Pomona College Model UN Helps Students Build Skills

Pomona College Model United Nations team on outside steps of Carnegie Hall

They may represent the interests of a Central American country, a Marvel character or even an emu. As they head into competition, the Pomona College Model United Nations team is ready to debate and negotiate global issues from any point of view. Participants learn a “rapid kind of critical analysis and quick thinking skills,” says Angel Yuan ’25. “You have to be creative; you have to be convincing.”

Model United Nations (MUN) is an activity that includes hundreds of thousands of students worldwide in middle school through college. By organizing and participating in MUN conferences, they hone skills in public speaking, innovation and negotiation that are essential to diplomacy and are used by actual United Nations delegates to address global problems.

MUN teams operate independent of the United Nations and are organized by schools. Pomona College Model UN (PCMUN) is completely student-run and prioritizes accessibility, growth and community. It receives financial support from the Office for International Initiatives at Pomona, but its roster of 25 to 30 active members is drawn from fellow Claremont Colleges members Harvey Mudd, Pitzer and Scripps Colleges. Claremont McKenna College has its own team which often travels, trains and socializes with PCMUN members.

This academic year, PCMUN took part in MUN conferences as far away as Chicago and Pennsylvania. The team also hosted its annual conference, SageMUN, that involved high school and college teams. They hope to grow the conference in the coming years.

Leaders of the PCMUN team come from a variety of backgrounds and majors. Co-Secretary-General Yuan, from Vancouver, Canada, is an international relations major aiming for a career in public interest law. Economics major Aru Warrier PZ ’25, is vice president of the team. She is from India and grew up in Indonesia and Singapore. She envisions a career in investment through a sustainability lens. Catherine Protiva SC ’24, is co-secretary-general and is a dual-major in politics and environmental analysis policy from Northern California. She plans to become a lobbyist for sustainability initiatives. Warrier and Yuan participated in MUN in high school, though Yuan contends she “was bad at it. I never once won an award. I would just sit there and listen.”

Helping new members get started

Maybe that’s one reason the PCMUN leaders pay careful attention to training. The year starts with “a big bootcamp for the new members—integrate them, make sure they are set up with a mentor. Then we start with a lot of speaking games and public speaking tips and tricks,” says Warrier. “Then we integrate them into the General Assembly, the main diplomatic model.” Throughout the year, members experience different committee forms, ranging from traditional General Assembly committees to crisis committees.

Conferences are held on weekends to accommodate student schedules. In a traditional MUN conference, team members join committees such as the World Health Organization or UNESCO. “You represent a country and debate a topic or two throughout the weekend and write resolutions to solve the problem from the perspective of your [assigned] country,” Yuan explains. “There’s a good amount of backroom activity where you’re actively negotiating in a more informal setting.”

Students, usually from the conference’s host school, judge the effectiveness of a delegate’s interactions during the weekend. The top participant in each committee earns the Best Delegate award, known as “gaveling.” Points accrue during the year and result in national rankings by the Best Delegate website. The Pomona College MUN team is currently ranked in the top 30 nationwide and hopes to rise this year. “I believe we have a pretty good shot at breaking into the top 25,” says Yuan, especially after bringing home their first Outstanding Large Delegation award at UC Berkeley’s conference.

Protiva, now in her second year of MUN, says that “the first conference is going to feel like you’re getting hit by a bus.” But, she says, “I keep coming back. I’ve attended six conferences this year, and every single one has presented new fun opportunities and just been a blast.” It is, she adds, “a great way to gain connections across the country and work on public speaking, networking and interpersonal skills in a really rewarding and engaging way.”

Addressing a variety of issues

Warrier encourages fellow students to join PCMUN because “it lets you build on and apply skills learned in the classroom.” A conference may focus on current international issues, she says—or even Australia’s Emu War.

Winning, for PCMUN, is not the ultimate goal. “We encourage our delegates to try their best, and we’re encouraging them to grow in their skills,” says Protiva. The team prides itself on being open to anyone, with or without prior experience, who wants to improve their public speaking. “It does feel nice to win,” says Warrier. “But we don’t want anyone to feel like just because they didn’t win an award, they didn’t learn something from that experience.”

“It’s a risk-taking environment,” says Yuan, “but one that’s backed up with so much support and community that it doesn’t really feel like the risk you’re taking is really that big.” Protiva notes, “We’ve developed a really good reputation. We are regularly told that we are the nicest delegation, most approachable.”

All three team leaders agree that the MUN experience is building skills that will transfer to their future work. “My public speaking, before MUN, was not where it is today,” says Yuan. “I’m much more composed when I speak now, much more confident.” And, she says, “I’ve been in so many different types of committees with different people, I’ve learned to navigate different dynamics.... It’s made me more aspirational and ambitious with my career goals, and I have more confidence to pursue them.”