Model students, model states
by Micheal Baladez
Betsy Smith, Ph.D., wants her class to be political.
As the Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science at St. Mary’s University, Smith wants to give her students a chance to learn how political bodies operate — from large-scale persuasive presentations to teams filled with different ideologies working toward a common goal.
To nurture these lessons in her students, Smith spearheads a course simulating the Organization of American States (OAS), an international organization founded in 1948 to build cooperation among its member states, all of which are in the Americas.
The simulation happens in her fall course called Model Organization of American States (MOAS), which prepares students for intercollegiate competition in the annual Eugene Scassa Mock Organization of American States.
Although politics may be associated with harshness, the study of politics through the program is inclusive and focuses on building skills beneficial to students of any major, she said.
“What I appreciate about the model organization is that it’s intended to be collegial for our students,” Smith said. “It’s a simulation, but it’s a lot of fun.”
Being the oldest regional organization in the Americas, the OAS deals with a variety of issues, such as drug trafficking, the state of a member nation’s democracy and information sharing between states. Smith ensures her class is a one-to-one simulation of the events that occur during actual organizational proceedings.
In Smith’s course, every student is assigned a member country. Each team must understand and assimilate the behavior of their nation’s government and all the complexities that come with their policymaking.
The course gives students the ability to plan, promote and propose different solutions to their simulated nation’s problems while also fostering professional presentation skills. According to Smith, some of the most significant skills students learn are taking criticism, debating, public speaking, critical analysis, self-confidence and persuasion.
A key aspect of MOAS is the annual competition at which St. Mary’s students pit their wits against other universities, testing their knowledge, perseverance and charisma.
Andrea Ortiz, junior
“The competition is three long days. One of them is a 12-hour day that feels like 18. You’re on your feet a lot. You’re so tired, but it’s so rewarding during that ending award ceremony.”
Andrea Ortiz, a junior studying International and Global Studies, cited endurance as one of the main factors in helping her during the competition.
“The competition is three long days,” Ortiz said. “One of them is a 12-hour day that feels like 18. You’re on your feet a lot. You’re so tired, but it’s so rewarding during that ending award ceremony.”
To prepare for the competition, students work on a 30-page position paper on the historical and contemporary events of the nation they represent.
Each report carries the heart of a team’s argument while competing. It also serves as a summary for other attending teams to see whether their nation will be an ally in the competition.
The hard work done by each team culminates in a high-stakes scenario where they must defend their research.
Matthew Holland, a junior studying Political Science, said learning and practicing skills, such as public speaking and debate, are critical to defending your presentation to a room full of people.
“It’s intensive,” Holland said. “You’re learning about a country in South America that maybe doesn’t have a lot of English publications or maybe is unique in how they run their government. It can be tricky to get your head around some different ideologies because there are a lot of unknowns.”
Along with other awards, a team from Smith’s class won first place overall at the Eugene Scassa competition at Baylor University in Fall 2022. The students, however, said the class was never about winning trophies.
Matthew Holland, junior
““It’s intensive. You’re learning about a country in South America that maybe doesn’t have a lot of English publications or maybe is unique in how they run their government. It can be tricky to get your head around some different ideologies because there are a lot of unknowns.”
“Professor Smith promoted us to be the best we could,” Holland said. “That’s what she was worried about. She didn’t focus on winning awards, but just improving our skills.”
Smith, who is also the Associate Dean of Student Matters, hopes to expand the MOAS class beyond the fall semester so the greater St. Mary’s student body can benefit from the skills nurtured through the course.
Although it may seem like an intensive course, Smith encourages students outside of Political Science and International and Global Studies to take a chance.
Ortiz said the class helped her become stronger in certain areas.
“I gained a lot of confidence,” Ortiz said. “Plus, the course helps you feel comfortable with yourself and your public speaking.”