For The Love Of Politics
Sept. 2, 1998
When Laura Seay's eighth grade social studies teacher asked her to join the school's mock United Nation's team, Laura agreed to give it a try - and has been debating international politics ever since.
Baylor's renowned Model United Nations team.
Baylor's renowned Model United Nations team.
©1998, Baylor Photography
"International politics is exciting and constantly changing," Seay says. "It's where my talents and interests lie. I wouldn't have discovered that had I not participated in a model U.N. program in school."
Now a junior at Baylor carrying a double major in international studies and economics, this fall Seay began her third year as a delegate on the Baylor University Model United Nations team. The 20-member team's remarkable success in researching, writing and debating political issues of global importance has positioned Baylor as the university to beat at national competitions.
"Baylor has won the Harvard University Model U.N. Tournament for three straight years," said Dr. Linda Adams, associate professor of political science and director of Baylor's Model U.N. team. "That's unprecedented."
More than 200 colleges and universities participate in the Harvard tournament every February. Baylor has waged political battle with first-tier universities such as Princeton, the University of Chicago and West Point for seven years running - and has emerged victorious five of those years.
"I'm afraid that Baylor may incur a 'persona non grata' status at Harvard if our winning streak continues," Dr. Adams said with a laugh.
As its name suggests, model United Nations tournaments simulate the activities and procedures of the actual United Nations and address political topics as current as the day's newspaper headlines. Each participating university represents an assigned country (Baylor represented the United Kingdom at Harvard last spring). Team members serve as delegates on various committees, each intent on gaining majority support on resolutions pertinent to their country's interests.
Throughout the competition, the universities are judged on their team members' demonstrated knowledge of national policy and committee issues, as well as their negotiation, public speaking and resolution-writing skills. The cumulative number of individual awards garnered by each team determines which university will take home the outstanding delegate award.
"You're judged not only on your personal knowledge of the issues, but also on how well you respond to dissenting arguments," Seay said. "You never know what's going to be thrown your way, so you really have to know your stuff and be able to think on your feet."
"Model U.N. teams take students out of the textbook and allow them to actively participate in the political process. Not only do they become aware - often for the very first time - of world issues, but they are forced to see those issues from a perspective other than that of the United States."
- Dr. Linda Adams,
At last year's Harvard competition, Baylor team members Jeremy Caddel, Trey Nixon, Laura Seay and Robert Schikler were each recipients of best delegate awards. Three of their teammates - Samantha Fleck, Autumn Smith and Colin Swindle - won honorable mention awards.
Baylor's Model U.N. team draws its membership from nearly every academic discipline at the University. All that is required is a love for politics.
"Students needn't be political science majors to qualify for the team," says Dr. Adams. "What we really look for is enthusiasm and a certain 'fearlessness' in the individual. We can teach the necessary skills from there."
Model U.N. team try-outs are held every fall and spring. Students chosen for the team understand that membership requires a significant commitment of time spent in study, research and practice.
Along with three hours of credited coursework, team members are required to attend a weekly skills-building class until November, when they learn the name of the country Baylor will represent at the Harvard tournament. From that moment on, research begins in earnest as historical, political, economical and sociological research is conducted on the assigned country. Committee topics and delegates are selected, then - between Thanksgiving and Christmas - twice-weekly meetings are held for role-playing, general critique, viewing films and guest lectures. It is not unusual for delegates to spend an additional 20 hours each week in independent research.
It is a sacrifice team members are willing to make, according to Seay. She credits Baylor's competitive success to the team's thorough preparation and constant peer review.
"We're our harshest critics," said Seay. "We know that we're competing against the top schools in the country and we go in to win."
The team has an opportunity to practice its skills in November, when Baylor's political science department presents a mock United Nations conference for secondary students. The day-long event, which premiered in 1994, is open to high schools throughout the state. Baylor's Model U.N. team members organize the annual conference and serve as hosts to the participating teams.
"The high school conference gives the team a 'dry run' before Harvard," says Dr. Adams. "It's also a fun way for them to gain leadership experience. Everyone has a great time."
Four years ago, seven high schools attended the conference. Thirty-two schools participated in last year's event, bringing more than 350 high school students from cities throughout Texas to Baylor's campus.
Dr. Adams is a strong advocate for high school mock U.N. programs and believes that teachers are only now recognizing what a valuable educational tool they can be.
"Model U.N. teams take students out of the textbook and allow them to actively participate in the political process," she said. "Not only do they become aware - often for the very first time - of world issues, but they are forced to see those issues from a perspective other than that of the United States."
The benefits derived from participating in a Model U.N. program are more than academic. In her role as director of the Baylor team, Dr. Adams has witnessed shy, reticent students grow into confident, award-winning delegates with excellent communication skills. One particular young woman was inspired to join the foreign service in Washington D.C.
"I think that's what Baylor does best, really - encourages the natural talents of students and provides opportunities to cultivate those talents outside of the classroom," Dr. Adams said. "Putting skills to practice opens doors they might otherwise miss."
Baylor's Model United Nations program, now in its eighth year, continues to gain momentum and increased national attention. Following last year's Harvard win, Baylor was invited to participate in the New York Model U.N. Conference in April 1999. The New York competition, founded in 1945 - the same year that the United Nations was established - is attended by the secretary general of the United Nations and its many ambassadors. Opening and closing ceremonies for the conference will be held in the United Nations building.
"Invitations to attend the New York conference are extended only to the most winning collegiate teams, so we were thrilled to hear from them," Dr. Adams said. "It not only represents a higher level of competition for the team, but it's a wonderful networking opportunity for our students."
Student delegates are often recruited as interns for the United Nations organization as a result of attending the prestigious conference.
Dr. Adams is working to secure funding so that a Baylor delegation of eight students might attend the New York event this spring - although it may be just a stop in the road for the talented Model U.N. team.
"My longterm goal is to take Baylor to the Haag," she said.