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Model UN Club Wins Two Awards at International Conference

(Left to right) Noah Fedje ’17, Caitlin Navratil ’17, Ashley Barnes ’19, and Jolene Rotich ’17 won two awards at the Model UN conference. (Photo courtesy of Christopher Moore)

Four Bethel students made history at the American Model United Nations (AMUN) International Conference November 19-22, bringing home the university’s first awards for their simulation of real-world diplomacy.

Of the 1,600 students in attendance, seniors Caitlin Navratil and Noah Fedje received the Outstanding Delegation Award after their peers ranked them among the best prepared diplomats in the General Assembly Plenary. Senior Jolene Rotich and sophomore Ashley Barnes were also voted one of the top delegations in the Commission for the Status of Women. 

“We’ve followed in the footsteps of some really cool people,” says Navratil, a political science major and president of Bethel University Model United Nations (BUMUN). “It’s awesome that this year we have something to show for it.”

Sixteen BUMUN members attended the annual conference in Chicago before Thanksgiving break and represented Colombia, a South American country known for its rainforests, mountains, and coffee plantations—and its battle against drug trafficking. For 12 weeks, the students researched Colombia’s history, geography, culture, and politics in order to accurately simulate a United Nations meeting as ambassadors of Colombia.

Christopher Moore, associate professor of political science and founder of BUMUN, has accompanied students to the international conference since 2011. Because Model UN is meant to give students hands-on experience, he says, they often come home with a broadened perspective and more global worldview. “At the conference, students find out what it’s like to be a diplomat,” Moore says. “They learn to understand other people’s needs and values regarding a variety of issues, whether it’s human rights, economics, or security and terrorism.”

For a few Bethel students, the issues of drug trafficking and environmental protection were also in the spotlight. Colombia was one of six countries to argue a case before the International Court of Justice, which arbitrates international conflicts unable to be resolved through bilateral communication.

The case, which was filed by Ecuador in 2008, demanded that Colombia stop spraying aerial herbicide to eradicate illicit coca and poppy plants. Some of the herbicide had drifted across the Ecuadorian border, harming people, crops, animals, and the unique ecosystems that sustain the country’s booming ecotourism business. Although the real-life verdict came down in Ecuador’s favor, Navratil and her teammates presented arguments compelling enough to sway the simulated court in favor of Colombia. “The fact that our outcome was so different from the actual case proves how much research we did and how well we argued,” Navratil says. “We were really proud of that.”

While Bethel students competed alongside local schools like the University of Minnesota—which also won two awards—they also negotiated and collaborated with students from France, Taiwan, Afghanistan, and Australia. For Navratil, the practical experience is hard to beat. “Model UN is one of the highlights of my Bethel education,” Navratil says. “I figured if I learned how the world worked and how to communicate within that, I would be set for whatever I wanted to do after graduation.”

The interdisciplinary nature of the club has helped prepare Bethel graduates to work in various branches of local and federal government, as well as nonprofit humanitarian organizations in the U.S. and abroad. “Students learn how to conduct themselves diplomatically and work with large groups in competitive environments where people don’t always agree,” Moore says. “That’s applicable in a lot of fields, not just political science.” 

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