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Academics & Research

Global Smarts Celebrates 10 Years

A program that connects Saint Joseph’s student mentors with Philadelphia middle schoolers competing in Model United Nations has grown over the past decade to include nearly 200 sixth through eighth graders.

Photo of flags from around the world

Written by: Alex Hargrave ’20

Spring 2024

Total reading time: 3 minutes

When the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia kicked off its Jr. Model United Nations Conference more than a decade ago, it was clear to the program manager at the time that participants from under-resourced schools needed more support.

Dana Devon, the Council’s head of programming at the time and a former adjunct at Saint Joseph’s, approached Political Science Professor Susan Liebell, PhD, with the idea to pair Hawks with middle school students to help them prepare for the Model UN conference.

Having little experience with Model UN outside of her own children’s participation, Liebell says she decided to first send three students to work with eighth graders around the city. 

“I knew the kind of opportunities it brings in terms of research skills, oral presentation skills, collaboration and the practice of pretending you’re a person making policy, and it intrigued me,” Liebell says. 

Very quickly, the eighth graders that Saint Joseph’s students mentored through the process started to win awards and compete with public and private schools that had more resources.

“This model of equality of resources as opposed to equality of opportunity and access was a core social justice piece,” Liebell says. “It was a joy to be part of a program that really moved that theory to eighth graders in the Philadelphia area.”

From three undergraduates, the program has grown to include dozens of University students and young Model UN participants in sixth through eighth grades. This school year, Global Smarts will serve 190 students from 10 schools in the Greater Philadelphia area. 

“I’m trying to show them that they themselves are peace builders in the same way the United Nations is a peace builder.” - Lisa Baglione, PhD, professor of political science

Mentors meet weekly with middle school students to prepare for the annual Model UN Conference in May. Groups work on critical thinking skills, public speaking, drafting policy resolutions and researching all aspects of a country, from its economy and government to its culture and history. 

Kasey Trapp, BA ’17, was a mentor in 2015 and later worked for the World Affairs Council’s education department for a few years. As an international relations major, the mentorship was her first time working with kids and she says it sparked her interest in a career in education.

“There’s a straight line you could draw from my time at Global Smarts to the World Affairs Council,” she says. “I loved working with the kids. It helped me realize I could combine my interests — I could continue to pursue a career on the international relations side of things and find my way in how I can work in education without being a traditional teacher.”

Lisa Baglione, PhD, professor of political science, was chair of the political science department when Liebell brought the program to Saint Joseph’s. Three years ago, she took over the program and now serves as its faculty adviser. She says she has tried to instill in her students through teaching about the United Nations that peace is more than an absence of war.

“It’s building the capacity of human beings,” Baglione says. “I’m trying to show them that they themselves are peace builders in the same way the United Nations is a peace builder.”

Mackency Moreno, BA ’26, is currently a Global Smarts mentor working with the Hope Partnership for Education in North Philadelphia. She says she got involved as an international relations major and a service scholar for the service aspect of the program, but has so far learned new skills in addition to coaching middle school students.

“We had to learn parliamentary procedure, public speaking and how to teach different concepts,” Moreno says. “The schools we work with, even though they might be underfunded, the kids want to learn.”

Global Smarts is a service-learning and internship opportunity in the political science department, though Baglione says she hopes to cultivate mentors from all disciplines.

“There’s always a market for more mentors,” she says.