After 50 years, Rider's Model UN program continues to transform students
Rider University’s Model UN program has provided students with valuable experience, leadership skills and learning opportunities for 50 years and counting. Over more than a half century, the program has launched a remarkable number of participants into successful graduate programs and careers.
“It’s one of the best programs we have at Rider, there is no question about it," says Dr. Barbara Franz, the current faculty advisor of Rider’s Model UN team. "The students grow during the experience as a group, and by the end of the semester, they are each other’s best friends. The program has competition, group dynamics, self-teaching and self-responsibility. I think when you enter the program you are a normal Rider student, but by the end of the semester when the competition is completed, you’ve become something altogether different.”
A student-led initiative, Model UN takes place each spring semester. A large portion of the course work consists of a carefully written position paper on a current topic of interest at the United Nations. To be considered for the team, students must be able to demonstrate exceptional public speaking skills, in addition to showing that they can work as individual team members under pressure. After the team is picked, students are assigned a country and visit the Permaent Mission to the UN in New York, where the students meet with representatives of their assigned country to develop a better understanding of the ambassador they are representing.
"It is a unique challenge for an American kid to become a different country’s representative," Franz says. "After two or three months of planning, you meet and work with many of the other 5,000 student delegates from hundreds of different universities at the Model UN event. Rider students have represented various countries, from Hungary and Nigeria to Israel and Lebanon. It can be mind-boggling.”
Students who participate in the Model UN are expected to do research on their country and be able to speak on a dynamic range of topics, which many find empowering.
“Simply put, I learned that if I truly put myself totally into something, I could compete with the best and brightest,” says Steve Meizlish ’82, Founder and Managing Partner of MeizCorp Services Inc. “That was a huge impetus to my legal education and competing in the business world.”
The Model UN program offers students a chance to build relationships with one another in a team environment while giving students the opportunity to develop confidence in their professional life.
Steve Sutow ’00, a managing partner at the law firm Gale, Sutow & Associates, says that his entire experience with the Model UN was “amazing and invaluable." He emphasized how important the connections with his teammates were. His present business partner, alumnus Adam Storm, is a former teammate.
“Model UN definitely put me on the path to understanding my abilities for debating, public speaking and thinking on my feet, required of any good lawyer," Sutow says. "It was an integral part of my professional development.”
A big part of Model UN is role playing. After all of the research, writing and practicing, students spend five days in New York City at the event as student delegates representing their appointed country. This year’s Model UN team includes 20 student delegates and three student leaders.
Dr. Phan, who was the faculty adviser of the program from 1972 until 2003, views his work with the Rider Model UN Teams as one of his “most important and lasting legacies,” noting the emphasis he had in developing women students as team leaders.
“It was a privilege for me to be a mentor to 200-plus future leaders in a crucial stage of their development. For this privilege, I am grateful,” Phan says. “Through the dedication and hard work of Rider Model UN leaders, Rider established an excellent reputation, taking many ‘Outstanding Delegation’ and‘Distinguished Delegation’ awards, as well as Honorable Mention even against schools that had graduate programs in international relations.”
Alumnus Meizlish says that he enjoyed the head-to-head competition with other highly ranked schools and Phan’s unconventional approach to mentoring the students.
“Dr. Phan was extremely bold and unique," he says. "He believed in us and our ability as young adults. He cut the umbilical cord and allowed us to travel and compete without his supervision and watchful eye, which to my knowledge was unique to all other schools that participated in the program."
Credit for the success of the program is due to the hard work and energy faculty and students put into the program, says Dr. Michael Brogan, a political science professor at Rider.
“Dr. Franz accepts nothing less than their best," Brogan says. "I think Model UN is a great example of how Rider students do so well because of their ability to really work as a team and think well on their feet. They are well prepared and motivated, and I think that’s the other big strength of why we do so well.”
Alumnus Daniel Shamy '98, who's now a managing partner at K/S Attorneys at Law, also found Model UN helpful in his career. “I attribute a great deal of my ability as a rainmaker attorney supporting a firm of nine attorneys and skill to perform in court and other forms of dispute resolution, including alternative dispute resolution, from my experience as a delegate in Model UN," he says. "Model UN also garnered experience for me to handle the stress and crunch of law school.”
Looking toward the future of the program, Franz says that securing funding for the program is a priority because of the rising costs of hotel rooms and transportation. She's adamant about maintaining the high standards the program has achieved for half a century.