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Real-World Learning

Political Science Student Builds Peace at Home and Abroad

Nick Athanasopoulos ’25 interned with the U.S. Mission to the United Nations this past summer after helping Philadelphia middle schoolers craft their delegate skills for Jr. Model UN with the Global Smarts program.

A group of interns posed together at the UN

Written by: Alex Hargrave ’20

Published: October 26, 2023

Total reading time: 4 minutes

In early October, the United Nations Security Council voted to send a multinational security support force to Haiti as it struggles with rampant gang violence and instability.

Nick Athanasopoulos ’25, a political science major at Saint Joseph’s University, was well versed in the crisis: Over the summer, he had a front row seat for the negotiations during his internship with the U.S. Mission to the United Nations through the Department of State.

The experience brought concepts learned in the classroom on Hawk Hill to life on the floor of the UN in New York City — concepts like negative peace, or the absence of violence or fear of violence. To create the conditions for peace in Haiti, Athanasopoulos believes empowering other members of society, including women and children, is essential.

“You saw a lot of that emphasized in the UN in real time,” he says. “Talking about the crisis in Haiti, it's not a matter of just getting the gangs to stop fighting. It's getting the gangs to stop fighting, and educating women and children so they can have a higher standing in a future Haitian government, because the Haitian government right now it's basically on the verge of collapse.”

Image Nick Athanasopoulos ’25 seated behind Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis
Nick Athanasopoulos ’25 (left) seated behind U.N. Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis

Athanasopoulos’ first experience with the UN began in the Global Smarts Mentoring Program. For 10 years, Saint Joseph’s students have worked in collaboration with the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia to train sixth through eighth graders at some of the city’s under-resourced schools to act as effective delegates representing their respective nations in a Jr. Model United Nations conference.

It’s this experience that Athanasopoulos believes landed him the once-in-a-lifetime internship.

“I emphasized SJU programs like Global Smarts in my application,” he says. “I think they saw that I had some procedural knowledge of the UN and they assigned me to the UN for that reason.”

Under the tutelage of Political Science Professor Lisa Baglione, PhD, Athanasopoulos and his fellow mentors in the program built peace on the local level.

“I tell them at the beginning, you’re going to be working as peace builders because you are actually going to be building the capacity of your students and you're going to be working to help remedy issues or at least hoping in the long term to remedy issues of violence and inequality,” Baglione says.

Athanasopoulos took the Global Smarts service-learning course in the spring and brought his new skills to the UN in New York City in June. He accompanied members of the United States’ delegation to the UN to meetings as a notetaker and then helped compile those notes into official documents sent to the State Department in Washington, D.C.

The UN is moving forward right now on many of the things that Nick was working on as they move forward on a peace plan for Haiti.

Lisa Baglione, PhD

Political Science Professor

Prior to this internship, Athanasopoulos says he was primarily interested in politics on the local and state levels. Now, having seen the inner workings of the UN and meeting people from around the world, he’s interested in diplomacy and international affairs.

“This internship made me realize how important the UN actually is, because people will knock on the UN for not being able to keep peace or being ineffective, but the UN does a lot in terms of humanitarian aid,” he says. “I heard witness testimonies from people from these conflict zones who were begging the UN to do something. That gave me a new perspective, because coming from a country like the U.S., you may not see the value of the UN in the same way a lot of people from disadvantaged countries do.”

Athanasopoulos says his Jesuit education prepared him for this work and gave him a different perspective than his fellow interns from other universities.

A mindset of justice, he says, drove his work and helped him realize that systemic change on any level requires small steps.

“The UN is moving forward right now on many of the things that Nick was working on as they move forward on a peace plan for Haiti,” Baglione says. “It was great for him and it feels good for Saint Joseph’s.”