By Mike LaBella
---- — They set aside their voltmeters, hung up their stethoscopes, dropped their chef’s knives and put away their wrenches to tackle some of the biggest problems facing mankind.
For a group of students at Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High, it was time to find solutions to world issues, the kind that are regularly talked about at the United Nations.
After three days of discussion, negotiation and debate, Whittier’s team walked away from a Model U.N. competition with a Best Delegate award, two People’s Choice awards and two honorable mentions.
The 18-member team had spent much of the school year honing its debating skills and knowledge of world issues and entered the competition with high hopes. For the past three years, Whittier had won the “Best Delegation” award, but missed out this year to Haverhill High School’s Model U.N. team. The Model UN Club, which is open to students in all grades, meets weekly but most of the students who competed at the competition at UMass Lowell are seniors who are in a United Nations senior elective class.
“The competition was tough this year,” said Abigail Gilmore of Haverhill, a Whittier culinary arts senior.
The annual competition, hosted by UMass Lowell, was held last month and featured about 120 delegates in total from six high schools: Whittier Regional, Haverhill High, Lowell High, North Andover High, Reading Memorial High and Timberlane Regional.
Students played the roles of diplomats and officials representing various countries. They formed seven committees to discuss current topics of international concern to the United Nations, including child trafficking and the promotion of global trade.
Jana Brown, a Whittier history teacher and UN co-advisor, said her students all worked hard and represented themselves well.
“I love seeing our students so engaged in the discussion of current world issues,” she said.
Whittier senior Amber Rogers joined her school’s Model United Nations Club just this year, but wished she’d joined earlier.
“It made me come out of my shell and get better at public speaking,” said Rogers, who is studying health occupations.
It was her first competition and when it began, she was nervous and afraid to speak.
“I felt like I didn’t prepare enough, but then after the first time I spoke, I realized I had done more research than others and that gave me confidence and I continued to talk, and I won a medal,” she said.
Senior Kyle Stuart of Haverhill won a Best Individual Delegate award for his skills representing Saudi Arabia on environmental issues such as threatened oceans, rare earth mineral extractions and a fish crisis.
“I prepared my arguments for three days and felt they were strong,” Stuart said. “I enjoy the speaking aspect of debating.”
Stuart, an electronics/robotics student, was named Best Delegate by the chairperson of his committee, a UMass student majoring in international relations.
“Everyone on his committee knew he was going to win,” said Gilmore. “He talked a lot and kept bringing up different points and they were always strong.”
Gilmore and Rogers both received Honorable Mentions while seniors Eric Pomer (electronics/robotics) of Groveland, Matthew Ganias (automotive technology) of Haverhill and Stuart won People’s Choice awards, bestowed by their peers on each committee.
It was Gilmore’s seventh high school debate and her first time on the aggressive U.N. Security Council. She represented South Africa and debated Israeli-Palestinian conflicts and Iran’s nuclear proliferation.
“I like being able to argue without getting angry at people,” Gilmore said.
To prepare, she had to memorize the details of nine Security Council resolutions, each one between 10 and 15 pages. They detailed the future of nuclear proliferation and peace talks that had failed.
“We had to figure out what they did and come up with our own solutions and how they would work,” Gilmore said.
In her three years of competing, Gilmore has taken second place twice as a delegate.
“I learned how to get my point across,” she said. “Representing Iran for nuclear disarmament was a challenge. I had to do a lot of research. You have to go into a debate with a main idea and a plan you want everyone else to get on board with. If you do that, then you’ve won.”
Rogers was one of 20 students on the Economic and Social Council. She represented Egypt and argued for more federal aid to combat child mortality rates.
“I was passionate about it because my country had already passed the millennium goal of reducing childhood mortality by two thirds,” Rogers said. “But the rate is actually going up in all of Africa. I was arguing to pass a plan to find short-term ways to accomplish more such as water purification, installing mosquito nets and having medical clinics to educate residents on prenatal care.”
Not bad for a first debate, she thought. But as she looked around the UMass ballroom, there were several students she wanted to emulate.
“You could tell the students who had been doing this since their freshman year by the way they spoke,” Rogers said. “They were experienced and weren’t nervous. The girl who won best delegate on my council had been competing since her freshman year and she went to nationals for three years. She just sounded so intelligent.”
Whittier’s Model UN team co-advisor Scott Robertson, a CAD instructor, said the team is preparing to compete again in May at Northeastern University.
Whittier offers a U.N. class to seniors and also has a debate team which meets after school and is open to all interested students.