The Model of civic engagement, civility and success

They are working to end HIV in Africa. One is in India with the U.S. State Department. And dozens of others are back in the states tackling weighty cases with highly regarded law firms, providing legal services to low-income Americans or, from elected office, developing and debating the laws and policies that shape and protect our communities.

Their career paths are diverse and dynamic, strung around the globe. But there is one point of origin each of these University of Wisconsin Oshkosh alumni enthusiastically cites as a motivational experience, sparking life-long civic engagement: Model United Nations.

An award-winning history

“From my point of view, that’s the name of the game,” said Kenneth Grieb, International Studies director at UW Oshkosh. “Model UN gives me a chance to work with people over several years and see them develop. That is something that makes them reach and develop new skills, and that’s very satisfying.”

Grieb, or “Dr. G.” as he is reverently referred to by many Model UN alumni, has been advising the University student group since 1966. He takes the role, the group’s competitive success, very seriously. And so do the students.

For 28 years in a row, UW Oshkosh’s Model UN teams have won awards in New York. The intense, weeklong, annual National Model United Nations competition—the world’s largest—pits college and university student squads from around the world against one another in contests of international diplomacy, policy, economic and governance acumen.

They write position papers. They face off and debate world issues and events. The 2012 National Model UN included 5,000 student competitors from more than 300 universities in 44 countries on six continents. Their arena is the actual United Nations—the New York City nerve center where diplomats, prime ministers and presidents tackle global affairs.

UWO’s program has a national reputation as one of the best. But there’s more to it than earning recognition and picking up trophies. Dr. G. considers his students’ stunning career experiences and accomplishments as a result of the Model UN immersion and attainment of a UW Oshkosh diploma the real benchmark of the program’s excellence.

“It’s great to see what all these people are doing,” he said.

Model UN alumni reflections

Brian Rettmann ’97

What a mark Brian Rettmann has made in Africa. After graduating from UWO, Rettmann moved to Washington, D.C. for an internship at the Helicopter Association International. Next, he joined his new wife, Marialyce Mutchler ’95 (also a UW Oshkosh Model UN alum), in Botswana, where he worked on a regional trade project under the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Rettmann advanced to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, setting up voluntary counseling and testing centers in the initial battle to combat HIV. That led to a number of roles in the ongoing fight against HIV’s spread in Africa, including co-development of Guyana’s “Me to You: Reach One, Save One” campaign.

In 2011, he accepted his current position as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief coordinator at the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania, where he oversees an annual budget of about $350 million. Rettmann and Mutchler are both UW Oshkosh Outstanding Young Alumni Award recipients.

“Though his style has lightened for the new generation of students, (Dr. Grieb) took a coaching style from Vince Lombardi (and I do not use that name lightly!) in always driving for success. We as a team were always inspired, if nothing else, by his mere energy level. He has a beautiful, strategic mind and truly knows how to drive people to get success out of them. There was a culture within the team that anything less than success was not acceptable. Success was the tradition. That culture led to some very healthy competition, which inspired people to be better than they normally would be.”

Jill (Watry) Kastner ’97

Jill Kastner went on to attend law school at the University of California, Los Angeles and became an attorney with a large international law firm in the Silicon Valley, regularly litigating cases involving corporations, such as Intel, Fujitsu, Arctic Cat and U.S. Bank. A mother of two children, she opted to move back to her home state and began working for Legal Action of Wisconsin. There, she now provides free legal services to the working poor. She also serves as the past president of the Wisconsin State Bar Young Lawyers Division and as a member of the State Bar Board of Governors.

“Model UN taught me that a small-town girl can do anything, if she’s willing to work for it.  When I first joined as a freshman, I was wowed by the knowledge and skill level of the experienced team members. I was also very intimidated by Dr. Grieb, who was not afraid to give me the honest assessment that my performance was worse than ‘undigested barf.’ I stuck with it and gained the knowledge and skills that helped me graduate law school in the top 10 percent of my class and win my cases in the court room … Today, people shy away from honest criticism and seem to strive for only ‘good enough.’ Model UN gave me a great advantage because it taught me to demand honest criticism, so that I can constantly improve and strive to be the best I can be.”

Margaret LaBorde ’07

After graduation and a three-month stint as a park ranger at Olympic National Park, Margaret LaBorde was a Peace Corps volunteer in El Salvador, focusing on environmental education and youth and community development. She worked with schools, municipal governments and non-governmental organizations, developing a tree nursery with middle and high school students, aiding reforestation, teaching social studies and helping English teachers strengthen their command of the language. Bilingual and serving a diverse patient population, she currently works for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, managing the Portage, Johnson Creek and Wisconsin Rapids clinics.

“I think people in general have a tendency to problem solve and approach challenges using our personal lens. Through Model UN, however, we learned to research and approach challenge and conflict based on someone else’s lens—in this case, a specific country’s cultural lens—because it’s the most effective and practical way to create sustainable change. This was instrumental in my work as a Peace Corps volunteer. Work in any developing country is difficult, but I found that the Model UN development approach is really what’s effective: focusing on development from the ground up; forging partnerships at the community level; capacity training; and resource development … Dr. Grieb takes such an interest in his students.

I remember my freshman year when he showed us a picture of students from over a decade before. Not only did he remember all of their names, but also he could tell us where they worked and how they had gotten there. His belief in his students and his desire to see them succeed is unparalleled.”

