For the past half dozen years, FIU’s Model UN team has held steady in the Top 5 of Model UN programs, jockeying for position with rival teams at Georgetown, University of Pennsylvania, University of Chicago and Harvard.
FIU has been the top team in Florida and the top of any public university in the United States for more than a decade.
This year, however, FIU Model UN took it up a notch and made history.
Not only did the team receive more awards – 120 individual and nine team – than any other delegation in North America, FIU Model UN nabbed the No. 1 team ranking for the first time in the program’s 31-year history.
“No other college MUN team came close,’’ was the assessment by the editors at BestDelegate, the organization that rates Model UN teams based on performance at competition.
“Widely respected across the circuit for the training and hard work that the team puts in every year, FIU demonstrated this year that any university — including public schools outside of the elite Northeast — can become the No.1 team in college Model UN.”
So what’s the secret to their success?
For members of FIU MUN, it’s all about unity and teamwork. Of course, there are long hours of preparation, training and research. Weekends spent dressed in suits and ties for practice simulations while friends are at the beach.
But without the bond that exists between team members – who describe themselves as much a family as friends or peers – the awards and rankings of the past decade would not have materialized. Nor would they matter so much.
“Awards are great but Model UN is not defined by the awards,’’ said Daniel Sixto, an international relations and history major who will lead the team as head delegate in the fall. “It’s the experiences you have and the sense of community and support everyone brings to it. We are able to thrive in the most difficult situations and always, always work as a team and think strategically.”
At its core, Model United Nations is an educational simulation activity designed to teach students about diplomacy, international relations, history and current world issues. Participants – known as delegates – are placed in committees and assigned to represent countries or sometimes organizations or political leaders. They debate real-world issues, staying true to the positions of the entities they represent. They hone their skills in public speaking, analytical writing, negotiations, critical analysis and research.
At FIU, Model United Nations is centered around an international relations course supervised by John F. Stack Jr., founding dean of the Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs and faculty advisor for the program. It is generously funded by the FIU Student Government Association.
To participate on the team, students must undergo an extensive evaluation process, including an interview and formal “tryouts.” This year, a record 82 delegates made the cut, though some have graduated and the team now stands at 75 members, many of whom have landed prestigious summer internships in Washington, D.C., and other places. More than half are members of the Honors College. The median GPA is 3.86.
“It’s an extremely rigorous academic program,’’ Stack explained. “Our students gain invaluable experience as leaders, negotiators, consensus builders and critical thinkers. The success they have in Model UN translates into success in life and in their careers, as evidenced by the many successful MUN alumni we have in top positions throughout the public and private sectors.”
FIU Model UN was founded by Professor Dario Moreno in 1988, one year after he arrived at FIU as an assistant professor of political science. Throughout the 1990s, Professor Jeanne Kates engaged hundreds of students in the study and practice of Model United Nations until her retirement in 2005. Stack assumed leadership of the program after that. Since its inception the program has been funded by the Student Government Association.
“We are so grateful for the generous support of the Student Government Association all these years,’’ Stack said. “I have also witnessed a number of remarkable student leaders over the past 13 years challenge our students to be better, to be fearless and to understand the intricacies of international relations. Ray Hernandez, Mark Hodgson, Ethan Roberts, Kristen Nyman and now Michelle Rosario have all pushed the team further and further. I am so appreciative of Michelle’s leadership this year.”
Former MUN delegate and program director Ray Hernandez, now an attorney with Akerman LLP in Orlando, said Model UN was by far the most valuable educational experience he had at FIU.
“As a student, it allowed me to learn more about myself, gain confidence by competing against some of the smartest minds in the world, and discover previously undiscovered abilities,’’ he said. “As program director, it provided me with the opportunity to teach our delegates to face and overcome challenges, to respect and understand the viewpoints of rivals, to experience the collective joy of achievement, and to bravely face disappointment with the courage and determination to do better next time.”
Creating a No. 1 team takes preparation, integrity and above all, hard work, said Michelle Rosario, a former head delegate of FIU MUN and the current program director.
“We are FIU and no other school will ever work harder than we do,” Rosario said. “Our mentoring class, weekend training simulations and constant faculty-student interaction are all crucial to our success. None of this would be possible without firm commitment from every individual on the team. We empower each other, critique each other and constantly strive to create the best versions of ourselves.”
The commitment to the team goes far beyond time in the classroom or even in competition. Members routinely gather at the library or over meals to strategize and review arguments.
“On conference weeks, which is typically around every other week, I spend anywhere upwards of 55 hours a week on Model UN activities,’’ said Pierina Anton, an international relations and political science major who served as head delegate this year. “This includes class time, study time and hours spent in and out of committee when competing.”
This past year, FIU traveled to a record 14 competitions. In another first, the team won Best Large Delegation at Harvard University National Model UN, considered the toughest competition on the circuit.
But no member is complaining about hours spent on Model UN.
“It is the most enjoyable time we spend in the week,’’ said political science major Alexander Rubido.
“The payoff is way more than the stress, effort and emotion that goes into it,’’ added Sixto.
For Anton, FIU’s Model UN culture is centered on unity, empowerment and a winning mentality.
“When one of us wins, it’s a win for the team,” she said. “My teammates are sincerely some of my best friends, and most teams on the circuit don’t have that privilege.”
FIU MUN delegates say their success is also due to the accumulated success of prior delegations. They view their team strategy as building upon each year’s achievements.
They also constantly learn from each other.
“A unique quality about our team is that it’s run by students who teach other students, and we have the privilege of having one of the best delegates in FIU history as our program director,” Anton said. “The ability for younger delegates to learn from the experiences of older, more experienced delegates allows them to avoid the mistakes that we have made and empowers them.
“We are constantly helping each other. That means hours of running speeches together, reading over our research and combining each other’s ideas until they are near-perfect before a conference. But it’s also being there for emotional support when our plan doesn’t follow through in committee.”
Support—from the Green School, its dean, the Student Government Association and the university overall—is critical as well, members say.
“Without the support of our community we would not have been able to achieve the incredible feat of attaining the No. 1 position in the North American rankings,’’ said Rubido. “This wasn’t just our win but the entire university community.”
“Thinking back to my first conference and how much I’ve grown as a delegate and person, I realize how much I owe that growth to the experiences I’ve shared with this team,” added Anton. “That’s the culture of empowerment and unity that sets FIU apart from the rest of the circuit.”