The organizational meeting of the Cambridge-Isanti Model United Nations team filled advisor James Woodbury’s classroom. It turned lively when Woodbury began a “popcorn style” of debate when he asked his veteran members to explain to the “newbies” the most important aspects to make an impression at the huge gathering upcoming in Chicago.
“I believe the most important thing you have to have is confidence. When you walk into a room and you have confidence, you just grab everyone’s attention,” explained one veteran. Another explained, “I believe the most important thing to have is heart and passion for your subject.” Lead delegate Adam Guptill quickly countered, “While public speaking skills and confidence get you far, I believe the most important thing is to be able to analyze the situation. You don’t know what you’re going to talk about until you’re able to analyze everything from every angle.”
And so it went for several minutes as many speakers got the chance to voice their opinions. The amount of dedicated members on the Bluejacket Model UN team is evident, so much so that the squad begins this season as the 14th-ranked team in the nation while ranked No. 5 in the Midwest region.
Along with Woodbury and assistant advisor Lisa Sampson, the Bluejacket Model United Nations team will be honed this year by senior lead delegates Mitzi Barnes, Laura Dalrymple, Guptill, Adam Heinen, Brittany Rassett and Ben Williams. They closed the Oct. 6 meeting with a refresher on the Robert’s Rules of Order used for formal debate, then offered interview time to explain more about the program.
The team practices its debate strategies after school, and the team will attend a major practice session at Macalester College the end of November. The big event is the annual Model United Nations of the University of Chicago which will be Feb. 2-5, 2012.
“We have committees that we are designated to, and we already know our topics we will be discussing,” explained Rassett on the season’s format. “We write our papers in December. Everyone here is really dedicated.”
Regarding the team’s past successes and early high rankings, Barnes said, “We have a lot of practice, and our team really stresses research and preparation time– it’s like 95 percent preparation.”
“Oh yeah, my file is filled with papers by the end of the season,” chimed in Heinen.
Added Guptill, “Our strong suits rely on our verbal abilities and our knowledge base.” He said the Bluejackets were ranked 2nd at the international conference last year which consisted of over 157 teams from public and private schools.
Extra values from Model UN involvement
What do members get out of Model UN involvement? Heinen: “Confidence. Before, I never really talked a lot in class, but now I can go up in front of people and just talk.” Dalrymple: “It teaches us to be more social than we would have been otherwise. When you’re in Model UN, it teaches you how to talk to brand-new strangers so that it’s not really a problem anymore.” Guptill: “There’s universal skills, but it really reinforces your writing ability– writing research papers, writing out resolutions.” Barnes: “What really helped for me was analyzing different things whereas now I can analyze different international issues along with smaller social issues I come across. Williams: “It really broadens our perspective of the world.”
That point by Williams stresses an important aspect as the Model UN members get eye-opening insight into nations around the globe.
“Europeans in their schools learn so much about the rest of the world. I feel like Americans don’t learn as much about what’s going in the world. Model UN is a better way to change the American education system,” explained Rassett.
“It also prepares us for our future, especially with a lot of the economy and job markets being globalized these days. It prepares us for that culture shock,” added Williams.
As the delegates were preparing to leave for the night, Mr. Woodbury slapped down three huge binders filled to the brim.
“This is the amount of research I do to help the team prepare. Imagine like you’re coaching 15 football games or 15 basketball games at the exact same time. You have to know what’s going with the different nations and the issues,” he said. “It’s research-driven, and every delegate has to problem solve– and that’s a life skill. They take their education to a whole new level.”
Mr. Woodbury has a ton of respect for the extra time his delegates put in for this extra-curricular activity while doing their own fundraising for the Chicago trip since there is no booster club. He added that the CIHS Model UN program built its strong legs on the efforts of past advisors Bob Dolezal and Howard Lewis.
“The vast majority of the veterans are AP kids, they’re Honors kids, they’re in Student Council, they’re in National Honor Society. They have great GPAs. I just got a letter from a college to basically submit my Model UN roster so they can offer college spots to them. I have some of the most dedicated students in the school because it’s extra work.
“We have graduates of our program being politically active and continuing to be involved. Greg Kamstra was the chairperson for the University of Chicago and ran the whole conference. Lisa’s daughter, Kirstin Besser, was in charge of the Lake Forest program. Mitzi’s sister, Ashley, is heavily involved in the Minnesota Model United Nations Association. Taking these skills, grow, and go out and just be better people– I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Story and photos by Greg Hunt