Through Model UN, UW-Madison students build skills, connections

Much like the organization they emulate, Model United Nations clubs at colleges and high schools across the United States and around the world provide forums for students to explore and express diverse views and ideas about global issues and politics.

The Model UN club at the University of Wisconsin–Madison brings together students who are passionate about global issues and politics and helps them develop and sharpen skills that they can use in the classroom and in their careers.

In recent years, UW–Madison’s Model UN club has grown in popularity, reaching 80 members last year. The student organization began the current academic year with around 50 members, including a growing number from other countries – such as Canada, Netherlands, India and Egypt.

“The organization has certainly evolved through our inclusion of international students, as they each bring unique perspectives on international issues that many American students are unaware of,” says Adrianna Viswanatha, president of MUN at UW–Madison.  “Their insight has been invaluable to the knowledge base of the club and especially members’ lasting friendships with these students.”

The five members of the UW MUN group’s board represent a range of academic disciplines and skills.  The club leaders and their majors are: Viswanatha, international studies and German; Brendon Moriarty, vice president, philosophy and economics; Hannah Nell , finance chair, applied and agricultural economics and political science, Christian Blank, outreach chair, international studies and German; and Roger Diehl, secretary, a graduate student in biochemistry.

“Many of us have unique multicultural backgrounds and have experienced living abroad,” Viswanatha says. “We use our experiences in the interest of global networking and immersion in international culture to bring particular and occasionally unconventional perspectives in dealing with global issues and express our passion for the UN as a body. For us, MUN is an opportunity to learn and develop skills in our areas of interest that we can take forward with us.”

By participating in MUN, students can build skills that serve as assets in the classroom and in their careers, according to Viswanatha.

“Public speaking, problem solving, teamwork and leadership ability are all essential qualities in a MUN setting, but are also extremely valuable to students’ performance in the classroom and are sought-after skills in a workplace,” she says.

The UW–Madison MUN recruits members through the Student Organization Fairs. Students interested in the organization also are encouraged to attend the kick-off meetings held each semester.

“MUN appeals to students because it is a unique opportunity to apply knowledge of international events and interact with their peers from around the world in a professional conference setting,” Viswanatha says. “Students feel their actions make a difference and they have the opportunity to showcase their passion for finding solutions to real-time international problems.”

 Connecting through conferences

In the world of Model United Nations, conferences hosted by universities across North America are the biggest events, and several members of the UW–Madison group attend these gatherings.

“We visited Chicago in the fall, Montreal in the spring and Berkeley, New York, Boston and St Louis in the past,” Viswanatha says.

To prepare for conferences, the group divides into teams, with each team representing a country on a UN body, such as the General Assembly, Security Council, Economic and Social Council or the International Court of Justice.  The teams do extensive research on assigned topics, as they prepare to debate teams from other universities at the conference.

According to Viswanatha, the collaborative preparations encourage team building, and participating in conferences promotes inter-university delegations.

Sami Ghani, a senior majoring in political science and journalism, is on the UW MUN team this year. Ghani, who served as the club’s vice president in the spring of 2011, first became involved in Model UN in 2004 at Shorewood High School.

“I have always been very passionate and interested in politics, debate, international affairs, and traveling – all of which the Model UN offers,” says Ghani, a Palestinian-American.

“I was born in the United States, but my father is a Palestinian immigrant who was born in Kuwait,” he explains. “My mother is an American who has ancestors from Ireland. I really credit having racially mixed parents as a key reason for my interest and love of international affairs. Their dual perspective made me question everything around me and pushed me to see multiple sides of complex issues.”

Ghani has attended a variety of conferences, including the American Model United Nations, National Model United Nations, Wisconsin High School Model United Nations, Harvard National Model United Nations and the Chicago Model United Nations.

Although he says these conferences are not quite the same as the actual United Nations, he has learned a great deal, such as problem-solving and public-speaking skills, which have increased his self-confidence.

“I’m lucky to have traveled across North America and made diverse friends who are participants in the MUN,” he says. “Meeting people has really given me a better global perspective on life and international affairs, and remains one of the most valuable experiences of being involved in the MUN.”

“I’m studying political science and economics, so the Model UN seemed like a fun extracurricular activity to pursue,” says Zeyad El Omari, a UW–Madison senior who was born in Egypt. “I get to discuss, debate, and think about topics I am passionate about.”

El Omari adds, “I also wanted to improve my writing and communication skills and the Model UN really proved to be a great organization to work on rhetoric in speech and writing, which I have greatly developed over the years. The conferences are great and allow you to meet other members in the MUN from other campuses, and to put your knowledge and wit to the test.”

Presence on campus, in community

The MUN at UW–Madison group also does fund-raising, for instance, occasionally holding pizza and bake sales.

“The fundraisers, another regular event, are primarily to raise money for the organization in order to give our students the best and most challenging conference opportunities at the lowest possible cost,” Viswanatha explains. “However, we have worked with UNICEF at UW in the past to raise money for their Halloween fundraiser, the profits of which go … to aid children in need all over the world.”

She adds, “We are currently looking for other opportunities to help out around campus as well.”

The MUN club also participates in the local annual UN Day Celebration, sponsored by the Dane County Chapter of the United Nations Association.

“They have graciously hosted us and other community members for many years now and given us the opportunity to hear unique speakers and experts from all over the world discuss pressing international issues,” Viswanatha says.

She adds, “It is an opportunity for students to talk with veterans of international politics who wish to share their knowledge with a younger generation of global activists. We hope our relationship with UNA Dane will continue for many years.”

Like Ghani, Viswanatha first got involved with Model UN while in high school and continued her involvement in college.

“It’s a great opportunity to learn more about the world and develop leadership and speaking skills that I can use in the classroom and hopefully in my future career,” she says.

As president, she wants to see the organization grow: “We really want to welcome as many people as possible. We want the UW student community to get involved, ideally those who are interested in international issues and want to be part of a platform that focuses on them.”

To learn more: Visit the Model UN at UW–Madison student organizations website, the Wisconsin Model United Nations page on Facebook, follow the group on Twitter, and email the group at

— by Neha Alluri