Katie Grandelli ’20 is an international studies major and a history and economics double-minor from Goldvein, Virginia.
The story of how I became the National Council on US-Arab Relations’ newest student programs coordinator is really the story of my four years within Hollins’ Model UN/Model Arab League program.
Model Arab League is the flagship youth leadership development program of the National Council on US-Arab Relations (NCUSAR). The program helps students learn about the politics and history of the Arab world, and the arts of diplomacy and public speech. It further prepares students to be knowledgeable, well-trained, and effective citizens as well as civic and public affairs leaders. The National Council hosts over a dozen conferences every academic year, and these conferences are overseen and organized by the student programs coordinator.
While Hollins continues to find success at large Model UN conferences (read about our success last November here), our program has consistently thrived at Model Arab League conferences. Since the real Arab League is only made up of 22 Arabic speaking nations, council rooms at MAL conferences are quite reflective of the Hollins dynamic—much more time and space for collaboration and cooperation. Students who experience smaller university environments with significant interaction with their peers and professors excel in Model Arab League.
My very first semester at Hollins found me sitting in Wednesday night’s Model UN/Model Arab League class, surrounded by fellow students with various degrees of model program experience. Even after three years of Model UN in high school, I knew I had still so much to learn. Hollins was hosting the Appalachia Regional Model Arab League (ARMAL) conference, and I spent the three days of my first collegiate conference as a permanent vice-chair for the Council on Palestinian Affairs, picking up the parliamentary procedure and learning to run a council as smoothly as I could.
The first half of my sophomore year found me in a very similar situation—Wednesday night Model UN/Model Arab League class, but now that the MUN/MAL club was functional again, there were club meetings to attend. ARMAL came around in the fall, and this time I was the chair for Palestinian Affairs. Our entire conference looked very different this year than years prior. We had moved to an innovative paperless system to cut down on the excessive printing that happens throughout the three days; Google Docs was (and continues to be) a friend of Model Arab League. Spring semester saw me as the second in command of the MUN/MAL club, where I planned meeting agendas, led debate preparation work for our spring conferences, and coordinated the mass of logistics it takes to put 12 Hollins delegates on the road. Even though I no longer needed it for credit, I continued to spend Wednesday night in the class, taking in any extra knowledge I could. I started learning how to anticipate the needs of the program and how to advocate for our success.
Junior year is when things got fun. Monday and Thursday nights were MUN/MAL club meetings; Wednesday continued my near-traditional presence in the Model UN/Model Arab League class. It was turning into something more than simply a learning opportunity for me; I was now there to provide data and support from club meetings for class members. I again served as Chair for Palestinian Affairs at ARMAL that fall and was much more involved in the planning for the entirety of the conference due to my role as co-president of the club. I also spearheaded the selection and training for the five other council chairs, spending more and more of my time poring over parliamentary procedure and learning how to teach it best to others.
Spring semester came, and I was off to London for what I thought was going to be a semester without Model UN/Model Arab League. I was wrong. I flew back to Washington, DC, for a jet-lagged and coffee-filled three and a half days to be part of Hollins’ delegation at the National University Model Arab League conference in early April. Three weeks later, I again left London for an eight-day trip to Saudi Arabia, made possible by both the National Council and the Saudi NGO, GatewayKSA. It was one of the most interesting and eye-opening weeks of my life, and I wrote about my time here. My time abroad in London and in Saudi Arabia gave me a truly international gaze and the great understanding that every single person I am interacting with brings something unique to the table.
In the fall of my senior year, I was not only president of the MUN/MAL club, I was also the secretary general of Hollins’ 2019 ARMAL. While staring down the beginning of my honors thesis and other academic requirements, my weeknights still looked like they had in years past. Monday, club meeting where we held practice debates. Wednesday, Model UN class. Thursday, another club meeting that was much more open ended; they usually turned into research and preparation meetings. ARMAL came and went in a flurry of Google Docs; we had hosted another successful conference yet again.
A week later, the then-current student programs coordinator asked if Hollins could send two chairs and a secretary general for the upcoming Capital Area Regional MAL conference. So two of the council chairs from ARMAL and I spent the next weekend at Georgetown University, again filled with coffee, staffing and driving a conference that was completely unknown to us. Those two days at CARMAL brought out our ability to adapt, overcome, and generally figure it out. Maria Jdid ’21 brought home the Outstanding Chair award, and much to my surprise, I was honored as the Best Secretary General of 2019 by NCUSAR. My hours in the Secretariat Offices at both ARMAL and CARMAL were spent sitting with the student programs coordinators, gaining a wider perspective on NCUSAR’s role in conference preparation and greater MAL outreach as a whole.
My last semester of Model UN/Model Arab League at Hollins was a doozy. Right when I was deep into the logistics and preparation work for our final two conferences of the year, conferences were cancelled across the board, and students who could leave campus were sent home. Coincidentally, some of the news regarding the unraveling of the school year due to COVID-19 broke on a Wednesday night, when I was sitting in Model UN class for what would be my last time.
Throughout my four years, I was constantly surrounded by inspiring leadership within our Model UN/Model Arab League program. Those who came before me laid the groundwork and were invaluable resources; those coming after me bring new ideas, dedication, and renewed enthusiasm for the program’s future. I know that the Hollins MUN/MAL program will reach points higher than I could have ever imagined.
What I learned from serving in various leadership positions in Model Arab League is that a program can only succeed if all members know that their voices are heard and that they are an important part of the success of the entire organization. Recalling my lessons learned in Saudi Arabia, I strove to make our MUN/MAL program as accessible to all interested students as possible. Hollins is one of the only institutions at the national Model Arab League level that receives no direct funding (unlike the majority of schools we debate against), so I made sure that our team had as much access and help as possible to grant opportunities to fund our conference expenses. This drive for even more of an inclusive program is something that I will carry with me into my new position and into this new era of online conferencing.
And now I am continuing within the organization that gave me so many opportunities during my undergraduate studies. As the student programs coordinator for NCUSAR, I will facilitate and act as the main point of contact regarding the entirety of the Model Arab League program, as well as working within the Council’s larger initiatives. I hope to use this opportunity to build Model Arab League into even more of an accessible learning and leadership opportunity for interested students all across the nation as well as at international universities.
My conference friends who graduated in the years before me usually saw the end of their undergraduate studies as their adjournment from Model Arab League. But much to my excitement, it’s not a motion to adjourn for me just yet.
Photo Credit: Carly Lewis Photography