Univeristy Students Participate in United Nations Academic Impact Discussion Panel

The Political Science and Sociology Department sponsored a day trip to a United Nations Conference in New York City on Monday, November 18. Students and faculty were able to participate in a discussion with other universities for the third anniversary of the United Nations Academic Impact, an organization dedicated towards making a difference in education throughout the world.

The United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) is dedicated to sharing a culture of intellectual social responsibility and provides a forum for young academics to come together to discuss their ideas and share personal experiences. The Conference was held in celebration of UNAI efforts over the past three years and promoting their future successes. Representing the University on the panel was Dr. Rekha Datta, an associate professor of political science and Daniel Roman, a junior political science major.

In an effort to introduce the various individuals who have been working to make a difference through the youth forum, Datta, along with several other scholars, discussed how far the UNAI has come since its creation in November of 2010. Each scholar, in their professional capacities, discussed the organizations that they are involved in and how they are directly related to the organization.

Datta said, “Today, students and representatives from Monmouth University had the unique honor and privilege of sitting in the historic ECOSOC chambers of the UN, a room where ambassadors and ministers from around the world gather to make major decisions about the social and economic development challenges facing the world.”

She continued, “As we listened to a panel discussion and conversation among more than 200 high school and college students passionately expressing their commitment to making a difference, my heart filled with joy and hope.”

After the introductory remarks, the panel transitioned to students from different academic institutions including Monmouth University, Leigh University, East Stroudsburg South High School, St. Joe’s High School, and an organization entitled CityKids which aims to empower young people (13-19 years old) through arts and education. 

Roman introduced similar programs that the University participates in to empower the youth through education. He explained, “A UNAI partner, Monmouth University in New Jersey, through its Institute for Global Understanding and the Department of Political Science & Sociology, has created a unique and ground-breaking mentorship program between the University students and students attending Asbury Park High School.”

Project BAM, a mentoring partnership between Big Brothers Big Sisters is reflective of UNAI principle number 3 which puts an emphasis on the importance of education internationally. Roman explained throughout his speech that every year since the program was developed University students volunteer to serve as mentors and are matched by Big Brothers Big Sisters with 15 students from Asbury Park High School.

He said, “The mentors offer the high school students opportunities to listen, engage, and empower them toward achieving their dreams of higher education and career goals. Through a friendly and collegial partnership, the high school students are exposed to the offerings that Monmouth University, as a neighbor institution, could potentially provide them.”

Roman continued, “Soon after the mentorship program was created, the Asbury Park High School students, after participating in a debate workshop as part of the program, became enthusiastic about debate and wanted to create a debate team of their own at the high school.”

With the aid of the University debate coach Dr. Joseph Patten, the Debate Hawks have worked directly with the Asbury Bishops debate team by coaching them to compete in policy debate. Roman explained, “Their optimism and excitement for policy debate, amazes me. No matter what happens in a round, they always keep a smile on their face because they know they will be better people, just by being there. The Debate Bishops surprise us every year, with their dedication and commitment to better themselves.”

Roman, like many of the other youth panelists, discussed how such programs work to provide better futures for all those who participate. He explained that through the debate program, “The greatest achievement however, is the success our debaters achieve after they leave APHS. Last year, every graduating senior moved on to college, or the military. We see the debate team as a medium in which we can better the future of all those who compete.”

Datta said, “The Monmouth University group, led by panelist Daniel Roman, and ably assisted by his other debate team members attending, representative for Project BAM, Gabriel Gunter, and participant in Project BAM from Asbury Park High School and now MU student, Miguel Nunez, did us proud. Daniel’s presentation received a rousing ovation, as did the questions and comments from the MU contingent.”

Datta continued, “To me, as an educator, this is what student engagement and a relevant college experience is all about – learning about your subject matter, but also taking that extra step beyond the classroom, and demonstrate your commitment to making a real difference in society, in the lives of others. I want to congratulate our students, express my thanks to them and the MU community, Asbury Park high school, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Monmouth & Middlesex counties, and the outside funding agencies who have supported us through the years to make these mentorship programs possible.”

Roman said, “I am extremely humbled to be a part of the forum. I never saw myself speaking in front of so many people.” Although he was proud of his own accomplishments, he explained how his favorite part of the forum was the Question and Answer session with audience members and online participants who asked their questions via social media.

The questions led to a discussion on gender inequality in which members of the panel including Noorjahan Akbar, co-founder of Young Women for Change and the 2013 Glamour Magazine College Woman of the Year, conversed about the obstacles that some women must overcome in order to receive a proper education.

Dylan Maynard, a senior history major, said, “I thought that the diversity shown on the panel was extremely important especially the panel on the empowerment of women worldwide. It is extremely important in breaking down gender stereotypes and barriers.”

The Conference moved forward to a special theatrical trailer presentation of director/producer Maggie Betts’ “The Carrier;” a documentary that looked at the AIDS epidemic in Africa and how the disease transfers from mother to baby during childbirth.

The trailer was followed by an interview between Rachel Zanders, of Chestnut Hill College, and Betts in which they discussed the main character’s journey as she was tricked into a polygamist marriage in an African tribe. Through her marriage she has contracted to AIDS virus, from her husband and tried to prevent passing the virus onto a child. However she became pregnant, which the director explained was the worst thing that had ever happened to her, even more so than contracting the virus because she feared passing it onto her baby.

Liz Anderson, a senior political science major, said, “It was beneficial to see how educational outreach impacts not only on the local level with programs like the Asbury Park Debate Team and CityKids, but also on a global scale with the theatrical trailer of ‘The Carrier.’”

Gabrielle Gunter, a senior sociology major, said, “I find it important that the University has involvement with UN programs that allow us to gain insight from different Universities and schools in working with UNAI Initiatives.”

Roman concluded, “The UN, and programs such as these enable students and the youth like us to challenge ourselves to cross new frontiers of change. I, on behalf of everyone at Monmouth University, thank the UNAI for serving as that conduit for change and for providing us the inspiration and the support.”

PHOTO COURTESY of Dylan Maynard