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Seton Hill Model United Nations Team Goes Virtual for DC Conference; Earns Awards

Seton Hill’s Model United Nations team had to miss out on traveling to the Big Apple last spring for the National Model United Nations conference due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this fall they were able to experience something no other group of National Model United Nations students had before. From November 6 - 8, the National Model United Nations conference was held virtually for the first time in history. Typically, the team attends the conference that is held in New York each year. However, the team took the entire fall 2020 semester to prepare for a new virtual conference in Washington, D.C.

National Model United Nations is a nonprofit organization that advances understanding of the United Nations and international issues. The organization provides hands-on learning that allows students to confront a range of topics from the perspective of their assigned country. The conference provides students an opportunity to continue the important work of learning how to negotiate and simulate the United Nations while also practicing how to negotiate in an online format. Since 1927, the Model United Nations conference has been held in various locations. Today, there are in-person conferences held in New York, Washington, D.C. and other locations worldwide.

This year, seven dedicated students make up the Seton Hill Chapter of the Model United Nations: 

  • Chapter President Paris Szalla who is a senior political science and global studies major; 
  • Chapter Vice President Mark Nealon, a senior political science major; 
  • Ariana Scott, a junior political science and sociology major; 
  • Brianna Franzino, a junior global studies major;
  • Gabrielle Bubin, a sophomore political science and global studies major; 
  • Pietro Porco, a freshman political science and global studies major; and 
  • Shannon Hubble, a senior political science major. 

Through the fall semester, the group met regularly to practice negotiation and diplomacy skills. They also learned as much as possible about the Western African country of Niger, which they represented during the conference simulation. During the conference each student worked in different committees to negotiate agreements on human rights and common security issues with delegates representing other countries. 

"We were pleasantly surprised at how accessible it was and how it really did help to give the experience of simulating negotiation that happens at the United Nations for the purpose of coming up with policies to address social problems in our world."

Paris Szalla is a four-year member of the Seton Hill Chapter Model United Nations and has attended three conferences thus far, all in person. During this fall conference, Paris represented Niger as a member of the Security Council, a committee that she had not previously served on. She commented on this year’s online conference and how it is “surprisingly authentic compared to the actual experience you get when you are in New York.” Several other members also commented on the positive experiences that they were able to take away from this virtual conference, and how the diplomacy was relatively similar to face-to-face conferences.

 “This was certainly a first for our school’s Model United Nations program, as well as dozens across the globe. I am so proud of each and every member of this group, as well as our faculty leader, for preparing us for this groundbreaking virtual conference,” said Mark Nealon, a senior political science major. 

Seton Hill’s team earned an Honorable Mention Delegation Award for their exceptional commitment and work representing the country of Niger. Two members, Gabrielle Bubin and Pietro Porco, received the Outstanding Position Paper in Committee award for their position paper on policies related to Conventional Arms and Measures to Prevent Terrorists from Acquiring Weapons of Mass Destruction, the topic that their committee chose to focus on. 

As advisor of the group, Roni Kay O’Dell, Ph.D., associate professor of political science, noted the students’ outstanding work, and their dedication to engaging in these discussions and enhancing their negotiation skills to make the world a better place. Spending several hours a week preparing for the conference, the students worked diligently throughout the fall semester leading up to the conference. Even so, they were somewhat hesitant about attending this new, virtual event. 

“I think we were all a little bit nervous going into the weekend, not knowing what it was going to look like and whether it would be similar to the face-to-face simulation,” said Dr. O’Dell. “In the end, we were pleasantly surprised at how accessible it was and how it really did help to give the experience of simulating negotiation that happens at the United Nations for the purpose of coming up with policies to address social problems in our world.”