Last Martin Luther King weekend, the Belmont High School Model United Nations (MUN) team traveled to New York City to participate in the 13th annual Columbia Model United Nations Conference and Exhibition (CMUNCE). In addition to gaining valuable debate and diplomacy skills, several students came away with awards.
A total of 9 BHS seniors and juniors participated in the 4-day conference, held on Columbia University’s campus in Manhattan. The weekend was filled with 7 demanding and fast-paced sessions, totalling over 17 hours in committee.
Model UN is the term for the various conferences around the world in which students assume the roles of countries, organizations, or individuals taking on pressing world issues. CMUNCE takes a slightly different approach, placing each student in small committees that attempt to recreate historical crises ranging from the Thirty Years’ War to the Taliban invasion of Afghanistan. Each participant conducts extensive research on the topic and writes a position paper ahead of the conference to be prepared for the fast-paced debate. Ultimately, the dialogue and debate in each committee lead to actions that re-imagine these moments in history.
“Crisis committees allow students to debate prevalent issues in a group while looking out for their own characters’ interests,” says Michael Wagner, a BHS senior and a leader of Belmont MUN. “For example, as the Minister of Health in South Sudan I worked together with the other ministers to solve South Sudan’s issues while simultaneously focusing on specific health issues that the rest of the group wasn’t as concerned with.”
Peter Staub, a fellow MUN senior and leader, says that MUN has been a transformative and eye-opening part of his high school experience.
“Having participated in MUN for 6 years now, I can see how it is truly a great learning experience because it takes you out of the bubble of the classroom and forces you to apply your knowledge in real time. For example, at this conference I was working in a committee that was rectifying the Roman Republic after Julius Caesar’s assassination and I was able to use things that I had learned about Caesar’s campaign in Gaul in my Latin class to my advantage”
Wagner and Staub, who have been club leaders since their junior years, have invested considerable effort in recent years to prepare an increasing number of interested students for MUN conferences. With CMUNCE, they handled registration and logistics and made sure that everybody wrote position papers on time. The club has always been almost entirely student-run.
“We had almost no help from the school,” says Wagner proudly. “ It was all us with a bit of help from Mr. Streit, our club advisor”
After receiving their committee assignments in late December, the group had about a month to do research and write position papers. The weeks of independent preparation evidently paid off. At the closing ceremonies, 5 delegates from Belmont received awards for their performance in committee. Elaine Miao and Michael Wagner received Verbal Commendations, Thomas Zembowicz and Ben Giber received Honorable Mentions, and Peter Staub won an Outstanding Delegate award.
BHS teachers Mr. Streit and Ms. McCabe accompanied the students to New York. They were very impressed with the immense preparation and success that the group exhibited at the conference.
“Five out of our nine delegates received accolades,” says Streit, who teaches Economics. “This shows me that Belmont High School continues to teach, hone and assess student’s critical thinking skill, which are some of the most important life skills as student can have, and are essential at achieving success at Model UN Conferences. These skills are essential within the halls of Belmont High School, but more importantly are essential in the world outside of Belmont High School.”
The Belmont MUN Team is currently gearing up for BosMUN, a conference hosted by Boston University that falls on the second weekend of February break. Further on the horizon is EagleMUNC at Boston College, where students will once again apply their skills to world issues in late March.
Belmont High School