| Leo Belman | email@example.com | February 13, 2020 |
From January 17th to the 19th this year, Harvard Model Congress San Francisco (HMCSF) held its annual conference at the Hilton in the Financial District, and for the first time ever, 24 members of d.tech’s very own Model United Nations team were among the students representing 16 high schools in attendance.
Model Congress is pretty much what it sounds like: A conference where students learn more about the government and grow in various important skills, through simulating U.S congressional proceedings in the role of real life delegates in a variety of committees. Harvard Model Congress is the largest congressional simulation, run entirely by Harvard undergraduates, with annual conferences in Boston, San Francisco, Dubai, Asia and Europe.
So why did the Model U.N. team go to a Model Congress conference? For starters, the Model U.N. team is actually a part of the honors social studies class, International Studies. In the class, the focus is not just on the United Nations, but on government and politics in general. The idea to go to a Model Congress conference came from students within the class. According to International Studies Teacher Rachel Siegman, “We chose [to go to the conference] closer to the end of the school year [last year], and it was per recommendation of two of the students in the class [who were] keen on the conference.”
The two students who spoke with Siegman were juniors Jeremy Baum and Griffin Conley. Baum explained that the reason he had wanted the team to attend a Model Congress conference was to branch out a bit from just doing M.U.N. “We were researching what conferences we wanted to go to for [the next] year, […] and we were trying to find unique and cool experiences.” Baum also mentioned that he felt a few of the conferences last year were not run very well. “Davis, I think, was probably the worst one for us. It’s one that we chose not to go to again. It was a no-technology conference, which made it so you had to handwrite everything, which made cooperation worse between people.” Wanting to try something a little different, he and Conley decided to approach Siegman with the idea for the HMCSF conference.
Siegman felt that the conference would still be valuable to the class, and would present relevant challenges and learning experiences even if Model Congress is not the exact same as M.U.N. “[It was in] the same realm [as M.U.N.], but just a different focus, and we hadn’t done something like that before, so I looked into it and took the students’ recommendation.”
In order to prepare for the event, Siegman was given positions and committees to distribute to the class. “We had a certain number of Republicans and Democrats and committees, […] And then I put up all the committees specifically on the board and then students put their names under their top two or three of those choices,” she said.
Not only was the team assigned to participate in normal congressional committees, but they were also given specialized ones, like a historical committee that deals with past problems in the world, or NASA, which deals with space. “I was surprised that we got specialized positions because it was our first time attending this conference, so we have no standing in terms of ranking or superiority,” said Siegman.
To get ready to embody their delegates and the delegates’ opinions, senior and co-leader of the M.U.N. team Jemma Schroder and junior Kyle Tam led a lesson focused on analyzing the views of both Democrats and Republicans. “It was really a personal class period, and an experiment in trust and respecting everyone’s views in the class, and then being able to respect or see the side of the view [the students] actually had to represent,” said Siegman.
The preparation period wasn’t without some hiccups, however. Freshman Elliot Johnston said “The conference had a few problems with not updating their page information, so I actually wasn’t able to do any solid research until less than a week before [it began].” Senior Steven Varghese added, “I didn’t have a very good experience with it before the conference actually happened, because they were very slow in getting us the information we really need to finish [our work]. And the hard part for us, since we’re a class, [is that] Ms. Siegman has deadlines, and those deadlines didn’t really match up with Harvard Model Congress and their flow of posting things.
Despite the lead up to the conference being hectic, everyone seemed to agree that the event itself was worth it. “Once we actually got to the conference, it was actually really, really fun. It was actually one of my favorite conferences, which I was not expecting,” said Varghese.
Varghese was in the NASA committee, in the role of Thomas Cremins, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Strategy and Plans, and more recently, their chief of staff. “I wasn’t a big, big role, but it was still exciting. The exciting thing about Model U.N. [and Model Congress] is that even if you’re not a big role or country, you still have the opportunity to make big moves,” he said.
Conley played junior senator from Michigan Gary Peters, on the Committee on Armed Services. He felt that the time spent there was very valuable. “I definitely learned more about the processes behind the American government, and I think I grew more as a soft leader because I directed people in a way that I made sure that they weren’t being excluded.”
Staying in character was a very important part of the conference. Baum was on the historical committee, playing Mao Zedong. “I was Mao, but this was before Mao actually gained power, and so Chiang Kai-shek (the head of the Chinese government until 1975) was also in the committee. […] And so he was consistently trying to gain all of China […] And I was also trying to go from compromise to compromise.”
Johnston was playing a climate change denier on the Committee on Environment and Public Works. “I learned a lot about compromising with other delegates. When I went into the conference, I thought that it was going to be impossible to agree on anything, […] But we ended up being able to find some middle ground, which was good,” he said. Johnston did say that his goal was ultimately to have fun. “I tried hard to pretend that I believe that climate change is fake, [but] at the same time, I didn’t want to have a conference where the entire time you were just arguing. That wouldn’t have been fun.”
Overall, everyone who went seemed to greatly enjoy the conference, and learn a lot from it. But not only did they enjoy their time; the d.tech M.U.N. team also did very well. “They did great. The team did great. They won nine awards, which really sweeps the floor with 16 schools and just about a fourth of all the awards that were offered at the conference, which is pretty crazy for one school, and especially with it being our first time,” said Siegman.
Baum and senior and co-leader of the M.U.N. team Ian O’Haire won best delegate, which is the highest award offered, with many other members of the team winning other awards. Siegman was very proud of the team, feeling that everyone really did their best. “We went around and said what everyone was proud of from the weekend, like what was one tangible, specific thing. And every student had something really strong to say, whether it was writing amendments personally, getting their bills passed, [or] really staying true to the character when other people around them weren’t or when it was difficult,” Siegman recalled.
Despite the great experiences that seemed to occur at the HMCSF conference, it appears unlikely that the M.U.N. team will return next year. This is due to the massive cost of the event. The conference required the team to stay at the Hilton for two nights, in addition to the price per team member attending. “I know the students very much want to go back. So we’ll just see if we are able to have it in the budget because we had to pull from a number of areas and students really had to fundraise in order to really even make it possible,” said Siegman.
Regardless of that, the conference this year seems to have been an overall success, and everyone learned a lot. “And I think that’s ultimately the biggest win for me, that everyone had a really strong learning experience as well as a social experience. But the team also took home some gold awards,” said Siegman.