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the Secretary-General of the National High School Model United Nations (NHSMUN)!
My name is Jennifer Padilla, and I am honored to serve as the Secretary- General of the National High School Model United Nations (NHSMUN) conference, which will offer two, identical sessions in 2017: March 10-13 and March 15-18. This is my fifth year on NHSMUN's staff, and I can say with confidence that this conference is the most rewarding, inspirational, and educational initiative that I have ever been a part of. Held annually in at the New York City Hilton Midtown as well as the United Nations Headquarters, NHSMUN will welcome more than 4,000 students from nearly 75 countries around the world, each year, naming NHSMUN the world’s largest, most prestigious MUN conference.
MUNPlanet: IMUNA was founded in 1979, which was a long time ago. What was its purpose when it was first founded and what are IMUNA’s biggest accomplishments until now? What do you see in its future?
The International Model United Nations Association, or IMUNA, is a 501(c)(3), not-for- profit organization dedicated to promoting global issues education at the secondary school level. Today, IMUNA sponsors dozens of MUN conferences around the world, in collaboration with a number of prominent partners, both domestic and international. Because of the nature of our work, IMUNA enjoys consultative status and a close working relationship with the United Nations Department of Public Information. In addition, we host high-quality MUN training programs led by our alumni volunteer network, which is comprised of a wide array of business leaders, experts in international law and economics, university professors, and even a recent Nobel Peace Prize nominee. We take pride in creating an environment where students have an unmatched opportunity to experience international relations firsthand, and we hope for IMUNA to continue growing and adding to these existing partnerships.
MUNPlanet: NHSMUN is the world’s biggest Model UN conference that prides itself on its diverse and prestigious attendees. When was it first held and how did it get to here?
The first NHSMUN conference was held in 1975, with approximately 1,200 delegates from solely the United States and Canada. Since then, we’ve been gradually building and enhancing our conference to share our passion for Model UN with more globally-minded students around the world.
MUNPlanet: Apart from being the world’s biggest, NHSMUN is held at the UN Headquarters. What other characteristics make it stand out among other MUNs?
NHSMUN’s location in the heart of New York City has provided us with a handful of resources and opportunities that we are proud to pass along to our attendees. With unique and exciting NHSMUN offerings such as Keynote speeches at Opening Ceremonies, Mission Briefings, Alternate Speakers Series, and Closing Ceremonies at the UN’s General Assembly Hall, NHSMUN offers an experience that cannot be had anywhere else. Our administrative staff works diligently to secure meetings connecting student delegations with the Missions to the United Nations, which are similar to embassies, of the very country that the students are representing in their NHSMUN committees. We strive to set ourselves apart as more than just a Model United Nations conference, but also as a hands-on, interactive, international educational experience.
While we pride ourselves on being an education-based conference, NHSMUN does recognize schools who have proven stellar preparation and performance in debate. We celebrate hosting both new and experienced delegates, and hope to continue positioning ourselves as an educational conference that also provides challenging, unique, unmatched committee offerings. Because of this, we like to reward those who have proven commitment to research and preparation as well as those who are strong performers in committee with awards such as Outstanding Achievement from a Foreign Language Delegation in addition to Awards of Distinction, Excellence, and Merit. I feel strongly that MUN should be about diplomacy and cooperation, rather than competition. I do not believe that awards should be scrapped completely, but however prefer them to be framed in a way that they are recognizing those who have overcome challenges and have proven to be not only strong performers, but also valuable contributors and role models in debate.
MUNPlanet: While many other conferences are becoming almost entirely crisis-focused and adding a plethora of non-traditional committees, NHSMUN commits to traditional United Nations committees because you believe that students benefit most from them. Which of these committees are usually students’ favorites and which are yours?
NHSMUN year after year provides a diverse committee slate, staying true to traditional offerings as well as more modernized, non-traditional committees, such as the recent introduction of our regionally focused committees including African Union (AU) and League of Arab States (LAS). Our crisis offerings continue to be popular amongst students, which I feel is because they combine the high intensity, advanced debate that is inherent to crisis simulation with an educational experience here at NHSMUN, which most conferences fail to prioritize. I personally have enjoyed my experiences both debating in as well as facilitating the General Assembly Mains committees. I enjoy how their large committee size allows for diverse debate curated by a large number of varying policies and insightful solutions. It is truly impeccable to witness a room full of 300 new and experienced delegates in front of you, collaborate and commit to working towards compromises and common goals.
