Pierson’s Model United Nations Team Is on the Rise

Truman Yardley and Peter Hatfield at the Model United Nations conference in New York City in March. Photo courtesy Sag Harbor School District

The 2019 competitive Model United Nations season took Pierson High School’s team to New York City this year with its best outcome yet. After its largest team to date explored international issues, seniors Izzy Culver and Olivia Corish shared a “best delegate” award, leading a Pierson team that grew from 17 members two years ago to 28 last year and 38 this year.

The outcome has left little debate that the team is on the rise.

“I’m really proud of them,” history teacher Frank Atkinson-Barnes, the team coach, said.

Izzy and Olivia — who were among more than 3,000 students at the conference the first week of March — said winning their award came as a huge surprise.

“All of us love debate and love the concept of not just argument, but coming to resolution, and are active in engaging in the world around us,” Izzy said.

“There are kids who do this every day. They have it as a class. They have tryouts,” Olivia added. “You’re dealing with a lot of very aggressive people who know exactly what they’re doing, and so it’s very easy to feel lost. But our main lesson is taking your situation and doing the best you can and working to connect with people.”

Izzy, Olivia and their teammate Victoria Dudek-Tipton, a junior, explained Model United Nations participants act in the capacity of United Nations delegates representing a particular country. They break up into committees that tackle every aspect of international relations and policy that can possibly be modeled after actual real United Nations proceedings. They present their arguments on the “floor” of the conference, work toward solutions and finally produce a paper representing their positions. Along the way, they meet real diplomats and political appointees.

During their conference in New York City, Pierson students became delegates of Japan.

Izzy and Olivia tackled climate change and the refugee crisis, while Victoria tackled trade and development, specifically focusing on the economy of the ocean and “biotrade.”

“It’s a new term,” Victoria explained.

Senior Ella Knibb, a fourth-year team member, and senior Graham DiLorenzo, a third-year team member, were involved in teaching younger kids all about Model United Nations.

“When your school is new to the conference, you just have to keep learning the ropes every year,” Ella said. “It’s been helpful for the seniors to be able to mentor the people who just started.”

They said it’s a fulfilling experience, if not somewhat intimidating.

“I think it’s really interesting and fun to go to the conference and work out solutions to the problems that are happening right now, and to take a different perspective than the traditional American one and adopt the principles of another country,” Graham said.

Ella, who worked on humanitarian and civilian committees, said, “It was all very down-to-earth and humbling to hash it out and solve these very serious issues.”

The experience was so meaningful that Victoria — for whom this year was her first on the team — is now considering a career in foreign policy.

“I wanted to go into international law, but then I did Model United Nations and absolutely loved what we did,” she said.

Olivia agreed. She’ll major in journalism and political science next year. “I’m really hoping how you have to put yourself in the mindset of somebody else, tell their story and figure out where they’re coming from will be pretty similar to what I’ll have to do in college,” she said.

Alex Makoid, a sophomore who is in her second year on the team, said she felt intimidated last year — but stepped up this year.

“I sat back and listened to everyone and absorbed ideas,” she said. “This year, I got out of my comfort zone more, I started talking to more people, contributing some ideas and making a difference, hopefully.”

There are academic tie-ins to what they learned in Model United Nations, some of the students said. For junior Gaylin Davey, her work on the environmental program committee tied into her science, history and Advanced Placement World History classes at Pierson.

“It taught me how much work you really should put into stuff you care about,” she said. “I think I put in a decent amount of work before I got there, but then I realized so many people there had put in hours and hours of work. It was really cool to see because they felt so confident making decisions. I realized I want to be like that next year, and it kind of motivated me more.”

But beyond that, there are skills that have value beyond the classroom.

Sophomore Simone Batiste said the experience built a lot of character.

“You learn to compromise and have discussions with people that think differently, so you can work together to create one cohesive solution,” she said. “You also learn to listen and take better notes and be more organized.”

“It really helps you with public speaking,” Victoria said. “You learn to go outside your comfort zone and the topics you’re talking about most of the time are not something you’re familiar with, so you have to learn how to think on the fly.”

Izzy agreed, saying, “I think being able to speak in front of a large group of people, and do so effectively, was the biggest takeaway for me.”

Ella called it “one of the most life-changing things” she’s done at Pierson.

“In all my college interviews, they asked, ‘What is your favorite thing you’ve done?’” she said. Her answer was Model United Nations.