Western Students Score at Model U.N.

Western's National Model UN Team in the lobby of the United Nations.
For the first time, this spring Western sent a delegation to New York for the National Model United Nations. And while they represented one of the world’s newer and smaller countries, they made quite an impression.

They returned to Gunnison with an Honorable Mention for their work representing Macedonia, and with a pair of awards for Outstanding Position Papers. To put this in perspective, the only other Colorado delegation participating – from the far larger University of Colorado Boulder, which has several years experience at the NMUN – received an Honorable Mention and a single Outstanding Position Paper award.

“Everyone just performed outstandingly,” says Stefano Ballesteros, who with fellow student Taylor Cull approached Dr. Maria Struble with the idea of participating in the NMUN. “All I heard were good comments about our country. They were all impressed this was our first year.”

About one in five delegations – who hail from 41 countries – receive team awards. Amber Leal and Nacarid Silva authored Western’s winning position papers, but all involved emphasized that between sharing research and cross editing, their success was a collaborative affair. Others on the six-student team included Connor Cataldo and Dante Velez. Spenser Schenk-Wasson of Mountaineer Media joined them to document the event.

“It was a really great experience,” Velez said. “They're definitely team awards. It was a huge lesson in team building. We all had a hand in every paper.”

Leal, a graduating senior who met Ballesteros in a class last fall, says it was a lot of work, starting with their research and peaking in New York.

“We had to work our tails off. Once you are there, if you slack off for five minutes, you're behind,” Leal says. “It’s all about making connections. The whole goal is to write a resolution with other countries. You want to be a sponsor. Your ideas and thoughts are on paper. If you're not paying attention, your sponsorship could be cut.”

Struble, an assistant professor of Politics and Government, says all the effort impressed her, too. She plans a course next spring – POLS 397, International Organizations, the UN – to further focus next year’s team.

“The students did great,” Struble says. “They were focused, professional, on point and were actually very impressive to watch! We have some things to work on and make them better, of course. But as a whole, they did very, very well.”

Leal notes that besides the hard work, there were valuable social experiences.

“You're meeting people your age from all over the world,” she says. “It's a cool growing experience to learn that a student from Belgium has the same interests as I do. And they knew just as much about the U.S. as I do.”

The effort began when Ballesteros and Cull approached Struble. Cull, a Western freshman, and Ballesteros, an international transfer student from Mexico, had both served on a team from Lone Star College in Houston. Ballesteros had been the head delegate in his second year at Lone Star and worked closely with Struble to assemble Western’s effort – with considerable help from Cull and their former advisor at Lone Star.

Besides filling out applications and conducting research, they had to raise funds to cover travel expenses. The team organized a fundraiser with music at the Brick Cellar in Gunnison. They approached academic and administrative departments at Western, securing contributions from several, as well as from the Student Government Association, where Ballesteros was recently elected to replace Leal as vice president of external affairs.

“Everybody was doing this on top of their classwork,” Ballesteros says. “We recruited students who were already very busy.”

With this year’s successful effort under their belts, plans are jelling for next year. Leal – who is graduating in Psychology with minors in Politics & Government and Sociology, and presenting a keynote speech at Western’s commencement – has high hopes for next year’s team.

“Macedonia is such a new and small country, and what we found interesting in our research was there wasn’t much interesting. It was hard, because we didn’t have a stance on many issues,” she says, adding that Western’s success will likely lead to next year’s team representing a larger country with clearer stands on issues.

Ballesteros says he, Velez and Cataldo are already working with Struble to establish an application process for new team members, raise money and plan for next year’s NMUN.

“To me, this is the most critical moment right now,” Ballesteros says. “What are we doing to keep up that momentum? This is not the time to just quit and relax.”

Leal says that if the support they received this past year is any indication, the Western team has a bright future.

“You’ve got to prove yourself, and I think we did,” she says. “Once the school saw our passion and our drive, and that we really wanted to make something happen, they got behind us. I think that’s what’s special about Western.”

Story by Greg Smith, Western Marketing & Media Relations; photograph and video by Spenser Schenk-Wasson of Mountaineer Media.

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Wednesday, May 7, 2014 - 5:00pm