This is Kelly. She works for the United Nations Foundation coordinating Model United Nations (MUN) conferences for thousands of middle and high schoolers, many from low-income schools, around the country and world. Watch this tear-jerking video about what kids take away from the experience. She is the subject of today’s edition of my jobs series, So What Do You Do Exactly?
What’s your actual job title? Senior Associate, Education Programs at the United Nations Foundation
What would your job title be if it actually described what you did? MUN Guru and All-Around Make-It-Work Badass
How many events do you run a year? I personally run six full-on MUN conferences a year, ranging from 200 to 2500 students each, plus a few smaller workshops here and there. I manage a couple hundred volunteers, mostly university students, and I’m in regular communication with another couple hundred teachers. I’m expected to know the names and faces of all our teachers and volunteers and be able to discuss details of their schools, interests, and previous experience with the program at any time (note: this is expected of me by them, not by my boss, but I do it anyway).
People think MUN is a bunch of over-achieving teenagers banging gavels and such. Does it actually serve a higher purpose? Ouch. To be fair, that’s what MUN used to be. Our program was founded 13 years ago with the goal of diversifying the MUN community, and we’re succeeding. We now work primarily with Title 1 urban schools (see below). Our conferences are a testament to that; we see kids from the Bronx hanging out with kids from Phillips Exeter and becoming fast friends.
It’s also a great tool for engaging students in a more interactive way. Aside from the obvious social studies content, students are learning research and writing skills, making inferences and thinking critically. They practice understanding and representing someone else’s views, working in a team to build consensus and compromise, and engaging in debate that’s constructive instead of cruel. These are amazing tools for conflict resolution, especially for kids, like the ones we work with in Chicago, who face violence every day.
What’s a Title 1 urban school, and how does that type of school impact your job? A Title 1 school receives federal funding because 40% or more of its students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Everything we do is tailored to teachers in these settings and making our program a benefit to them, not a burden. When we implement new ideas, we’re always looking at how they fit into the work teachers are already doing, using the resources they already have or providing new ones at no cost. For example, we try to focus our global topics in each city to things that are actually relevant to those kids. In New York we had “Sustainable development of Megacities” and “HIV and Young People”. In Miami, we had “Migration in Latin America and the Caribbean” and “Partnerships to Address the World Drug Problem.”
If you could make one change to our national education system (regarding the teaching of a global curriculum or otherwise) what would it be? This is an incredibly hard question. We keep talking about testing as a measure of teacher effectiveness but forcing teachers to a set curriculum makes them so much less effective. Students develop broader cognitive skills and a greater curiosity and investment in learning when they’re engaged in genuine content that they have the time to explore as fully as they need to. Teachers who have the freedom to develop interactive, smart, and multifaceted lesson plans, and who can take the time to get students interested in the real questions they’re exploring, are so much more successful. For you education buffs out there, we need time to hit the DOK 4* mark in a few crucial areas, rather than trying to float by at the DOK 1/2 level in everything. This will only happen if classrooms are integrated across subjects, teachers are supported, and schools have the freedom to do what works for their students.
What do you think actual diplomats could learn from MUN? MUNers, especially the middle schoolers, are so optimisitic and creative! Students are so hopeful and willing to try new things before they get bogged down in what is and isn’t “possible.” Also, when you’re not overly steeped in historical precedent, you’re much more willing to trust and be less offended by perceived slights. When the delegate from Syria tells the delegate from Uganda that his idea is flawed, Uganda is not going to take it as an insult to his entire country.
How does your job and your office related to the actual UN? The United Nations Foundation (UNF) was founded when Ted Turner wanted to give a billion dollars to the UN. At the time, there was no way to donate directly to the UN and its work, unless you were a government, so instead he set up a foundation to support its initiatives. Originally the foundation just funneled donations directly into UN programs, but now we support UN intitiatives in a more partnership-based way. For example, UNF spearheads the Secretary-General’s Every Woman Every Child Initiative.
Who are the coolest people you have met on the job? Obviously famous people are pretty cool (Ban Ki Moon, Susan Rice, Monique Coleman, Michele Bachelet, Ted Turner…) but it’s usually the people who are really good at what they do but aren’t so high up yet that are most interesting. They’re fully engaged in one specific thing and just kicking ass at it. People like Jimmy Kolker (Chief of the UNICEF Aids Dept) and Special Agent In Charge John Gilbride of the DEA.
*DOK = Depth of Knowledge, a metric for rigor and complexity
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