For people who have taken public speaking classes, it’s easy to imagine the absolute terror one might feel when stepping up to a podium to speak in front of more than 400 peers.
Yet for senior Farah Ballout, 21, the feeling is exhilarating.
“It’s amazing,” said Ballout, political science major. “I feel like that’s what I’m good at doing.”
Ballout and nine other CSUN students were able to put their communication skills to the test when they attended a recent national Model United Nations conference in Washington, D.C., where the team won the honor of “Outstanding Delegation Award.”
This award is just the latest in a long line of accolades for the CSUN Model United Nations team, which has been led by Dr. Peter Kappas for the last nine years. For Kappas, this year’s team kept the high standard of excellence he has come to expect from his delegates.
“CSUN has a reputation for being very professional at these conferences and for being very, very prepared on the issues that are being simulated,” Kappas said. “These conferences end up being an exercise in leadership skills within a committee, and they showed the best leadership skills because they were both prepared and highly motivated to keep the tradition of excellence continuing.”
Kappas CSUN’s model UN team calls one of the best in the world and with their long list of accomplishments, it would be hard to argue his point.
Model United Nations is a political science course that also boosts club status. Kappas said that while there are 26 students in the class, only 10 students were able to attend the Washington, D.C. conference.
The course gives students the chance to participate in simulations similar to those of the real-world United Nations. The students spend their time researching and formulating positions on various global issues that exist today, such as human rights, economics, and sustainable development.
Students who have taken the course before are welcome to come back. Generally, the veterans will instruct newer students on United Nations procedures and help them with the public speaking skills.
Ballout, who is one of the veterans and head delegates, has taken the course twice before.
“I’m telling you, once you start, you just want to keep coming back,” Ballout said. “If I wasn’t graduating, I would totally come back again.”
All of this preparation leads to a conference for some, where the team represents a country in a mock United Nations conference along with other schools from around the U.S. At this year’s conference, the team represented the country of Senegal, and had to thoroughly know where its representatives stood on a number of issues.
Ballout said the students spent three stressful but satisfying days going to committee briefing meetings, making speeches and staying up until all hours making preparations.
“We’re up until 3 a.m., working on these resolutions, trying to get them done for the next day at conference,” Ballout said. “So most of the time, we’re running on no sleep.”
Ryan Storey and Eric Suazo are also Head Delegeates in the class. Suazo, 25, credits the team’s success to Dr. Kappas’ demand for perfection.
“Dr. Kappas expects the best work, and expects us to be more informed than any other school would be,” said Suazo, political science and geography double major.
Suazo, a senior, said the award is not determined by the strength or size of the country one represents. He said he believes the team won the award because they managed to establish leadership roles by showing authoritative language speeches and winning people over when interacting with them.
Ballout said the team’s accomplishment was due to their communication skills and preparation.
“I feel like we have a team that really works well together,” Ballout said. “We know what our positions are, we have great research and Dr. Kappas prepares us really well.”
She added that the class has been life-changing for her, as she now has a goal of working as a lawyer for the United Nations.
“It sharpened my skills overall,” Ballout said. “I feel like I can write a paper better, I can read better, my communications skills are beyond what I expected they would be, and it’s a great way to network and meet successful people. So it’s an amazing opportunity, and anybody who has that opportunity should take it.”