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Why I Refused to Scale All-American Model UN

Written by Frank Pobutkiewicz

I'm the founder/Managing Director of the All-American Model UN Programs! If you have any questions, please email [email protected]. Happy MUNing!

January 13, 2020

Why I Refused to Scale All-American Model UN

Over the past two days, I’ve spent many hours working with one of my students to craft this college admissions essay for Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. In the eight years that I’ve owned and operated All-American Model United Nations, I’ve likely read over close to a hundred essays answering the same prompt that Georgetown provides: “identify a global problem and provide a solution.” Inevitably, almost every student who sends me an essay to review responds to the prompt in the same vein: they seek to solve macro-economic and political trends that touch almost every part of society from climate change, to socioeconomic inequality, sustainable development, corruption, and the resurgence of populism and nationalism.

Quite a feat for a 700 word college essay.

And so, I started the process over again two days ago, explaining to my student that he should choose a singular issue to focus on, identify why it’s a problem, and then focus on a single point to counter the issue at hand. Yesterday morning, I spent about two hours working through an outline of an argument with him and today, another few hours editing and sharpening the essay.

Ultimately, he chose to write about China’s Belt and Road Initiative and how Beijing has “developed a new form of modern colonization under the guise of infrastructure development and economic progress….” It’s a piece of writing of which he should be very proud, regardless of Georgetown’s verdict on his admission. Every year, I get the extraordinary opportunity to work with about 80-100 students from around the country, from a wide variety of family backgrounds and educational experiences. Their pursuit of becoming global citizens and zeal for debate bind our community together, creating a nation-wide network of support. I pride myself on our community and the difference we make in each other’s lives. 

From a business standpoint, it pays off: over 55% of students enroll in multiple programs compared to the industry average of about 8%. When students enroll for an international program with All-American Model UN, they do so with the motivation of traveling to a foreign country and competing with an all-star team of students. Their parents, hopefully, respect the intrinsic educational benefits of international travel and debate training while also putting some weight on the positive effect it may have on college applications.

Many hours go into training my students, arranging logistics, planning travel, providing customer service, and biding the energy for the 20-hour work days that occur while actually traveling with a team of ~24 high school students. Most parents and teachers appreciate this aspect of the work and that’s why they continue to support All-American Model UN. I spend many more hours with my students outside the official capacity of the company that typically go unseen: proofreading essays, talking about school and family stress, providing resources for my students to train their peers, and advising and mentoring other academic projects or business ventures.

I normally don’t talk about this extra time. Perhaps that’s neglecting a key differentiator; I should face scorn for not communicating the true value of joining All-American Model UN. I reject those arguments.

My goal with All-American Model United Nations has always been the same: cultivate long-term relationship to maximize the value of the relationship.

I believe that Model UN is a powerful engagement vehicle, a “hook” for students to further their understanding of international politics, cultivate positive team dynamics, provide an avenue for self-introspection, and build lasting relationships.

With these goals in mind, I take great satisfaction in working with every individual student. Only through an individual relationship can I hope to achieve the ambitious personal goals I set for myself, my work, and my students. By its nature, education is difficult to scale because individual relationships are not scalable. I could have made the choice to focus on the growth of my company by hiring more instructors and lowering admissions criteria, but I would have been forced to alter the goals of what I was aiming to accomplish. I suppose I could still, but I refuse to sacrifice my core beliefs for profit. Perhaps that’s precisely what sets All-American Model UN apart from the rest.

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