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Top Ranked AU Model UN Team Strives to Repeat Success

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The American University Model UN (AUMUN) team ended the 2021-2022 season as the top-ranked team in North America, and current team members are dedicated to staying humble and focused while defending that ranking during the 2022-2023 season. In the past ten years, AUMUN has risen from number 75 to its current place at number one in the rankings and has gained notoriety as one of the most prestigious collegiate Model UN programs in the country. These Model UN programs prepare students to face real-world challenges and offer modern policy solutions by allowing them to experience what happens in the real-life councils and conferences of the United Nations.

What does it take to make it onto one of the most prestigious Model UN teams? What kind of preparation is involved? What does a competition day look like? We caught up with Head Delegate Zamaan Qureshi, SIS/SPA ’24; American University International Relations Society (AMIRS) CEO Lizzie Williamson, SIS ’23; Assistant Head Delegate Lauren Giddings, SPA/CAS ’24; and Assistant Head Delegate Merissa Joju, SIS ’25, to answer these questions and more.

Making the Team

In order to take part in AUMUN, students must first join its parent international relations organization, AMIRS. The AUMUN team is highly competitive, and each fall, the team hosts information sessions, followed by tryouts and interviews for new students hoping to join the team. On average, 150-250 students, including returning members, will try out. Due to the competitive nature of the process, only an average of 16 new members will join the team in the end. While previous Model UN experience isn’t a requirement to try out, strong public speaking and interpersonal skills, as well as leadership experience, are all necessary assets.

“We try and keep an equal number of freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors. We also look to see how we can grow as a team over coming years and how we can onboard folks who maybe haven't participated in Model UN before but have really good skills,” says Qureshi.

Practice Makes Perfect

Preparation for the competition season starts early for AUMUN, as the collegiate competition circuit begins in mid-fall and runs through the spring. Weekly meetings commence immediately after tryouts and typically last for two hours, giving the team time to discuss logistics for upcoming conferences and time to work on individual skills. Outside of weekly practice sessions, the AUMUN leadership team holds office hours for members who want extra help preparing.

“Meeting with leadership during their office hours and seeking out other people who have a lot of experience in particular types and styles of Model UN competitions is really important because you get more of that personalized individual experience,” says Joju.

A few weeks ahead of a conference, teams typically receive their specific competition assignments, such as what nation they will represent, what policy issues they will debate, and which members will compete in specialized areas. Depending on the conference, the run-up may include group practices during weekly sessions. For members who may be competing in a new area, these practice sessions are an important time to seek guidance from older members and set personal goals.

Competition Chaos

A typical competition season for AUMUN involves five or six conferences in the fall semester and seven conferences in the spring semester. The Head Delegate registers the team for all the conferences for the season in the fall and then, they receive allocations from the conference hosts for the specific countries, positions, and specialized competitions that will be assigned to members of the team. At that point, team leadership assigns team members to specific roles based on skillsets and experience.

“For General Assembly, you are assigned to a specific country most of the time, so you will represent Uganda, Kenya, Brazil, or whatever that nation might be,” explains Qureshi. “If you are in a crisis position or a specialized agency, you can represent an individual. So, in a cabinet, for example, you can represent the Secretary of State of the United States or a foreign minister in another country,”. 

During the season, the team travels to conferences throughout North America, with most being held from Thursdays through Sundays. Conference days are often long and filled with multiple sessions throughout the day. General Assembly debates are typically scheduled for two to three three-hour committee sessions per day, with 25 to 150 delegates in attendance at each session. The weekend typically culminates with an awards ceremony on Sunday, after which teams travel home and prepare to do it all again.

“You are getting up very early and going to bed very late if at all, and the entire weekend, you don't really have a break,” says Giddings. “You're speaking, you're debating, you're using your diplomatic skills, and it is truly just so chaotic on competition days.”

Adding it Up

AUMUN’s progress over the past ten years as they moved up from number 75 in 2013 to number one in 2022. These end-of-season rankings are determined by Best Delegate, an independent organization that utilizes a cumulative weighted score by combining a team’s total points from conferences with a conference’s size, the team’s size, the team’s current ranking, and other factors. Since these factors aren’t known ahead of time, achieving a high ranking involves choosing which conferences to attend and an excellent performance at those conferences.

“Nobody competing on the circuit knows exactly how the rankings are going to turn out,” explains Williamson. “Teams can really only count the point totals that they have acquired and hope that their expectations of how conferences are going to be weighted and their decisions for which conferences they are going to attend are going to contribute to their best position in order to get a good ranking,”

At the individual conferences, final points are awarded by a panel of judges from the host school and are based on a team's overall performance during the conference sessions. Points are also awarded for specific individual awards, such as the best delegate receiving five points, an outstanding delegate receiving four points, and an honorable delegate receiving three points.

Striving for Repeat Success

For AUMUN, achieving its top ranking has taken years of work and dedication and a shared goal of improving at every level. The team believes its success cannot be credited only to the current members, but to every member who came before them and put in the time and effort to build the program into what it is today. For the current team members, this hard-earned and long-awaited top ranking comes not only with accolades but also with a new set of challenges as they navigate a new season and work to manage expectations and pressure.

 “I would say there's a fair amount of imposter syndrome because we are clearly a very strong team, but we struggle to feel that we deserve the success,” says Giddings. “We’ve had so many conversations about how to navigate being number one and what that means for us going forward and competing. We try to transfer that pressure point into more of a motivating drive to continue that success.”

While points and rankings are one way of tracking a team’s success and progress, success can be found in many places. When preparing for a new season, AUMUN strives to look beyond the numbers and focus on encouraging members to set personal goals, such as improving skills or trying a new style of competition. Joju sums up their collective attitude and growth mindset: “Success for me and the team would be as much growth accumulated as possible by the end of the season as a team and on every member’s level. We want to just be extremely proud of that growth, no matter where the rankings end up.”

For students involved in Model UN programs, the lessons learned and the impact of their experiences go much deeper than just rankings and points. For Williamson, AUMUN has been more than just an extracurricular activity for the past four years—it has provided countless opportunities to expand her professional interest areas and develop critical real-world skills: “Model UN is about trying to find ways in which this activity we all choose to do can apply to our careers and our outside interests. It's so important to be able to take the skills and knowledge of public speaking and diplomacy away from this activity and out into the real world.”