As a result of the School of Diplomacy's unique relationships with the United Nations, students can take advantage of a variety of benefits that provide access to and engagement with the UN community. During the spring 2017 semester, a new educational innovation was added to the collection: a UN Field Seminar class for undergraduate and graduate students. Led by Secretary of the United Nations Department of Public Information/Non-Governmental Organizations (UN DPI/NGO) Executive Committee and Assistant Professor Rev. Brian K. Muzás, the course is structured around Thursday briefings hosted by the United Nations Department of Public Information-Nongovernmental Organizations. These briefings provide a forum for civil society organizations to organize and interact on a variety of topics. Representatives from over 1,300 NGOs gather at these meetings to discuss strategies to combat world diseases such as HIV/AIDS, hear lectures from UNDPI officials, and even to plan annual conferences.
The official course description notes that students, "supplement their academic appreciation of UN NGOs, explore the issues before these organizations, discover how issues are identified, and learn how issues are dealt with in a multicultural, multi-sectoral environment." Students gather each week after the briefings to discuss and analyze what other NGOs have contributed, and are also expected to evaluate their experience individually through weekly journals. Finally, all will complete a capstone project by the end of the semester, reflecting their learning through a variety of viewpoints on a specific international relations topic.
Dual M.A./M.B.A candidate Michael Hamilton expressed enthusiasm for the opportunity to "…experience and engage with the UN first-hand as opposed to learning about it in a classroom." Noting that he chose the course due to a desire for increased experience with the UN, Michael finds that the primary advantage of participating in this class is the "experiential aspect" of attending the UNDPI briefings. In his eyes, this transparent communication of information between the institution of the UN and civil society breaks down the black box perception of the UN and creates a sense of accessibility. At its most foundational level, Michael feels that the course is providing him with knowledge that he could not obtain by spending his Thursdays in a campus classroom.
Rev. Muzás encourages students to maximize their experiential learning through networking among the UNDPI professionals in attendance during briefings/class sessions. When discussing this concept with his class, he spoke of the many connections he has made by simply attending the briefings, such as a time when he sat next to the NGO/DPI legal counsel. It turned out that the man was also the head of an NGO that was planning to host an event to introduce young professionals to the various NGOs that interact with UNDPI on a consistent basis, and Rev. Muzás was able to pass this opportunity on to his students. This type of interaction illustrates the open opportunity for students to, "get to know and be known in UN circles," as a result of their participation in the seminar.
Morgan McMichen, another graduate student, chose to participate in the class to expand her knowledge of UN procedures, gain skills to effectively network, and enrich her understanding of the topics being resolved through organizational multilateralism. Morgan also enjoys the opportunity to interact with her peers from Felician University on a regular basis. Students of both universities meet on both campuses, as well as at the UN, to review briefings they mutually attend. This collaboration culminates in a multi-media advocacy presentation created the students that will examine the refugee crisis and migrant movement through a variety of lenses including government and law, media and culture, family, education, and business. The exhibition of this project will occur in late April, serving as the final component of this unique academic field experience.
Beyond this course's reinforcement of the School of Diplomacy – UN community relationship, it is an innovative step in providing students with access to the colossus of policy that has defined a substantial amount of international relations since the UN's establishment in the fall of 1945. Such an experience provides undergraduate and graduate students the chance for hands-on application of classroom concepts in the living laboratory that is the United Nations.
Categories: Nation and World