|Exploring the Dynamics of the European Union
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In addition to study abroad and the international studies program, LVC students have the opportunity in their junior or senior year to enroll in a uniquely experiential Disciplinary Perspectives course in which they study the history and working of the European Union (EU). The class culminates in a trip to Washington, D.C., to participate in the annual simulated EU parliamentary session organized by the 12 colleges and universities of the Mid-Atlantic European Union Simulation Consortium (MAEUSC). DSP 380, “EU Simulation,” is a three-credit course offered every fall.
“We changed the course designation from political science to disciplinary perspectives because we wanted students to recognize that this opportunity is not just for history and political science majors,” says Dr. Diane Johnson, chair of history and political science and associate professor of political science. “The EU is not just about politics, and you definitely don’t have to have any knowledge of politics coming into it. It’s a great opportunity to do something different—students who are biology majors or math majors or music majors might really enjoy it.”
LVC joined the MAEUSC in 2009 on the recommendation of Dr. Philip Benesch, associate professor of political science, who had experienced the program while teaching at his previous institution. A native of the United Kingdom, Benesch completed his undergraduate degree at the University College London and his graduate work at the London School of Economics, providing a European insider’s perspective to the class.
Students begin the semester by studying the history, culture, and current political environment of the country they’ve been assigned to represent at the conference. They also study how the EU operates, as well as its history and current issues and tensions. Each year the EU simulation conference addresses a different policy focus—recent topics have included climate change, energy policy, and immigration. This year’s policy focus is the financial and economic turmoil associated with the European debt crisis. Students spend the early part of the semester learning about this policy focus, as well.
But the class involves more than learning about these topics. “The idea is the students go to the conference to play a role of a politician or a diplomat and they argue from that person’s position and negotiate with other governments or politicians to achieve a policy result,” Benesch explains, noting that students learn valuable tactical skills in the process.
“Students have to rapidly become acquainted with a particular role,” he says. “They learn to represent that point of view, which may be remarkably different from their own point of view. It develops strong interpersonal skills and negotiation skills. They have to work with students from other colleges, and—in character—navigate the policy options and political tensions that will come with the territory. Many students come out of their shell to speak before a couple of hundred people in the plenary session. The students develop confidence and the ability to articulate, advocate, and negotiate. And of course they have a great time.”
“It was a fantastic experience,” agrees Tim Arthun ’10. Currently government relations director for the Pennsylvania Association of Community Bankers, Arthun first participated in the EU simulation as a delegate during his junior year in 2008, returning the following year to serve as the College’s first EU simulation commissioner. Arthun’s responsibilities in the EU simulation included working with students from six other schools to draft an energy proposal for the mock parliament to deliberate and vote on. “The commissioners do their work all on their own time, so you’ve got to have students who are motivated and disciplined,” says Johnson, noting that Arthun did exceptionally well, winning the award for best commissioner that year.
More than three years after graduation, Arthun says the experience continues to pay dividends. “After I graduated, I worked for [former U.S. Representative for Pennsylvania] Tim Holden, and we would frequently contact agencies in Washington, D.C., for information on a particular issue. At one point I was working with an agency whose staffer had been a fellow EU commissioner with me. So the EU experience provided real world networking opportunities right after I graduated.”
LVC students are especially fortunate to have their conference travel and lodging expenses provided for by a grant from Dr. William J. McGill H’98, senior vice president and dean of the faculty emeritus, and his wife Ellen. “This is quite unusual,” says Benesch. “Other schools have found it much more difficult to fund this enterprise, and we’ve had a number of schools drop away because the finances were no longer there from their schools.” McGill’s grandson, Andrew Suprock ’13, participated in the EU simulation last year. “He was a physics major, so it was completely out of his area,” says Johnson. “But he said at the end that it was one of the best experiences he’d had at LVC.”