terrorism and Counterterrorism.’ At the conference, I was the principal author on the resolution we passed, which devised a multilateral containment and elimination program for ISIL. It was a lot of work because we included efforts to mitigate terrorist recruitment, developed strategies for the stabilization of the Syrian state, and the framework for creating an international task force to address terrorist financing as well as the continuation of surgical airstrikes.”
Bjerke is applying to law schools and intends to pursue a career in international human rights advocacy with a focus on women’s rights in the Middle East. For her, the Model UN is excellent preparation for a lot of professional roles. “It helps students cultivate public speaking skills and increase their awareness of important global issues. For any student hungry to explore their potential as a future diplomat, lawyer or activist, the Model UN is the perfect outlet.”
Joining Bjerke as delegates in Atlanta were Claire Cheramie, Taylor Sublett, Harleigh Miller, Cory Nelson, Stephanie Mazella, Morgan Godfrey, Zaid Smart, Deniz Houston and Joshua Mulvaney.