This summer, our Model United Nations camp was converted to an online format due to COVID-19. The class gave students the opportunity to serve as a delegate of one of the 193 member countries in the U.N. Students selected their country and learned to research, negotiate and discuss their country’s interests and risks on climate change policy. Student delegates debated ‘nationally determined contributions’ to adopt at the U.N. Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP 26) which will be held in 2021. They practiced the art of diplomacy and parliamentary procedure informed through research, scientific information and rational presentation as a delegate. The student presentations were designed to explore the juxtaposition of ecological and economic issues since COVID-19 and how these issues have affected each country.
“They learned how to navigate technology, how to listen and how to make their voices heard.” - Adam Goldstein, Saturday Academy Instructor
Model U.N. was taught by two of our favorite instructors, Neeraja Havaligi and Adam Goldstein. Neeraja brings her expertise to the class with a Bachelor’s in Agricultural Science, a Master’s in Plant Physiology, a second Master’s in Molecular Biology and Agronomy and a Ph.D. in Climate Adaptation and Urban Food Security. She began her career in agricultural research and conservation science with the United Nations Development Program in New York, which is working to eradicate poverty through sustainable development. Today, she serves as a biodiversity/climate change advisor for the United Nations Industrial Development Organization from Portland.
Adam, formerly a Professor at Iona College in Philosophy, received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins. He noticed that students were arriving to college unprepared, so he decided to shift gears to learn more about pedagogy and received his Master’s in Education from Hunter College. He moved to Portland, working at OMSI in the science education department and now teaches at Mt. Tabor Middle School.
Neeraja believes students find meaning in Model U.N. saying, “Some students have only heard about the U.N. and have very little context as to what the role of the organization is. This class gives them insight by opening them up to the possibility to understand the U.S. position in relationship to the world, and also helps them understand that it’s not just the U.S. that has all of the influence. They gain perspective and they acknowledge more deeply that they are part of a whole. They see the interconnectedness between countries through shared problems (e.g. climate change/air pollution is without borders) and that they are reliant on each other to solve these problems.”
Adam believes hosting the class online offered a great opportunity for students to develop their online interaction skills as well, which will help them in the future. He said, “They learned how to navigate technology, how to listen and how to make their voices heard.” Through negotiation and compromise between the students they learned ways to solve a complex global problem, which has real impacts at local levels.
Adam feels optimistic when he sees the excitement in students to learn about climate change. Neeraja is hopeful for the next generation because she meets young people who don’t just want to learn, but come with open mindedness to solve problems. She referenced the line from the movie, The Shawshank Redemption, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”