From March 26-29, 2015, the William & Mary International Relations Club hosted the third iteration of &MUN, which is steadily becoming a staple conference on the collegiate-level circuit.
Over 100 delegates hailing from universities across the United States—from nearby D.C. and Virginia all the way to California—and as far away as Ghana, Africa converged in The College of William & Mary’s School of Education for a weekend full of debating solutions to global issues, crafting policy, and forging new friendships.
For those of you who were not able to attend the conference, Best Delegate would like to bring the conference to you by presenting highlights and themes of the weekend, as well as a behind the scenes look into the world of &MUN III featuring an interview with Alexcia Chambers, the Secretary-General of &MUN III, and insights from select delegates and Secretariat members.
Opening Notes: A Reminder of the Impact of Model UN Outside of Committee
One of the themes of &MUN III was that the work delegates did in committee was meaningful in the “real world.” Accordingly, the delegate guide featured a letter from Ban Ki Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, who reminded delegates that the work they were completing at &MUN III, and at MUN conferences in general, has real-world impact. He wrote,
- “Hope may be distant, but it is there: in changing mindsets; in new coalitions; and in clinics, classrooms and other places where the development agenda is making remarkable progress. I hope you learn all that you can in Model UN, and apply those lessons in actions to create a better world.”
The Opening Ceremonies Keynote Speaker was Dr. Jacob Kumaresan, who imparted to delegates real-world insights and practical advice gleaned from his position as the former director of the World Health Organization Centre for Health Development from 2008-2011 and the current Executive Director of the WHO Office at the UN in New York.
Also at Opening Ceremonies, Meghan Foley, the Service Chair of IRCares, the service branch of the William & Mary International Relations Club, introduced delegates to the plan for the conference’s philanthropic efforts, wherein each committee was assigned a specific Kiva loan relating to themes being discussed in their committee and would be able to make a very real impact on someone in the world by donating to the cause.
Building an &MUN Community and The Importance of the Individual
One of &MUN’s chief goals is to build a true community of the Secretariat, staff, and delegates in attendance, while maintaining a focus on the individual experience. In an effort to facilitate this sense of community, there were no committee sessions on the first evening of the conference.
Instead, chairs took their committees out to dinner together so that everyone could get to know each other, and head delegates were given the chance to mingle afterwards at an introduction session. Following &MUN tradition, a roster of social events including a pub crawl and a delegate social (&Rage) filled the rest of the evenings, giving delegates a chance to interact further outside of committee.
Moreover, &MUN’s staff to delegate ratio is truly impressive, with approximately 100 staff members working to create a stimulating experience for the 116 delegates in attendance by chairing committees, planning crises, preparing document drops, and responding to delegate notes throughout the conference.
Alexcia Chambers, the Secretary-General of &MUN III, shared her thoughts on building this community, saying,
“&MUN has always focused on creating reactive crises simulations and having that really personal touch with our delegates. We want every single person to feel valued and to feel like they’re making an impact on the conference as a whole. So in years past we really emphasized that idea of reactive crises and that personal touch for our delegates, and this year we expanded that idea to include an aspect of community—a community not only here at William & Mary, but also on the circuit and among our delegates at the conference.”
Andrea Blazanovic, the Director-General of &MUN III, also emphasized the importance of community and the personalized experience, stating that:
“My favorite part of the weekend, and one of the benefits of being a smaller conference, was meeting and talking to delegates face-to-face. Our Secretariat wanted to maintain &MUN’s sense of community and personal touch, so we really tried to reach out to all of our delegates. It was so great meeting college students from around the world, hearing about what ideas they had in committee or the crazy things that happened during the social events, and just about their lives in general. I’m so grateful for having that opportunity to welcome everyone to the Tribe.”
Yasmin Bashirova, a delegate from Stanford University’s Intercollegiate Team who has attended &MUN for the past two years, provided Best Delegate with a delegate’s perspective on the &MUN III community, saying,
“This is my second time at &MUN and I’m planning to come back to this conference all four years. This year was the first time I gaveled in my entire MUN career, which made this conference so much more special. The conference is run very smoothly from the logistical side, but it’s clear that there is a lot of effort that goes on behind the scenes. &MUN crisis was the most exhilarating and dedicated group of staff, and given the amount of progress they made it’s clear how much they care about this conference.”
