This past March, hundreds of high school students from Arizona, Texas and Nogales, Mexico convened at the University of Arizona for a two-day simulation of the United Nations. Far from the “bubble” that many use to describe a university experience, students attending the conference experienced meaningful connections and engaged in real, issue-based discussions with international neighbors.
The UA student-run Arizona Model United Nations, or AzMUN, hosts the High School Conference – now in its 50th year – to inform students about international affairs in an interactive format.
"Our long goal is a little more substantial than just keeping our students involved in MUN," said Francisco Lara, a UA Honors College student studying polical science, sociology and Latin American studies.
"Our hope is that by instilling in young leaders the values of diplomacy and compromise, and doing it among a group of American and Mexican neighbors, that in some near future when they are leaders of government and industry, they make decisions that put a premium on cooperation," Lara said.
AzMUN, which was named a recipient of the UA Peter W. Likins Inclusive Excellence Awards this year, hosted its two-day conference March 2-3, 2012 at the UA's Student Union Memorial Center.
The conference featured 11 committee simulations, including those designed to mirror the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council. During the committee meetings, students discussed development issues, U.S.-Mexico border issues and policy, at times representing high level government officials, such as U.S. President Barack Obama and Mexico President Felipe Calderón.
Several sessions were conducted only in Spanish, along with a bilingual committee. AzMUN also hired students from the UA's translation and interpretation program to offer services.
Lara said nearly 400 high school students and between 20 and 30 counselors attended this year's event.
"We are always looking for more high schools to become involved in our conference, and have an entire team devoted to finding more eligible schools," he said.
A Nationally Recognized Program
This body of student work, which has spanned over half-century, has been recognized by the Clinton Global Initiative University and the Border Research Partnership for exceptional student activism and bi-national education.
Enabling interaction between students in the U.S. and Mexico, particularly in a civil environment, is "more important than ever," said James Vancel, a UA Honors College student studying economics, mathematics and Spanish, who also serves as AzMUN's secretary general.
"Given the atmosphere around controversies over immigration and drug violence, there has hardly been a better time for youth of neighboring countries to meet each other and dialogue," Vancel said.
Lara said it is common for students to remain connected after the conference, noting that some remain involved for years.
"It is not uncommon for students that have come our conference to return again and again," Lara said. "There are some that do it all four years of high school. If fact, some of them love it so much that they come to the UA to become part our student club."