Local High School Students Tackle Global Security Issues

April 3, 2020

By Cassie Rezac

On Friday, March 6th and Saturday, March 7th, over 250 high school students from Baltimore County, Baltimore City, and Charles County participated in a United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR)-sponsored Refugee Challenge at the Towson University-hosted March Model UN Conference. Serving as the CCMA AmeriCorps VISTA Global Learning Partnership Coordinator at Towson University, I had the incredible opportunity to not only work behind the scenes to build program capacity, but to also engage with high school students during the 2020 Model UN Conference.

In its 18th year, the Towson University-Baltimore County Model United Nations Program is a one-of-a-kind program. While some Model UN programs cost thousands of dollars for participants, the TU-Baltimore County program is the only program in the U.S. that is completely free to students, making it accessible for students of all economic levels. Not only is the TU-BCPS Model UN free for participants, it also has a comprehensive model rooted deeply in civic engagement that extends further than the Model UN Conference.

The Director of the Model UN Program is a Political Science Professor and Director of the TU Honors College. She holds a Civic Engagement class every fall semester that is directly tied to Model UN. The college students research agencies within the United Nations and create presentations relating the United Nations’ agency to Baltimore that help create linkages between global concepts and the students’ local communities. These presentations are then given to all high schools participating in Model UN for curricular use. The Model UN Training Day is also held in the fall semester, and the Civic Engagement TU students volunteer for this event.

In the spring semester, participating high schools can opt to have a TU student help coach their Model UN teams to prepare for the conference. I was in charge of designing materials that could be used to further global learning within the high schools.  I also had the opportunity to work with new high schools and high schools with new advisors to help build capacity in January.

I worked with three high schools throughout January and February to help create greater Model UN program capacity, help increase college readiness, and help develop civic engagement mindsets for the high school students.

The impact of these school visits was seen at the Model UN Conference when two of the three schools that I was involved with won awards. One school was brand new to the program and the other school had a new advisor and had never received an award at previous conferences. This achievement was the highlight of my service as I was able to witness the well-deserved achievements of students who had put in tons of effort behind the scenes.

The other highlight of the Conference for me was being able to escort the UNHCR Keynote Speaker, Mr. Chris Boian, throughout the Conference. I witnessed the incredible conversations Mr. Boian facilitated with 21 high school students during lunch, and of course, also listened to his phenomenal keynote speech Global Forced Displacement and the work of UNHCR.

Having Mr. Boian at the Conference was the global learning opportunity of a lifetime for many of the high school students. His speech, and interactions with the high school participants, paved the way for incredible resolution debates. The resolutions that were created during the Conference will be sent to the UNHCR as part of the global Model UN Refugee Challenge. The best resolutions worldwide will be given to UNHCR policymakers and have the opportunity to influence solutions for global security issues.

The 2020 TU-BCPS Model UN Conference was a remarkable global learning and civic engagement opportunity for volunteers, staff, and students alike. I was very lucky to take part in this year-long experience and will continue to work to build capacity so that more high school students can have the opportunity to partake in an experience that promotes civic engagement, college, and career readiness.

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