Realistic Committee Experiences
In keeping with the conference’s signature focus on crisis committees, &MUN offered a variety of historical and futuristic small, fast-paced simulations, including the Ad-Hoc Committee of the Secretary-General (chaired by Rachel Fybel, the Secretary-General of &MUN II); Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force; Joint Crisis Committees Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Indian National Security Council, 2022 and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party, 2022; From Farm to Pharma: Merck & Co; Organization of American States: Venezuela 2014; Poland Has Not Yet Perished: The Roundtable Talks, 1989; and the United Nations Security Council, 1946.
&MUN endeavored to make the experience in these committees as real as possible and applicable for delegates beyond the conference setting.
Brent Sherwood, the Director of Technology for &MUN III, provided Best Delegate with his take on the realistic aspects of the committee sessions, saying,
“&MUN weekend was pretty surreal, and it was amazing to see 11 months of hard work come to fruition. I think my favorite part was getting to the see the reactions of the delegates to the multimedia crisis updates we had set up: some of the videos our simulations team shot in front of the green screen looked almost like real newscasts, and I know the delegates in our UNSC 1946 committee got a shock when they got a call in on a real 1940s era telephone. Our goal with &MUN crises is to have delegates checking their phone after committee going ‘Wait, is this real? Is what we’re doing in committee really happening?’ and it was cool to see that level of realism approached a couple of times &MUN III weekend.”
Alexcia elaborated on this goal of realism in committee, saying,
“One of the great highlights that sets &MUN apart, and building on the idea of making our delegates feel like they’re part of the team, is making this experience applicable and worthwhile for them beyond the MUN setting. Most of us have spent weeks and weeks preparing for conferences, and our parents wonder what we’re doing and why we’re ‘wasting’ so much time with MUN because they think this won’t get us our job at Deloitte or wherever it may be. So at &MUN III we were hoping to bring that aspect of realism to MUN to give people real-life tools to use and to integrate the MUN experience that we all love into something that is very marketable and tangible.”
“To do this, we brought in speakers that have very direct experience with what delegates were discussing in committee. For example, with the OAS committee, delegates were talking about President Maduro, who ousted all DEA agents from Venezuela, leading to a huge drug problem that has now involved the FARC. So we brought in a former DEA agent who lived in Venezuela for two years to speak with our delegates.
With Merck & Co, our business committee, we brought in a professor who has worked in consulting and environmental management, including 10 years of experience in pharmaceutical manufacturing specifically at Merck. So this was about bringing that aspect of realism to our delegates for them to think outside the microcosm of what they’re doing in committee and bringing it to much bigger terms.”
The Ad-Hoc Committee Experience: Bridging the Gap Between Fantasy and Reality
&MUN’s most unique and realistic committee is the Ad-Hoc committee, and Alexcia provided Best Delegate with a glimpse into this year’s Ad-Hoc session.
“The Ad-Hoc this year’s topic was Boko Haram and the presidential elections that were conveniently rescheduled to &MUN weekend. We modeled the committee after a CIA simulation that a few of our club members had experienced in the past. We had what we called “document drops” made up of dozens of documents that our crisis team put together. These documents were similar to what you’d receive as an analyst, with all these random pieces of information that delegates had to weave together to make a story.
Obviously we put in a lot of red herrings—things that were very relevant and things that were not so relevant—and the delegates had to figure out what was going on. No two delegates had the same documents. There were U.S. officials in the room because there was a task force, and also Nigerian officials. So, for example, if there was a transcript, maybe a U.S. official would receive the entire transcript, and a Nigerian Minister of Defense would receive a redacted version. You didn’t know which information to share and which to keep to yourself.”
“Delegates were encouraged to break into factions in an unofficial way, and develop what was basically a directive. I refer to them as situation reports; it’s essentially what’s happening right now, why is this important to us, what do we need to do in the future. We worked very hard to make these document drops fit into the MUN format to lead to a directive.
Putting together this directive helped guide the delegates’ future actions because they had already determined that this is the objective we’re trying to reach, and this is how we’re going to get there. And then, based on those directives, we had the Associate Director for Intelligence and the Deputy Director of International Affairs and Foreign Policy Advisor at Air Combat Command Headquarters come to grill our delegates.
They debunked everyone’s assumptions and were just peppering people with questions—for example, do you actually think the UN will give this to Nigeria?—so it made it very real, and very applicable. Not only was it a great time for the delegates and for our staff, but it was something that finally bridged the gap between the fantasy and the reality, and what MUN can do for you.”
The Conference Planning Experience: Background, Goals, and Advice
Best Delegate asked Alexcia to share a bit about her own MUN journey, what inspired her to be Secretary-General of &MUN III, and the lessons she learned along the way. Below are some highlights from her response.
