After a marathon day of collaborating and negotiating with groups of students from around the world, the 21 students that made up this year’s University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Model United Nations (MUN) team gathered in a small conference room in the basement of one of New York City’s largest hotels.
Though known casually as a team debrief session, the loose hour or so of conversation that capped a 14-hour day midway through the world’s largest and longest-running intercollegiate MUN simulation was really part pep talk, part airing of grievances and part story time.
And part pizza feast.
The students—whose majors cover everything from international studies to environmental engineering technology and whose hometowns range from Appleton and Oshkosh to Goyang, South Korea and Qingdao, China—discussed their conference experiences so far. Some told stories of heartfelt compliments and hugs from other schools’ delegates. Others vented about the obstacles impeding their progress, whether it be purposely uncooperative delegations or the hotel WiFi … all over slices from 99 Cent Fresh Pizza.
Wyatt Helsell, a first-year education major from Markesan, said his day was like a rollercoaster—“the best one but also the worst one.” Emma Sullivan, a sophomore political science major from Wausau, who picked up plenty of praise for her Tuesday performance, told the team how earlier in the day Sebastian Vang, a senior radio TV film major from Fond du Lac, delivered “the most fire speech” she’d seen so far at the National MUN conference (NMUN).
Depending on the disposition of who you ask, that epic third day of NMUN is either known as “Terrible Tuesday” or “Terrific Tuesday.” It’s a day, that like stacks of pizza boxes, groups haggling over a single clause or sometimes a single word, and UWO students emerging as caucus leaders and confident public speakers, has become part of the annual tradition. Year after year, this Manhattan Hilton is overrun with sharp-dressed college students honing their skills in diplomacy and compromise.
Another part of the annual tradition? UW Oshkosh earning recognition with one of the conference’s top honors, the Outstanding Delegation award—which happened again for a 39th straight national conference.
Secrets to success
Many participants will attest that while the spirit of NMUN is one of collaboration and finding solutions to some of mankind’s most pressing problems, earning an award or two during the closing ceremony is a wonderful feeling.
“Model UN is really different from other competitions because doing well means something different than it does in, for example, an athletic contest,” said Tracy Slagter, political science professor and MUN faculty co-adviser with Angela Subulwa, director of international studies at UWO. “Delegates are noticed when they attempt to build consensus. They stand out when they insist that all voices in a group are heard. They shine when they explain a process or a UN document with ease and in language everyone else can understand.”
To earn the Outstanding Delegation award, the qualities must be displayed by members of a team who often aren’t ever in the same room as each other over the course of the week. “You can’t earn the highest distinction at a conference all on your own,” Slagter said. “You have to exhibit consistent excellence across the entire team, even when you can’t physically be together.”
The group that traveled to New York in early April was split into two delegations—14 students represented the African nation of Angola, while seven others represented the small eastern African island nation of Seychelles. The Angola delegation scored the Outstanding Delegation honor, and within the Angola group, it was Sullivan and CeCe George-Pratt, a sophomore international studies major from Sun Prairie, who also were recognized with the Outstanding Delegates in Committee award, as voted on by their peers.
Despite so much recognition for the UWO MUN program year after year, a lot of hard work, perseverance and talent goes into standing out in a field of nearly 2,400 students from 138 schools from around the world.
“We put our best foot forward and embodied kindness, passion and proficiency every step of the way,” George-Pratt said. “It was rewarding to see us gain tons of experience and recognition.”
Experience was something much of the 2023 team lacked heading to New York. Thanks in part to pandemic-related disruptions, only a few of the 21 students had participated in NMUN before and those that did had only participated the previous year.
Later this year a group of Oshkosh students will get an opportunity that’s a first for the MUN program: A delegation of six students will head to Erfurt, Germany in November for another NMUN conference. It’ll be the first international trip for UWO MUN.
A legacy continued
Slagter and Subulwa are now faculty advisers for the student organization that was long overseen by the late Kenneth Grieb. Grieb, who worked at UWO for more than 50 years before his death in 2018, became the MUN adviser in 1968 and spent more than three decades building a tradition of excellence that has impacted generations of students now scattered around the world.
Caitlin Hopper, who graduated from UWO with an international studies degree in 2015 and spent three years with MUN under the leadership of Grieb, works as a global board affairs manager at the World Research Institute in Washington D.C. Her MUN experience was so meaningful she continues to be involved and in April used a week of her vacation time to serve as an under-secretary general at the New York conference.
“Obviously the substance of what we talk about is much more aimed toward politics and diplomacy and the global community, but the skills you develop here are really invaluable,” Hopper said. “Before MUN if you’d told me to get up and give a speech in front of 2,700 people, I would have said, ‘Oh, no thank you.’ But I’m completely comfortable doing that now.”
Hopper is one of many UWO alumni who keeps tabs on the MUN program years after graduation. Throughout the week the team received messages from an array of past participants looking for updates, offering advice and words of encouragement.
“I think we have a really excellent tradition on this team of generational teaching,” Slagter said. “That just keeps getting better every year where you have older students who really teach the younger students and have shown them the ropes of the conference.
The beautiful thing of MUN is we have alumni all over the world, all over the United States, who as soon as we say we need a little help they swoop in and help. So we’ve been tremendously fortunate, and it’s the students who are going to keep our MUN team strong no matter what the circumstances.”
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Support the program
Model UN is a student organization and can always use your support. To donate to the program, visit uwo.sh/give and note “Model United Nations” on the submission form. If donating by mail, check the “Model United Nations Fund” designation box.
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