Debating Global Topics Through a Student Forum: Model UN

Big-picture thinking. Globally-relevant issues. Purpose, perseverance, and persuasion. These themes, skills, and tactics are some of what students learn about, develop, and test, as members of the Model United Nations (MUN) club at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS).

“I discovered Model UN in the ninth grade when I was looking for a club that involved public speaking but was collaborative and involved the issues I cared about,” says Joseph Cressatti, a Grade 12 student and lead member of the club. “Although I learned about the club during the activities fair [at SMCS], I only became hooked after attending a conference at U of T with several other St. Michael’s students.”

A Grade 12 student in the SMCS Model UN Club student forum.

Joseph Cressatti (pictured), a Grade 12 student and a lead team member of the Model UN club at St. Michael’s College School.

Cressatti is one of more than a dozen members of the club, along with two staff members. Francesco Bellissimo, an economics and geography teacher at SMCS, is now in his second year as the club’s lead moderator.

“Our goal is to provide students with the opportunity to hone important skills such as public speaking, researching, and writing by interacting and working together in a comfortable environment,” says Bellissimo. “Students can then put these skills to the test by competing against members of other MUN clubs at one of the several conferences we attend each year. Most importantly, we want to make sure that students are having a great time doing this!”

Model UN simulates real bodies of the United Nations. Student participants (delegates) represent a country and a committee, each addressing pre-determined topics that require critical thinking and deep analysis.

“Participants learn about diplomacy and international relations whilst developing their public speaking and collaboration skills,” says Cressatti, now in his fourth year as part of the club. 

SMCS Model UN Club delegates debate in the student forum at Havergal.

SMCS Model UN delegates debate key issues during a conference at Havergal College.

At a February MUN conference at Havergal College in Toronto, the SMCS Model UN team delivered a strong showing with one first place (Best Delegate), one second place (Outstanding Delegate), and three third place (Honourable Mentions) finishes.

“Before the big day, delegates are expected to submit a position paper,” says Patrick Feghali, science and physics teacher at SMCS in addition to a club moderator. “This is a research paper that indicates the views of their nation on the issues to be discussed. It outlines why their nation is taking a position, and what the nation expects that this resolution will address. It helps put students in the right frame of mind to be a delegate of that nation.”

“Each committee will choose the best paper to win an award,” says Feghali. “During the day, delegates are expected to give an opening speech, collaborate with other nations to create resolutions, and then promote and debate their resolution. It culminates in a voting process which either accepts or rejects the proposal.”

SMCS Model UN students at Havergal College for a MUN conference.

For Cressatti, the learning through this club has been meaningful and relevant, spanning such topics as: climate change, immigration, and the state of democracy, sanitation in West Africa, and cybersecurity in developing nations. He outlines some of the key learnings:

1. How to clearly articulate ideas
“The short time limit placed on delegates when they speak forces them to communicate effectively and concisely. No matter how good your ideas are, if they are articulated poorly, they will not go anywhere in committee. These two facts put together have trained me to organize my thoughts before speaking and delivering speeches with clarity and purpose, an essential skill when running any club or presenting in any facet of my life.”

2. The need to collaborate
“One of the greatest aspects of MUN is how it forces you to work with others. Resolution papers within the activity need majority support of the committee to pass. Thus, in order to pass any solution, one must work with others to build consensus amongst the group. The compromising and negotiating sparked by this often makes for a more comprehensive paper and has also made me a better group member for school projects, as I have experience pulling people with vastly different ideas together and incorporating their ideas with my own.”

3. Researching skills
“Dealing with important issues, it is only natural that some topics require plenty of research to comprehend and develop stances on. Further, facts used in committee must be cited from a credible source to ensure a high quality of debate. Practicing these two skills, researching and citing, have proved invaluable in high school. I have saved countless hours on various assignments simply because I know where to look for pertinent information and am able to cite it properly.”

The SMCS Model UN club following a successful MUN conference.

The club’s Student Executive Team holds simulated debate sessions weekly to practice both individual and group skills.

“I believe the key to a successful MUN team is instilling confidence in our members,” adds Bellissimo, who credits Cressatti for inspiring him to moderate the club during his first year at SMCS. “Through the positive reinforcement we provide during our meetings and mock sessions, as well as following up after Model UN conferences, our goal is to build confidence in each member that he can bring to and grow upon at Model UN conferences. This continuous feedback and exposure will help each member develop and grow, leading to a successful Model UN delegate and team as a result.”

Learn more about all 50+ Clubs and Activities offered, including Model UN.