Students Explore International Issues in Model UN Format

July 18, 2014

For a week in early July, the College of Education’s Secondary Social Science Education Program hosted 29 high school students from around the country in a social science outreach camp designed to get them thinking about complex 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 campers also found time to engage in community service activities and spend time getting to know Auburn.

“We are one of the oldest if not the oldest educational outreach camp at Auburn University,” Kohlmeier said.  “We have long enjoyed the support of the Lee County Sunrise Rotary Club, to whom we are most grateful. Their support includes scholarships for many of the students, as well as paying for some of the field trips we provide for our campers. For example, we were able to take everyone to Ft. Benning, Ga., on a Tiger Transit bus to visit the Infantry Museum and learn how ground warfare has evolved over time, which was tremendously helpful when we began debating battlefield issues.”

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 issue 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.

This year’s camp focused largely on what the UN can do to reduce the influence of extremists groups, including the issue of educating girls. The students also looked at military options in relation to battlefield complications, and what it means to engage in “just war.” The final day of the UN session addressed the issue of drone use and whether the United States should take the lead in writing the rules of war for this controversial new technology.

“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. He 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.

On their second day in Auburn, the campers and their counselors visited the warehouse of the Jean Dean Reading is Fundamental program in Opelika. The director, Cathy Gafford, talked to the campers about their efforts to serve underprivileged children throughout the state of Alabama by providing age-appropriate reading materials to children in their homes prior to their starting school. Gafford put the 29 campers to work conducting an audited inventory of her books as required by her funders. She remarked on the quality and character of the young people.

“This was a very nice group of students who worked hard to help children they don’t even know,” she said.  “In 90 minutes of service they positively touched 6,795 lives by helping put books into the hands and homes of at-risk young children.  I really appreciate them and this great program.”

The participants themselves also seemed excited about the program. For example, Kaitlin Connell, who represented the United Kingdom in the UN-style debates, began to see a future for herself as a result of her experiences.

“I really just enjoy the whole debate process,” she said. “I feel like I’m being led into a career through so much learning. I would actually love to work for the UN someday!”

“I liked learning how to do research for my country,” said Maria Anne Curry, who represented the United States. “I am on the debate team at my high school in Peachtree City, Ga., and it has been extremely valuable to have to stick to the positions you learned about your assigned country through research.”

Seth Jacobs was assigned Nigeria.

“Before we started here, I knew absolutely nothing about Nigeria or its international policies except that it was on the African continent,” he said. “It was a real challenge for me to advocate on behalf of Nigeria’s political positions instead of my own. These debates can get pretty intense and you have to remember you are advocating for your country, not yourself.”

Russian Ambassador Anna Belle Abner also stated that learning to conduct high-level research was what excited her the most.

Kohlmeier said the camp is one of the best parts of her job.

“It’s great getting to know all these outstanding young people and hoping that some of them will join our social science education program here at Auburn,” she said. “The summer seminar requires a tremendous amount of work on the part of many people, and it especially allows me to remember how fortunate I am to work with such excellent students who will soon be out there changing lives for the better in the classrooms of our state and nation.”