By Amy Matzke-Fawcett

The annual Model UN conference at ODU is normally an ambitious project ­- the student-run Old Dominion University chapter hosts around 1,000 students from various high schools for three days, setting up scenarios in a simulation of the UN General Assembly where they act as ambassadors, debating policy, writing briefs and reacting to scenarios.

This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions on large gatherings for safety, it was all of those things, except online.

2021 marked the 44th year of the Model UN conference (ODUMUNC) at the University, and the group's board said they knew they couldn't let it pass by despite the logistical challenges of wrangling hundreds of students online.

"Before, it was in-person and it was easy to go to the hotel and check in, make sure the committee rooms were ready, etc.," said Ana Camacho, under-secretary general of staff and a sophomore majoring in philosophy and legal studies. "It was difficult to plan and we wondered 'how are we going to host 500 students online?' and should we even do it? But due to everybody's ability to stand up and get it done, it was essentially the same."

Sophia Porter, student activities and public relations coordinator and a sophomore international studies major, agreed.

"Overall, I found this conference to be very rewarding for the team to pull it off for the first time online," Porter said. "For us to do this, for the first time ever, showed we're prepared to take on any task."

Although the conference is geared at high school students, it helped new Monarchs and staff to feel welcome at a time of social distancing and uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said Brandon Fischer, a freshman civil engineering major and MUN society member.

"I joined in the thick of it, and I can say it was insane to see the amount of adaptability to make sure this conference was really good," Fischer said. "Coming in as a freshman at ODU, it felt like I was involved in something big, and felt awesome being a part of that when there's so much uncertainty."

Along with the normal conference offerings, new committees were formed which allowed participants to debate specialized subjects and write briefs, such as Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). These skills allow students to develop cultural awareness, gain international perspective and hone professional skills.

"The team had really decided failure was not an option," said Rebecca Beach, ODU Model UN president, and a senior getting ready to graduate with a BA in world languages and cultures.

The Model UN at ODU is open to any undergraduate in good standing, regardless of major. Visit their website for more information.

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