MUNPlanet: Your students consistently state that sitting and participating in the real seats of the United Nations, using the actual microphones and standing at the exact podium that the world's most powerful leaders utilize, is one of the most impactful aspects of their experience at NHSMUN. Do you think that this kind of authenticity helps education and how does it impact the students?
I really do! Not only is it a once-in- a-lifetime opportunity for the students, but it also helps make their modeled debate become more of a reality. Watching and participating in debate inside the UN’s General Assembly Hall allows our delegates to truly embrace a diplomat’s mindset, experiencing exactly what UN delegates do. It provides a whole other experience than debating in a hotel conference room. The acoustics, the grandeur, the novelty; that final conference day in the UN, honestly, is really breathtaking.
MUNPlanet: NHSMUN offers its participants a unique chance to have an in-person visit with diplomatic representatives of the countries the students are representing which is amazing. What are some other benefits that the students will get from participating in NHSMUN?
Known as “Mission Briefings,” these meetings are coordinated months in advance by our administrative staff, who devotes several months to coordinating and communicating with United Nations and Permanent Missions offices to secure as many meetings as possible. Through these Mission Briefings, delegates are able to not only hear from, but also interact directly with representatives and citizens from the very country that he or she is representing in committee, something unachievable outside of NHSMUN. These presentations and conversations not only contextualize the students’ research and knowledge about a country and its policies, but it also creates a realistic, interactive learning environment for the delegates.
MUNPlanet: This year’s NHSMUN will be restructured, and the largest committees will be reduced in size by about 30%. Could you tell us more about this, and what will this change bring?
There was significant brainstorming and strategizing that went into the creation of our new, two-session model, and we’re very excited to see the benefits of this change! It is no doubt that our main priority of the conference is education, which is something we believe can be enriched with the deduction of committee sizes. Our directors and assistant directors devote months to researching and preparing the substantive program, and we would be disappointed to see it not absorbed by students to its fullest potential. With smaller committee sizes, more delegates will be inclined and able to participate, allowing for more interaction and flow of debate. In addition, with the expansion into two sessions, we are able to accommodate more schools from our waiting list, which for me to see firsthand, is a big leap. Ultimately with this change, we are hoping to welcome more students into a more comfortable, educationally focused experience.
MUNPlanet: Your staff is comprised of all-volunteer, university-level students. What is that like? What is involved in the application process?
The NHSMUN staff is undoubtedly the most incredible, diverse, brilliant group of individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with, throughout all of my years on staff. The talent paired with the passion and dedication behind each one of these staff members allows for not only a productive work environment, but more importantly, a rewarding one. Our well-rounded, international staff attends some of the most renowned universities in the world, studying anything from International Relations and Governmental Affairs to Computer Science and Microbiology. Every year, we continue to receive a record-breaking number of applications, for both our substantive and administrative staffs. The application process is quite competitive, and this year, nearly 500 students from more than 70 schools in 30 countries applied to be assistant directors for NHSMUN 2017! Following the conference, assistant director applications are released in the late spring. Then, candidates’ applications and writing samples are considered before moving into an interview round, during which a Senior Staff member inquires about Model UN debate and chairing experience as well as provides hypothetical scenarios. No NHSMUN-specific experience is required, and applications are open to any university-level student with a Model UN background! It has been exciting to see this staff grow over the past few years, especially given the new two- session structure. Being a part of NHSMUN behind-the- scenes is something I will always remember and cherish. Thanks to this staff, I have honestly not only grown as a leader and as an educator, but also a friend and a team player.
I foresee the growth of technology and platforms such as MUNPlanet playing a variety of roles when it comes to MUN: how the activity is taught, learned, experienced, and perceived. NHSMUN relies on these types of organizations to share what we do and what makes us as a conference special, so that delegates that are seeking an experience like NHSMUN can find us. We also hope to reach a wider audience and increase diversity in our conference attendees through exposure gained from these online communities. With the development of technology and online tools, I would hope for the opportunity to provide those interested in Model UN with high quality educational materials and training programs through technology, as the love for Model UN continues to spread globally.
MUNPlanet: What are the three words you want the participants to leave your conference with?
Knowledgeable, empowered, and inspired.