Saint Michael’s represents as Vermont’s only college at McGill’s Model U.N. Conference

February 1, 2024
Cat Cutillo
Social Media and Community Content Specialist

Ten delegates from Saint Michael’s College traveled across the northern U.S. border to participate in the 35th annual McGill University Model United Nations (McMUN) Conference in Montreal in January. 

The students who attended the conference from Jan. 25 to Jan. 28 were all members of the Saint Michael’s Model U.N. Club. Saint Michael’s was the only college from Vermont to attend the prestigious international conference this year. 

“It’s a great mini high-impact experience where students get an opportunity to work, both independently and collaboratively, on pressing global issues in an international setting, building leadership, intercultural and global competency skills,” said Professor Jeffrey Ayres said, the Model U.N. Club advisor, Director of the Center for Global Engagement and Chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Saint Michael’s. 

This year’s conference theme was “Unlimited Potential: Empowering Refugees Through Education.”  

This is the third consecutive year that Saint Michael’s College has participated in the McGill Model U.N. Conference and the second time Saint Michael’s has participated in person. Due to COVID-19, Saint Michael’s first year at the conference was virtual. Ayres said that out of the 70 different schools across five different countries who participated, most of the colleges and universities represented were Ivy League or large-research universities such as Harvard University, Dartmouth College, and University of California, Berkeley. 

Courtesy Jeff Ayres

A global experience 

Surprisingly, most members of Saint Michael’s Model U.N. Club are not International Relations majors – they represent other academic disciplines on campus. The club meets weekly on Mondays.  

“It’s a club where they regularly weekly run scenarios and crisis simulations,” Ayres said. “They’re working through conflicts and trying to resolve various environmental, human rights, and gender issues.” 

Courtesy Jeff Ayres

The students who attended the conference as delegates were each assigned a different type of committee session, and they represented the interests of either a country or a person.  

Delegation member Tallis Diehn ’24, Model U.N. Club president, is a senior majoring in Economics and minoring in Music. Diehn represented Saudi Arabia for the World Trade Organization at the conference.  

Diehn said that during the conference, he leaned on his personal experience from last year when he spent seven consecutive months traveling abroad. He participated in a semester abroad in Ghana for spring semester 2023, which he immediately followed up with a two-month internship in Vietnam through the Freeman Foundation Scholarship Program. Because of those experiences, he said, “it felt easy to step out of my shoes as an American” as he represented Saudi Arabia at the conference.  

Ashley Silveira ’26 was the only delegate member from Saint Michael’s who had also attended the conference last year.  

“I was definitely more excited coming back this year, especially because I was in a specialized committee,” said Silveira, a double major in Sociology/Anthropology and International Relations. “It was only 35 people in the room, and I felt like I was really able to take hold of that opportunity and utilize my previous experience to make the most of my time and committees.”  

Silveira was part of a U.S. domestic committee about sexism in NCAA women’s sports. She represented Madeleine McKenna for the NCAA at the conference. McKenna was a former volleyball student-athlete at California University of Pennsylvania and is a mental health advocate for student-athletes. Silveira said it was a subject that hit close to home as an NCAA athlete, herself, who is on the women’s diving team at Saint Michael’s. 

“It was really awesome to engage with other people about a topic that I am passionate about and affected by day to day,” Silveira said. “My biggest takeaway was learning how to conquer fears of social anxiety, or fears of talking in front of large groups of people.”  

She added, “You’re in a room filled with people from across the country, across the globe. There’s so much to learn from all of the different voices and people in that room. Getting the courage to start a conversation with someone new is really impactful.”

Courtesy Jeff Ayres

Donor-funded grant made experience possible 

The Saint Michael’s Model U.N. Club applied for the Center for Global Engagement Internationalization Grant to make the trip to Montreal possible. The Internationalization Grant is donor-funded and supports opportunities that promote global learning and literacy, deepen inter-cultural competency and inclusion, and support opportunities for global engagement for students, faculty, staff, alumni and local community members. 

We would not have been able to do it if it weren’t for that grant,” Diehn said. “Our club budget is not large enough to cover the expenses of this trip. Without that grant from the Center for Global Engagement, there would have been no McMUN trip.”  

Ayres said just as much learning happens outside of the conference’s organized events over meals with other college students and chance encounters with the people of Montreal. Ayres noted that for some of the Saint Michael’s students, this was the very first time they had been to Canada, or even outside of the United States.  

“This is an impactful experience for the students,” Ayres said. “It’s an opportunity to really develop a sense of collaboration and teamwork with people that they don’t know.”  

Ayres said, most importantly, he hopes the experience will spark a passion for global engagement and create a domino effect that will motivate the students to apply for a Freeman Foundation Scholarship to participate in a summer internship in South Korea or Vietnam, enlist in a semester-abroad experience, and upon graduation, apply for a Fulbright scholarship. 

“My hope is it will stimulate them to want to build up even more global experiences,” Ayres said.

Courtesy Jeff Ayres

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