Kicking off their 2018-19 season, the Princeton Day School Model United Nations (MUN) program sent a delegation of 29 students (photo) to the Princeton University conference last weekend. The conference featured more than 1,000 delegates from 45 high schools, including some of the nation's most elite programs, in an intensely spirited competition. Thanks to our veteran MUN sophomores, juniors and seniors, aided by some very talented ninth graders who succeeded last year's graduated seniors, the results were quite impressive: PDS was named Outstanding Large Delegation in the conference and several students among our delegation received individual awards. (See end of story for full list.)
PDS MUN Program Among the Nation's Best
MUN conference awards are a big deal at these highly competitive events hosted by colleges all over the country from the Ivy League to UCLA. Even many schools overseas send delegations, which contributes to the authentically international feel of the conferences from both a participant and conference agenda standpoint."Model UN has become an extremely important activity at schools across the country in recent years" says longtime MUN faculty advisor Eamon Downey, adding, "Today it's akin to an interscholastic sport in terms of the strength of the delegations and level of commitment required." MUN at PDS has about 70 members on its roster this year, with varying delegation groups attending each conference based on the conference location and themes, committee participation and student schedules.
Downey, a former history teacher who retired in June after many decades of service, agreed to return to PDS this year as MUN advisor, working with history teacher and assistant faculty advisor Stefanie Santangelo.
It's hard to retire when you're working with the best. "Princeton Day School has developed a reputation right up there with the best schools, and in fact last summer we were named among the top 25 best in the country for Model UN," Downey observes. "Dalton [NYC], Mira Costa [CA] and Thomas Jefferson [a VA charter school] are the best nationally," he says. "And four New Jersey schools are in their company as well – Princeton Day School and three public schools, JP Stevens in Edison and the West Windsor public high schools. I think it says so much about PDS that we consistently field one of the very best MUN teams with students who are managing the ambitious workload of our rigorous academic program and a very large number of serious extracurricular commitments as well," Downey adds.
Student-led Efforts Make the Difference
"Our students have led the way not only in preparing for conferences but in organizing themselves and setting goals," Downey adds. "About three or four years ago, they tackled the issue of a strong succession plan for leadership by regrouping as a Secretariat. So leadership extends across grade levels and creates more of a stewardship model now. And the mentoring program they developed for new members has been one of the most remarkably successful things they've done. Not every other school does that."
Mentors include the five students on the Secretariat—including this year's Secretary General, Shai Löfdahl Fruchter '19, and Director General Elisabeth Berman '19—and several other veteran MUN students. Each takes on a small group, or 'pod' of younger students to mentor. "Mentoring happens regularly on campus and remotely as we prepare for check-ins and simulations, and as we research and write position papers for our delegation committees," says Megha Thomas '20, an accomplished, veteran MUN member. "Part of our job is to come up with a list of responsibilities we would take on with our mentees over the course of the year. Even when we go to conferences, the mentors are responsible for checking in with their pods and making sure everyone is OK, feeling connected with others, and feeling prepared," Megha adds.
As Downey explains, "They understand that it's about something larger than themselves."
Thomas continues, "There are so many facets to participating in MUN—speaking style, writing resolutions and drafting working papers, networking with peers across schools—each has a whole culture attached to it, which makes mentoring key for preparing delegates."
Extensive work goes into preparation as students create simulated crisis scenarios, develop background guides, assign groups of students to represent a country, and work through the issues. "Practice gives everyone a chance to see the students speaking," Downey says, adding, "I'm always taken aback by how comfortable and well-integrated the freshman students are. So many meetings lead up to each conference, all of which build rapport and provide opportunities for a lot of mentoring."
Managing the Different Dynamics at the Conferences to Achieve Success
Strong teaming includes not only preparing well but understanding interpersonal competencies. "One of the keys to success at MUN conferences is building networks as you try to get a resolution passed," Downey explains. "The kids who shine are the kids who are best at forging relationships. You can see them sitting with other students from other schools in their committees, for example, helping to draft a position paper."
As Thomas puts it, "There are clear 'power' delegates for each school—so we're always on the lookout for who can we open up to and who we may do best to avoid." She adds, "The power dynamic is crucial to understand – the process can start to slide or move on without you, if people feel threatened, have a difference of opinion or if they are determined to have their opinion shine."
"Shai is particularly adept at managing in these complex environments," Downey explains. "I believe he's earned seven best delegate awards since he's been a freshman. We can manage only three or four conferences a year given the academic schedule and how much work and time goes into preparation and attending. But Shai's incredibly tenacious. He convinced his father to take him and a few other students to go to the Cornell MUN conference even though we weren't able to field a standard delegation. And he went on to win Best Delegate award. He was also involved in organizing and attending a MUN conference in Poland!"
Photo above: A portion of the PDS MUN delegation after the Princeton University conference; l to r Philip Kaplan, Joe Santamaria, Director General Elisabeth Berman, Secretary General Shai Löfdahl Fruchter, Declan Rourke, and Megha Thomas.What's Next
While the 2018-19 schedule is not firmly set, the PDS MUN program is hoping to attend the Yale Conference in mid-January and NAIMUN, the North American Invitational Model UN Conference, held a few months later in Washington DC. And they are considering returning to the Dartmouth Conference. Last year's Secretary General, Kate Bennett '18, is now a Dartmouth freshman and the delegation would be thrilled to see her if they compete.
"What makes MUN successful at PDS is strong student leadership. Great student leaders create successful self-perpetuation," Downey concludes. It certainly seems true of the PDS MUN program as they begin their 2018-19 season. -Melanie Shaw
Individual Awards at the Princeton University Conference
Special Political and Decolonization Committee (SPECPOL)—Zoe Rivera '20/ Declan Rourke '19
Union Council—Katie Jain '21
Yugoslave Presidium—Philip Kaplan '19
World Health Organization—Elisabeth Berman '19/ Eyal Yakoby '20
Islanders Forum—Megha Thomas '20
Social Humanitarian and Cultural Committee—Sarina Hasan '22/ Eric Leung '20
SPECPOL—Anjali Bhatia '21/ Aidan Njanja-Fassu '20
Economic and Financial Committee—Raina Kasera '19/ Saahith Potluri '21
European Commission—Shai Löfdahl Fruchter '19
Disarmament and International Security Committee—Ansh Kulkarni '22/ Rina Sclove '20
UN Human Rights Commission—Aaron Phogat '21/ Japna Singh '22
NATO—Eli Soffer '22
Caribbean Committee—Joe Santamaria '19