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Foothill Model UN takes second at New York conference

Students debate climate change, Thai military coup and more at international competition

The Foothill High School Model UN team celebrates a second-place finish at a conference in New York City earlier this month. (Photo courtesy of Foothill Model UN)

The Foothill High School Model United Nations team attended their first East Coast conference a few weeks ago -- and came away with a second-place title.

The fifth annual Empire Model United Nations Conference was hosted by New York University in New York City from Nov. 15-18. The conference was attended by around 500 student "delegates" from across the country, as well as globally, and was organized and staffed by members of the NYU Model UN team itself.

The Foothill crew officially took the "Overall Delegation" award -- second place, since their delegates received the second highest number of placing awards.

Alexander Chen, a junior and one of the club's officers, said that their recognition was the result of a great team effort. "Really, it was because of our delegates," he said. "Each one prepared very well."

At Model UN conferences, team members take on the roles of committee delegates based on actual UN organizations, and debate with one another regarding pressing global issues. Teams are awarded based on their displays of public speaking, collaboration and diplomacy.

Students take part in the General Assembly, where delegates represent a variety of countries to debate international policies and issues. Others serve on a crisis committee, where they deal with specific situations while stepping into the role of a distinct character from past and present -- Chen, for example, served as the agricultural minister of Rome in the Caesar era during the Empire conference.

The Foothill team, founded in 2013, has been ranked in the top 150 teams by Best Delegate, which rates and provides resources for Model UN crews across the country. They have also placed at other local and international conferences.

Because of their high performance levels at local competitions, they were invited to this conference, according to senior Harsha Mudaliar, another club officer -- it was their second time competing out of state, the first having been at a Chicago conference last year.

"We wanted to feel what MUN was like in other areas," Chen added.

Topics at the conference in New York ranged from climate change to Thailand's military coup to territorial disputes in the South China Sea, Mudaliar said. Around 50 students participate on the overall Foothill team, but only 16 were able to attend, due to chaperone regulations.

Though the club is student-led, social studies teacher Stephen Ferrel serves as the faculty adviser. He said the greatest challenge the team faced was the brutal East Coast weather once they arrived -- a snowstorm made the mile-long trek to their hotel rough.

But overall, their teamwork and hours of after-school practice sessions paid off, he said, and the collaboration and public speaking skills the students developed will serve them well regardless of their career path, whether it be politics, business or nonprofit work.

"I think the club is absolutely critical ... It's not just about knowing all the information, but communicating it and using diplomacy," Ferrel said.

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