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The City Journals

Hillcrest Model United Nations students find solutions to today’s problems

Dec 01, 2016 03:05PM ● By Julie Slama

Hillcrest High Model United Nations students are all smiles after receiving certificates for outstanding preparation papers at the first Model UN conference of the school year. (Sara Diggins/Hillcrest High School)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Senior Sara Diggins wants to become an international journalist and has an interest in foreign affairs so when looking for a club to join her sophomore year, Hillcrest High School’s Model United Nations club made sense.

“I’ve learned about countries, how the UN works and what a diplomat does,” said the vice president of the Hillcrest club. “Through Model UN conferences, I have been able to practice diplomacy.” 

Recently, Sara and her committee partner senior Emily Johnston, and about 32 other Model UN students, including 10 Spanish III students who participated entirely in Spanish, represented Hillcrest at the Model UN conference held at Brigham Young University. There, six two-member teams were presented certificates for outstanding preparation papers.

Sara said the preparation papers are written before attending a conference after the two-member committees research the two topics assigned and write positions on those issues. Sara said she usually looks at the UN website for the country and then UNICEF or the Security Council’s sites and see their opinions. 

“We need to fill in the gaps as those sites are designed for people from the country. We need to be able to understand their stand so we can write what we believe the country would want to do in the situation,” Sara said. 

Then, she and others turn their preparation papers into the club president, senior Alvin Tsang. Alvin, Sara said, maintains the club’s leadership from running meetings and their website to helping coordinate participation at the four Model UN conferences.

At the conferences, the two-member committees first attend a general assembly, then break out into different areas: security council, commission of women, UNICEF, environmental plan, peacekeeping and others. Each has issues for students to address such as combating climate change, biodiversity, privacy on the internet, combating human trafficking, stopping poaching and closing the gender gap in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math.

Each Model UN conference is different, so students will be assigned to different countries and the issues they research and write preparation papers on may change, said Hillcrest Model UN adviser Scott Stucki.

Stucki said that students’ research on the countries and their issues pays off.

“They’re looking at real-world issues and representing countries’ viewpoints on those issues,” he said. “Some committees have emailed representatives of the countries asking questions and we’ve had some great responses. Sometimes our kids come up with better solutions than those people who are actually looking at the issues.”

Sara said that committees get together to solve these world problems on issues — and trying to do so within the time limits they set.

“Once we get a resolution, we write a resolution paper and try to market it so it will get passed,” she said.

By doing so, she works with powerful countries that she can count on their support. But at the same time as writing the paper, she is trying to successfully lobby to pass the resolution.

“One of the hardest parts is that you have to get the resolution paper done so you’re in a time crunch and you’re stressed because you want the paper to be good. At the same time, other countries are coming up asking what you’re working on, so you pause to tell them because you need their support, so it’s a balance act,” she said.

Another difficulty for students can be acting on opinions and viewpoints other than their own.

“Sometimes we disagree with the views or positions we’re representing because it is those of the country we’re representing and not our own. For example, North Korea believes in violence more than diplomacy, so we can’t act on our own conscience, but what they’d do and refute many of the issues,” she said.

Stucki said that being part of the delegation is a highlight for these students.

“These kids are having fun and are intrigued by solving world problems. For some kids, they shoot for the NFL or want to debate, but many of these students are writing plausible solutions and are doing great stuff,” he said.

Judges, who often are college students, look at students throughout the conference to see how well they are working, but often Stucki said they miss them in their caucuses.

“They’re working and trying to get support for their position, but that’s hard to see. It’s really not about the end result, but about the process from writing the resolution to building a consensus,” he said.

He said students are learning about countries and gaining lifelong skills.

“They’re getting outside their own lives and into the real world. Teens tend to be so egocentric, so it’s forcing them to look at perspectives from others in different situations throughout the world. As a result, they’re going to be better researchers, writers of persuasive papers, speakers and are able to work as a team under pressure. They’re going to become more well rounded, which will help them in college,” he said.

Sara said that already she has used her skills in writing resolution papers in her history class at Hillcrest.

“We’ve learned to be organized and prepare our ideas concisely and professionally. I’ve become more knowledgeable and have learned diplomacy. At the same time, I have fun and enjoy doing this with my friends,” she said.