California State University, Northridge’s Model United Nations team took on the nations of the world earlier this month — and placed first.
The CSUN delegation of 10 undergraduates, about a third of the size of many competitors’ teams, earned the “Outstanding Delegation” first-place award at a prestigious international conference held Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 in Washington, D.C.
The team earned top honors for representing the developing African nation of Lesotho. CSUN competed against more than 100 delegations, including teams from the University of Tokyo, Princeton, Texas A&M, Syracuse and UC Riverside. Each delegation represents one country and must submit papers taking a position on issues such as sustainable development, reducing nuclear weapons and confronting sexual violence. The competition also included public speaking and working in committees to solve challenges.
“It’s fulfilling being part of the program, because you get to learn about some of the most pressing issues in the international community — whether it’s about food security or conflict in the Middle East,” said Jesus Martinez-Ramirez, a senior political science major who leads the team along with his fellow “head delegate,” Andrew Heineman. “The team also becomes like a family. You travel together and get to know each other really well.
“The program prepares students for careers and graduate school,” added Martinez-Ramirez, who hopes to pursue a career in state and local government. “You develop skills in researching and writing concisely.”
In addition to the Outstanding Delegation award, Martinez-Ramirez and teammate Blanca Martinez won the Outstanding Committee award for their work on the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development committee.
“You’re learning life skills,” he said. “You have to work with over 100 people in a committee, so it prepares you to work with different personalities and develop negotiation skills.”
CSUN’s Model UN national team participates in several conferences each year. A regional team, made up of 10 to 15 additional students, competes in conferences across California. The entire group spends about five hours each week in their political science class, Model UN, and they meet for several hours on weekends to prepare for conferences. In the weeks leading up to each competition, research time for position papers can top 60 hours.
“This time, they were representing a relatively small African country. The fact that they were able to stand out and win is a testament to just how good they are,” said Jennifer De Maio, associate professor of political science, who teaches the Model UN class. “Most of the student delegates are brand new to Model UN, but they were so determined. That’s what makes me so proud of them — this was all on their own initiative. I’m there to advise them and guide them, but the victory is theirs.”
The Model UN students graduate at the top of the political science department, and many go on to graduate school, law school and enter high-profile careers such as international relations and consulate work, said De Maio, who has advised CSUN’s team since 2013. She took over from professor Peter Kappas, whom she praised for building an award-winning program over a decade.
“It’s an experiential-learning class, which is such a unique opportunity,” said De Maio. “They take the skills and knowledge they’ve acquired in other classes and apply them with critical thinking. It’s a lot about role play, simulation, learning how international politics work and how to interact with other people in a professional setting.”
Team members have their sights set on the next international conference — in April at the real United Nations in New York — where CSUN will represent the nation of Senegal. Martinez-Ramirez said he hopes to bring a slightly larger delegation, and the students are eager to get to work.
“We have exceptional students at CSUN,” De Maio said. “I love having the opportunity to see them develop and shine.”
The Model UN program welcomes students of all majors. To learn more, contact De Maio at firstname.lastname@example.org.