Meeting world leaders, debating some of today’s most pressing international topics and traveling around the country—these are just some of the benefits of joining George Washington’s International Affairs Society (IAS), the largest non-partisan undergraduate student organization on campus.
The mission of IAS—currently the third largest George Washington student organization with more than 1,000 registered members—is to increase global awareness and to provide a forum for open debate about international topics.
Senior Christopher Longman, IAS chairman, said most students are drawn to the student organization because of its nationally ranked Model United Nations team, currently listed as one of the top 10 collegiate teams in the country. But students also benefit from the organization’s extensive academic and social programming, which includes embassy visits and lectures with sitting ambassadors.
“IAS is an organization that I became very passionate about as a freshman, and it’s grown since I’ve been involved,” he said. “The programming is fantastic.”
Membership consists mostly of students from the Elliott School of International Affairs, and many are freshmen—Mr. Longman said more than 300 freshmen joined this year alone.
Freshmen perform very well on the organization’s Model UN team; Mr. Longman said that last year freshmen won more awards at conferences than upperclassmen won combined. The team attends up to 10 conferences a year, and competes against universities like Yale, Harvard and Georgetown.
Mr. Longman said George Washington’s team always performs well, consistently bringing home awards after each conference. Thirty-four members of the team recently participated in a Model UN conference at the University of Pennsylvania, where they earned nine awards, including two best delegate awards.
The team also won four awards at a conference at Columbia University and five awards at the Security Council Simulation at Yale University this year.
What sets George Washington’s team apart from others, said Mr. Longman, is its lack of tryouts. IAS will accept any student who is passionate about international affairs and willing to learn—and they do not have to have debate experience.
“We are not a cutthroat team in the sense that only the best of the best are on the team,” he said. “If we held tryouts, we may get the best debater, but we may not get the kid who is the most passionate about the Israel-Palestine conflict. We take passion over the great talent. That’s very unique, as all the other top teams have tryouts.”
To prepare new members of Model UN, IAS has organized a training program called Colonial Cadets, created in 2011 and now run by Model UN Coordinator Max Sanders. The program, a series of once-a-week night classes, provides students with formal debate skills and technique training. Mr. Longman said the techniques —where to sit in committee, when to leave the room to discuss informally with other delegates, which country delegates to align with—can be as important as knowing your topic.
“It’s as much public speaking and acting as it is substance,” he said. “You obviously need background on the topic, so we research like its homework. Students are often in Gelman looking up topics. But once you’re there, you don’t know what to expect or where the committee will lead. So it’s as much as knowing material as it is acting and thinking on your feet to respond.”
“There’s strategy behind it,” he added. “You want to relay a position and point, but also to back up everything you say.”
The team’s biggest challenge is yet to come. In March, eight delegates will travel to Melbourne, Australia, for the World Model United Nations conference hosted by Harvard University. Mr. Longman said the George Washington team has high hopes for its performance.
“We have placed in the top 10 at that conference every time,” he said. “We are expecting to do the same thing this year.”
Although George Washington’s Model UN team is competitive, the experience is also an enjoyable one for its members.
“You compete, you have fun, you make friends from all over the country and world,” said Mr. Longman. “It’s both an academic and social experience.”
Academic and social opportunities also extend to all IAS members, through organized social outings and special visits with international leaders and think tanks.
Some of the past speakers IAS has hosted include the ambassadors of Libya, Iraq, Turkey and Afghanistan, as well as the former president of Spain. The group recently visited the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to meet with Asad M. Khan, the embassy’s deputy chief of mission who serves as second-in-line to the ambassador.
“These meetings allow us to speak to actual diplomats who negotiate treaties and prevent conflicts,” said Mr. Longman. “They give us candid opinions, points they may not be able to say publicly. A lot of students in IAS want to work as diplomats abroad and become foreign service officers, and the best way to learn is to meet with diplomats here, working on behalf of their own countries. We’ve had a lot of students make professional connections through these events.”
Students also have a chance to see their work published in “The Globe,” the only undergraduate academic journal at the university devoted to international affairs. Mr. Longman said this year’s winter and spring editions will be peer reviewed.
Even the student organization’s social outings have an international link—donations from the group’s winter and spring galas go to international charities. IAS members also have a chance to bond at two annual retreats in the Shenandoah Valley.
Local outreach is a focus of IAS. For nearly 20 years, the student organization has hosted Model UN conferences on campus for middle and high school students.
Last year, more than 350 middle school students came to Foggy Bottom to participate in the Greater Washington Conference on International Affairs, and more than 1,000 high school students from around the world competed in last spring’s four-day Washington Area Model United Nations Conference (WAMUNC). Both conferences are hosted and run by IAS members.
“It’s great that we are right here in D.C., so it attracts a lot of individuals,” said Mr. Longman. “Hopefully, when the participants are college age they will still compete in Model UN, and hopefully they will come GW to participate.”
IAS also runs a Model UN training program known as GWUPIE—George Washington's Program for International Education—for students at the School Without Walls. Once a week at 8 a.m., GWUPIE mentors meet with students in the school’s new Model UN program. Mr. Longman said IAS is looking to expand their mentorship to other D.C. public schools as well.
Model UN was a big part of Mr. Longman’s decision to attend George Washington. He went to WAMUNC while as a high school student in Long Island, and his experience was so positive he decided to continue participating at GW.
“I came to IAS because I heard about the Model UN team, but I stayed in IAS for everything else,” he said. “I stayed because of the academic and social programming, I stayed because I could be published in ‘The Globe’ and on a random Tuesday night I could see the ambassador of Afghanistan speak.”
Although he graduates in May, Mr. Longman has no plans to leave the District anytime soon. He wants to be near his sister, Laura Longman, who is finishing up her first fall semester as a political science student at GW. He also hopes to get a job in the international security field for a year and then enroll in either graduate school or law school at George Washington.
“I love this city, its international feel and the debate that occurs here,” he said.