Tim Suess ’12

Tim Suess begins work with consulting firm Deloitte in its Milwaukee office as an audit assistant this January. He hopes to eventually work in the company’s New York City office and even have the opportunity to work through the firm with the United Nations.

“Dr. Grieb is a dying breed of academics that truly pushes students to their limits and imparts knowledge and understanding instead of curving exams and making a course short-term memorization. The work and skills that I have had to do and learn for Model United Nations are the largest reasons why I am successful. The College of Business (COB) focuses on technical skills needed to gain an entry level position; my MUN writing, speaking, researching and negotiating skills have essentially trained me for upper-echelon positions right out of school. Also, since we typically represent developing countries in Model UN, I have a thorough understanding of how they are evolving and how that impacts business. In short, I wish every COB student pursuing an international business minor/emphasis was required to be in Model UN.”

Marialyce Mutchler ’95

Marialyce Mutchler has worked in international development for the last 14 years. She has worked working in more than 15 different countries in Latin American and the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Eurasia and the Middle East. She has lived in Botswana, Guyana, South Africa and, currently, Tanzania. Her career has focused primarily on supporting small and medium size business development including farmers, agri-processors and tourism. She is currently the deputy chief of party (deputy director) for the U.S. Government foreign assistance project promoting food Security and agricultural development.

“The fundamentals I learned in Dr. Grieb’s courses and in Model UN enabled me to understand the operating environments, cultural and political influences of the countries where I work. Early in my career this gave me an advantage over my colleagues who did not have the same education background. However, it is the skills I learned in MUN that I practice every day. They have become part of how I do business, manage staff, work with local partners and approach problem solving in all aspects of my life. The critical thinking, research and writing skills enable me to approach both challenges and opportunities with strategies for success. The soft skills learned through team building, leadership, negotiation and consensus building are so incorporated into my life that when some asked how I learned to do them, I have to pause and remember — it was the hours spent with Dr. G as a professor and a coach.”

Carmen Simon ’04

Carmen Simons‘s career first took her to Chicago and then to New York City where she still lives.  Microfinance, which she learned about in MUN, was her first focus. That segued into economic development. Most recently, she organized a financial cooperative in Queens, and served as the CEO for its first year and a half of operations. That led to her current position managing a global corporate philanthropy data project where she collaborates with the United Nations Global Compact – a program she learned about at UW Oshkosh.  Now, she is in regular contact with the staff there.

“Model UN and Dr. Grieb changed my life and put me on a path of professional discovery.  Model UN taught me skills about how to be the best and most strategic worker I could possibly be… There is so much I learned and developed as Dr. Grieb’s student, it’s hard to sum it up, but I so often use the negotiating tactics in my professional life: Creating a stepped negotiating strategy, always getting the other party to lay their cards on the table first and knowing that the real work is always done outside the meeting, talking to people who arrive early and stay late. Not least of which, (Dr. Grieb) also taught us all about how to be flashy dressers.”

Rebecca Kijak ’09

After MUN, Rebecca Kijak spent a semester studying abroad. Her passion to see the world had grown tenfold after going to the United Nations headquarters in New York City as a student and seeing “the one place where it all comes together.”

I landed my first job out of college in Seattle working for Holland America cruise line in the corporate office as an assistant in Marine Hotel Operations… it was a fantastic experience!  I worked with and made friends with people from Indonesia, India, Holland, Slovenia, Germany, France, U.K., the Philippines, China and many other places. Now, looking back, being able to understand differences and get past them to see people is something that I learned at a young age. However, it was reinforced by participating in Model UN… I am now working for Mimic Technologies, a company that makes simulators for robotic surgery.  We are growing rapidly, and international business and relations is an increasing part of what we do. Again, Model UN — particularly going to New York and interacting with foreign students — helped to prepare me for interacting with surgeons from all over the world.”

Carolyn Kirchhoff ’08

After graduating from UW Oshkosh, Carolyn Kirchhoff moved out to Washington, DC where she secured an internship with a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). She learned of the internship opportunity through her experience in Model UN. She was hired, sight unseen, based on an alumnus’ recommendation. After interning for the summer, the company hired her full time. She provided administrative support for a contract focused on best practices in small and medium enterprise development. She also contributed to new business development for the company, on proposals worth up to $125 million. Carolyn eventually moved back to Wisconsin where she is working for the Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA) #1 in Pewaukee, WI. The agency provides services for 45 public K-12 school districts in Southeast Wisconsin. She works specifically on an initiative to transforming the educational system to be more responsive to all learners by personalizing learning.

“I came to UW Oshkosh as a valedictorian from high school, and actually chose the University because of the scholarship program they offer for students who are Wisconsin Academic Excellence Award recipients. I also entered university planning to major in secondary education in the social sciences. I did not join Model UN until my junior year, after returning from a study abroad program the spring semester of my sophomore year. I always say that joining Model UN is the single best decision I made in my entire undergraduate career. Model UN brought to me a level of rigor and challenge that was lacking for me previously in my university experience. I actually ended up staying in school for five years – partly because I switched my major so many times, but also because I wasn’t done learning everything I could from Model UN… Besides the connection — finding a job after graduation through the Model UN alumni network — the skills I learned through participating in the Model UN program helped me in my classes and prepared me for the working world. Researching, writing and speaking are three of the main skills that students in the Model UN program develop.”

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