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The ‘Model’ of excellence

A team of Northeastern students placed first at the 29th Annual International Model NATO conference in Washington D.C. earlier this month, besting more than 30 delegations from higher education institutions in the United States, Canada, Belgium, and the United Kingdom. But the No. 1 finish is more impressive when you consider the circumstances under which the group was named the conference’s most outstanding delegation.

On the train ride from Boston to the nation’s capital, members of Northeastern’s Model NATO team were notified of a change in plans: Instead of debating, seven of the university’s 25 delegates would run the conference, becoming members of the secretariat. They had no choice—the representatives of the conference’s organizer, Converse College of South Carolina, were unable to attend due to inclement weather.

The three-day conference went well, and Northeastern was offered permanent leadership for years to come. “Our students immediately demonstrated great leadership, intelligence, and acumen,” said Philip D’Agati, the Model NATO team’s adviser and an assistant academic specialist in the Department of Political Science. “The whole team came together and made this work. By the end of the conference, our performance was so impressive that we received the praise and gratitude of all the faculty advisers.”

At the conference, each student team represented a pre-assigned member state of NATO or the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. The proceedings mirrored those of the 65-year-old intergovernmental military alliance, with students sitting on committees and discussing, debating, and writing resolutions on today’s most pressing global issues.

Northeastern's Netherlands delegation finished in first place.

Northeastern’s Netherlands delegation finished in first place.

Northeastern’s teams, which represented the Netherlands and Romania, have a long history of conference success. This year, the university’s Netherlands delegation placed first, marking the third consecutive competition in which a Northeastern team has been named outstanding delegation.

Members attribute the success to months of intense preparation. It’s not uncommon for students to spend 10 hours per week reading policy statements, writing mock resolutions, and debating the issues in the university’s Model NATO class or club.

“We are exceptionally well prepared,” said Steve McKanas, E’14, who represented the Netherlands on the North Atlantic Council. “We know the policies inside and out and are quick to adapt to changing situations.”

Students from other schools frequently look to their Northeastern peers for guidance, according to Kelsey Sullivan, SSH’14, who represented the Netherlands on the Political Affairs Committee. “A lot of students ask us how to write resolutions because they’re not sure of the format,” she said. “We’re writing resolutions every week in class and aren’t afraid of the conference environment.”

Her interest in joining Northeastern’s Model NATO team grew out of her experience in the university’s N.U.in Program in Greece, where she studied at the American College of Thessaloniki. “A European political science class sparked my interest in international learning,” she said. “It’s why I started taking classes in domestic political science.”

Added D’Agati: “Many of our students are able to tap into a level of maturity and confidence that grows through their experiential learning opportunities.”

The Model NATO team is one component of the university’s International Relations Council, a student group for those interested in foreign policy, international affairs, and effective debate. Through participation in interactive simulations of NATO as well as the United Nations and the League of Arab States, IRC members discover the challenges of international diplomacy while developing strong public speaking and negotiation skills.