By Peggy Spear
Media Relations Correspondent

A small but mighty Adams State Model United Nations team proved once again you don’t mess with the Grizzlies on the national stage.

The small four-woman team won Distinguished Delegation, the second-place award at last month’s annual international collegiate Model United Nations conference, the world’s largest and oldest ongoing university MUN.

“The event annually draws participants from more than 130 UN Member States to address current global issues,” says Political Science Professor Mari Centeno, Ph.D., the team’s passionate and self-described competitive advisor. “Even this year’s virtual event.”

ASU Model United Nations Team
Pictured, left to right, the entire Adams State Model United Nations team Lizz Serna, Aaliyah Garcia, Makayla Huffman, Ben Key, Zoe Serrano, Courtney Hocking, and Mari Centeno, Ph.D., team faculty advisor.

Of course, placing high and even winning MUN events is not new to Centeno’s teams, who she says have traveled to London, Rome, Barcelona and other European countries in past years — no mean feat for a small, Hispanic-Serving Institution from southern Colorado. What was different, however, was the small size of the team and the fact they were all women, a fact that thrilled team member Lizz Serna, a senior majoring in political science.

“It makes me proud!” she says. “Our team only had four members, but we held our ground against larger schools. Along with our different backgrounds, our team was composed of women, a group that is often missing from the international politics table. Being able to represent not only a Hispanic-Serving Institution, but women as well, is an honor.”

The team, made up of Serna, Zoe Serrano, Courtney Hocking and Makayla Huffman, was facing its first-ever conference and most of their competition had five times the number of delegates. “We had a small team, just four delegates, and we took second place overall,” Hocking says. “We beat them. This is a big deal and so is Adams State.” 

Centeno acknowledges she likes her teams to compete hard, but she says this team’s dedication was extraordinary. “They practiced over summer and winter breaks, and in the process, became close friends, all learning from each other,” she says. “I made them train every Wednesday and Sunday, but they asked if they could train more. They are all pretty special.”

Hocking, a junior, majoring in political science, says the win feels “incredible.”

She says it shows how powerful the connections they are able to make with professors at ASU. “Dr. Centeno knows us personally, she’s seen our progress over the years and can help us improve on individual levels,” Hocking says. “It’s the same with our small team, we become best friends and empower each other in ways I think are unique to smaller institutions.” 

The conference wasn’t a cake-walk by any means, and the young team members admitted they were nervous.

Going into this past MUN conference was a bit nerve-wracking, especially considering just how small our delegation was and how there were so many schools participating,” says Serrano, a junior double majoring in political science and history. “But we all found ourselves doing well within our committees during the conference, and when we found out we had received the Distinguished Delegation Award, it was a great feeling because we are a smaller school and we held our own very well with schools that had 15-plus students (on their teams).”

During the “off-season,” which is summer and fall, ASU’s MUN team and other of Centeno’s students put on an MUN conference for high schoolers, to ideally whet young students’ appetite for public speaking and international politics. After that, through grades and interest, Centeno picks the following year’s MUN team that will represent Adams State.

“Many of these students didn’t realize they had a talent for public speaking, especially as English may have been a second language to many of them,” Centeno says. “Once they realize they can do it, it’s incredible to watch.”

This year’s team spoke a lot about race relations, Black Lives Matter and Indigenous Rights. “They had to do a lot of research, and I made them train hard,” Centeno says laughingly. “But they asked for it.”

And it showed. At the conference, Hocking and Serrano each won an Outstanding Delegate in Committee.

Although none of the young team members have mapped out their future yet, it is reassuring that young, first-generation college students from Adams State, a small college from Colorado, will definitely have a strong voice in shaping the world in the years to come.