Initiated at Auburn by Rotary International in 1987 — Students Explore Political, Cultural Issues in World Affairs Youth Seminar

August 26, 2015


World Affairs Youth SeminarFor a week in early July, the College of Education’s Secondary Social Science Education Program hosted 26 high school students from around the country in an outreach camp designed to help them understand international issues. Led by Jada Kohlmeier, Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching, the camp followed a Model UN format, but there were also classroom and research sessions where Kohlmeier’s pre-service teachers introduced the campers to the value conflicts that are inherent in international issues.

The camp has a storied history, and is generally considered as the oldest educational outreach camp at Auburn University.

“The camp was initiated by the Sunrise Rotary Club here in Auburn nearly 30 years ago,” said Dr. Sue Barry, also an Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching and a longtime Rotarian. “Rotary has offered scholarships to outstanding students every year since the camp’s inception. It originally came about when one of our charter members, the late Rod Wiley, approached Auburn University in 1986 with the idea to initiate a World Affairs Seminar similar to the one already in existence in Whitewater, Wisconsin, with which he had been previously associated.”

This longstanding support from the Rotary Club has not gone unnoticed.

“We have long enjoyed the support of the Lee County Sunrise Rotary Club, to whom we are most grateful,” Kohlmeier said. “Their support includes scholarships for many of the students, as well as paying for some of the field trips and activities we provide for our campers. For example, this year’s seminar included lessons on conflict zone refugees, human trafficking and slavery, and poaching. We were able to help our students gain insight into these issues through presentations by the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice and the Alabama chapter of the International Justice Mission. We also learned about birds of prey and protected species at Auburn’s Raptor Center.”

The World Affairs Youth Seminar includes students from grades 9-12, and serves as an outreach effort for the College of Education. It is also a teaching lab for pre-service students in secondary social science education. Each camper is assigned a country which he or she will represent as a UN Ambassador. Auburn’s pre-service teachers present lessons on the various issues and guide the students in library research so they learn about their country’s positions on a variety of international issues and respond accordingly when the Model UN is in session.

“In our research sessions we help the high school students seek out credible sources to learn about their country, and to learn multiple perspectives, especially the perspectives of other countries they may be working with,” Kohlmeier said. “As they develop knowledge we move into UN-style debates, following Parliamentary Procedure under the leadership of Secretary General Drew Morgan, who in ‘real life’ is the History Department chair at Auburn Junior High School, and a graduate of our program. Drew does an excellent job.”

In addition to research and debate, the students also got to shop in downtown Auburn, stay in the dorms on campus, and engage in some service work. The Seminar serves as an engaging recruiting tool for Auburn. Kohlmeier said it is one of the few humanities-related camps on Auburn’s summer calendar, as opposed to the many STEM-related outreach efforts.

Karlie Burrell, a camper from San Antonio, Texas, represented Japan in this year’s Model UN.. As a result of her visit, the outstanding student now plans to come to Auburn for college. Both of her parents are Auburn grads.

“I am very interested in international studies so I knew this would be a good experience for me,” she said. “We are getting a good balance of serious academic training and doing fun things like seeing downtown Auburn, swimming, and visiting the Raptor Center. We are not only learning from our spirited debates on issues, but we are also inspired by our speakers. The session on human slavery really got to me and makes me want to become more involved. It is worse now than ever, and all the international complications make it a huge for-profit business, which is a horrible thing.”

But Burrell realizes that in the Model UN, she must represent Japan’s positions, and not her own.

“Japan turns a blind eye to slavery, which I very much oppose, so it is important for me to keep the country’s focus in our debates.”

Jade Johnson, from Florala, Alabama, has a dual enrollment in his high school and at Wallace Community College in Andalusia. He plans to join the Marines upon graduation from college.

“For me, it’s important to understand how countries react to these pressing issues,” he said. “I represent Nigeria in the UN, and that country is big into human trafficking so it’s a struggle at times. But I have learned that Nigeria is much more progressive than I would have thought.”

Developing qualities of leadership is also important to Johnson.

“I plan to go the Naval Academy so leadership is everything to me,” he said. “What we do here has a lot in common with what I will experience as a Marine. We have a lot of good teamwork to develop and present our resolutions. Through these experiences this week I have made a lot of friends.”

The range of issues that come up when seeking solutions to pervasive world problems is almost endless. For example, when exploring ways to prevent corruption in regard to refugee camps, students debated whether body cameras should be required for facility guards. This led to the issue of financial inequity, since such a requirement would be especially difficult for poorer countries.

“The reason everyone seems to know so much about so many issues is that Dr. Kohlmeier’s students have prepared excellent sites for our respective countries,” Burrell explained. “We may not know much about that country when we arrive, but we definitely do by the time we start in on model debates.”

Program graduate Drew Morgan, who serves the assembly as Secretary General, agreed that the seminar is excellent preparation for future teachers and scholars.

“In our social studies classes, we try to develop the skill and ability to hold passionate personal opinions, but still be able to hear rational opposition,” he said. “This is a great way to develop that ability. The campers get a real sense of how very difficult it is to gather consensus on complex international issues. I truly feel they leave here as better thinkers and stronger citizens.”