“I was a very competitive MUN delegate in high school and have been on the college circuit for a while. Having that experience and having been to so many conferences on the circuit gave me an opportunity not only to see what I could learn as an individual going through these simulations, but also how conferences are run.
You are able to see what you like and it gives you an idea of conference format, not just conference experience. I was fortunate to have a lot of MUN and travel experience, so I saw a lot of what worked and what didn’t. I think MUN in general has a lot of value; it teaches you not only quick thinking, public speaking, and all of the typical skills that you’re executing in the committee room, but it also teaches you time management, the difference between work and play, how to work with people who are your colleagues but also your friends, and also with people you’re going to see again on the circuit.”
“I staffed &MUN I and joined the &MUN II Secretariat as the Director of External Relations, which allowed me to see things from a very broad perspective. I had to sell the conference to people who had no idea what MUN was, let alone &MUN, and I was able to learn what was important to people. I had a great experience learning about the intricacies of being on a team, and working towards something with a very finite end goal with tangible results.”
“When I applied for the Sec Gen of &MUN III, I put forth a very contentious application because I was studying abroad for the Fall semester in Argentina. I was applying to be the Sec Gen for a conference when I wasn’t going to be in the country for half of the planning phase. Ultimately, I was fortunate enough to get the position and I hit the ground running. I wanted to get the ball rolling while I was here, so I set the date early, I booked the space early.
What an experience that was running an executive team from abroad! Once, we had a Secretariat meeting when I was on a bunk bed of a hostel in Bariloche in the south of Argentina. Needless to say, we mastered the art of Skype meetings. With the team that I had, we were able to pull together in such a way that we were not only able to put together a conference to be proud of, but we made incredible friendships, and that is more important than everything.
We worked really hard, and we changed a lot of things about &MUN as a team. That’s something we’re really fortunate to be able to do as a developing conference. We never slowed down, we just came together as a group and that was an incredible experience.”
“One piece of advice I would pass on to all leaders, not just your Sec Gen, but all Secretariat and staff members is that the influence you have on others in times of crisis can’t be overstated. I thought I knew what it was like to work in a team, but now I truly understand what it means to work in a group and collaborate. In a model UN setting, you are working in so many groups.
As a delegate, you are working with the people you’re training with, your team, your school, your committee to work towards X solution. It’s a lot of juggling and maintaining a clear sense of purpose. The delegate experience translates well into working with groups in the conference running and conference development experience.
You have to work with the executive team, your organization or club, the staff, the school’s administration so they understand the importance of what you’re bringing, and the delegates so they have the experience they want to be having. You want to make sure you’re providing the people that are so gracious to give their time to you with exactly what they were expecting or hoping for. So this idea of having an impact on others in times of crisis just really resonates with me.”
Takeaways from the Weekend and Looking Forward
Best Delegate asked Alexcia what she hoped delegates would take away from their experience at &MUN III. Below is her response.
“On a personal level, I really hope that the delegates did feel that sense of community that we were trying to build for our conference. People go to conferences with an expectation of what it will be, and we want &MUN to be a place where everyone can feel welcome and feel at home. What I hope is that delegates had not only a fun and simulating time, but that they also felt welcome, that this is somewhere they’d love to be again.”
“On a MUN level, I hope that people start to see the value of all the work they’re putting in. I hope they were able to see the connection between spending all these hours writing this background guide or position paper and preparing for this position and how that translates into your development as a professional, as a student, as an employee, and as a future world leader.”
“Finally, the entire staff of &MUN III really values the work that we do. We have a tremendous amount of integrity, and we never want to put forth a product that we aren’t 100% proud of. We love the opportunity to be able to host our peers, and we are so appreciative of the delegates who continue to push us and continue to make us better, and we feel fortunate to have the opportunity each year to come back and grow and improve, using the feedback that delegates give us to become the best version of ourselves.”
&MUN III Delegation Awards
Best Large Delegation: The George Washington University
Best Small Delegation: George Mason University
Outstanding Large Delegation: University of Cincinnati
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Outstanding Small Delegation (Two-Way Tie): Stanford University and Franklin and Marshall College
Credit for all photographs used in this article goes to the following staff members of &MUN III at the College of William & Mary: Lynn Nakamura, John Chalovich, Hannah Kohn, Carly Lin, Jacob Mendel, Rachel Merriman-Goldring, Caroline Nutter, and Sean Reilly. For more photos and information about the conference, visit &MUN on Facebook.