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Intellect

BYU students negotiate global policy at the United Nations

Kennedy Center Model United Nations receives top “outstanding” awards for 2014

Three students from the College of Life Sciences contributed to Brigham Young University’s delegation at the National Model United Nations Conference in New York City this month, received two of the highest “outstanding delegation” awards. 

Those students, Sarah Lake, a biology major from Palm Springs, Calif.; Taylor King, a genetics major from Orem, Utah; and Alex Chu, a biology major from Overland Park, Kan., were a small but significant “scientific minority” among 46 BYU students representing Gambia and the Islamic Republic of Iran. In total the conference drew more than 2,500 university students, with more than 63 percent of these students coming from countries other than the United States. 

Biology major Chu was excited to take an underdog position and to help bridge a gap between the scientific and diplomatic communities.

“[There is] a disconnect between members of the scientific community who sometimes see their findings ignored by policymakers,” said Chu.

Chu spent winter semester researching genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food production. At the conference he represented Iran’s strong support for GMO development but quickly found that other delegates were not supportive.

Like any experienced diplomat, Chu worked to find others in the large, 250+ person committee, organizing a small coalition and producing a carefully written working paper. After several mergers, intense negotiation, calls for amendment and editing of the disputed language, he found a solution. Through a parliamentary maneuver he passed the original proposal during a roll call vote by four votes. In the end, he was pleased to see the results of more than four long days of negotiation, discussion, editing and listening.

Another student, Barbara DeSoto from Temecula, Calif., came to the Model UN course midway through winter semester as graduate student in French but wasn't sure what to expect. 

“I was a little unclear as to what this course was about and what I could learn from it,” DeSoto said.

But after spending a week in New York at the conference, she came away with a new appreciation for the skills and leadership abilities required by diplomatic negotiation.

“I love that Model UN forces us to synthesize all of our skills—research, writing cohesively and clearly, creativity, working with different cultural frameworks and public speaking—in a very real-world attempt to find solutions,” she said.

For more than 50 years, BYU has had a Model UN program. Since the 1990s, the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies has provided support and leadership for the program.

“The learning model allows for students from any major to engage more carefully with current events, global issues and to develop skills of diplomats, negotiators and leaders,” said Cory Leonard, Kennedy Center assistant director and a program instructor.

Support from the College of Family Home and Social Sciences, College of Humanities, Department of Genetics, Department of Biology and a number of alumni donors made the program affordable for students this year.

In addition, an increasing number of Model UN alumni are giving back to ensure that student financial needs are met. Ryan Aiken, a U.S. Foreign Service Officer who has served in Moldova, Pakistan and Washington, D.C., is among many who give back regularly.

“I set up a monthly donation online at mun.byu.edu and encourage others to do the same,” Aiken said. “This regular contribution is important, because it allows other BYU students the opportunity to take advantage of this excellent program, as I did.”

Interested students from all majors are invited to register for the class, IAS 351, for fall semester. To learn more about BYU’s Model UN program, go to mun.byu.edu.

Writer: Cory Leonard

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