Studnet Conference on National Affairs

I have probably known a more stressful week in my life, but I couldn’t recall it as I walked through last week. Most of that is due to inconvenient timing and my own forgetfulness. I had two quizzes and two tests this past week, and I was going to miss Tuesday through Friday if I’d gone for the 5 days I didn’t know had approached and I hadn’t known I’d signed up for.

Had I paid more attention to the conference dates, I would have known that it spanned the majority of the week and into the weekend, and I would have realized that it fell on a week with more exams than I usually have in that span of time. That being said, I’m really not sure it would have deterred me from registering. I really wanted to go to SCONA, and I would have rationalized that despite being enrolled in 16 hours, participating in 5 student organizations and a job, I could manage to miss that time and catch up.

I was wrong, and the fact that SCONA snuck up on me (because of being busy with everything else, I failed to look ahead in my planner and have just been trying to survive week by week) and I wasn’t able to prepare until the Friday before, didn’t help. What I’m trying to say is that this week was the week I realized I’m doing way more than I can actually handle for long periods of times, and that I was unable to attend the DCSRE, as much as I wanted to. For clarification, the DCSRE was a disaster simulation that puts you into a group and you act as an actor in a situation. This year’s simulation involved several states, state departments, and mexico working through the crisis of having two hurricanes hit the coast within days of one another. I missed out on an oppotunity, but if I’m frank, I don’t think I would have been able to catch up on 4 days worth of class work and exams. I do intend on trying to attend next year (and approaching the time over prepared if possible).

That being said, the main conference of SCONA was a ton of fun, despite being a rollercoaster. The conference was split into two separate parts. While we were there, we were either working on a policy paper that connected our respective roundtable topic to the conference theme of “Securing the Homeland,” or we were listening to some amazing individuals speak. I’ll start by talking about my experiences with the speakers.

The two speakers that stood out to me were Dr. Charles McMillan, who is the director of Los Alamos National laboratory, and Dr. Tawfik Hamid, who used to be an Islamic extremest, but has since written a book about it’s dangers, how it works and how to combat it. These two talks appealed more to my personal interests, and that’s likely why they stood with me. They were also structured differently and I was able to follow along a lot easier than with the other two speakers. Dr. McMillan spoke about the history of the atomic bomb and Los Alamos. He framed it as a story that was easy to follow and appealed to me “Input” strength. If nothing else, I came out of that talk with a new piece of history, but he also explained the types of intelligence that have been at work at Los Alamos since it’s inception.

Dr. Hamid’s talk was naturally very interesting, and although he didn’t talk specifically about his experience, he did give a lot of insight about how Islamic extremists recruit, their “brainwashing” techniques, and how they strip people of their conscience. More than that, he explained some of what westerners are doing wrong and how that population of people can be stopped, and why we need to do it soon. I really appreciated getting the opportunity to listen to these speakers, I don’t think it’s something I’ll ever forget.

When we weren’t listening to speakers, we were in our roundtables, attempting to write a cohesive policy paper. My roundtable was Lady Liberties Promise, which basically called for a policy paper marrying the topic of immigration and national security. This is where I learned the most during the conference, and while it was frustrating at times, my team made it through and we managed to leave the conference with a policy paper we were proud of and friendships we didn’t expect to make even halfway through the second day.

There were 5 roundtable sessions throughout the conference, and from the beginning it was expected that we would be working very quickly. Even a group that had been working cohesively from the beginning would have found the task a challenge. With the topic of immigration, we were excited to potentially be able to explore various topics that are of current international interest and tackle them. We came out of roundtable session 1 with a blank paper, but feeling confident about our discussion. It felt natural that we’d need an hour and a half to talk through potential topics, since there are so many of interest and find where we needed to focus. The problem emerged when we came back and out differing opinions started to clash. We had a page limit, and naturally couldn’t talk about everything, and several people had trouble letting go of their ideas or understanding that just because it wasn’t addressed in the policy paper, didn’t mean it wasn’t important. We kept seeming to settle on a topic, and then trying to write only to find ourselves still divided and working on completely separate things. We were given roles, but we didn’t understand them, we weren’t communicating, and despite writing a concise outline, somehow we hadn’t managed to come to a consensus. We found ourselves arguing at the end of the 4th roundtable and with a paper that was far longer than it needed to be with no clear policy (which felt worse than a blank paper to me).

We had to call in our facilitator, who had been working outside with the couple of STEM majors who didn’t feel their humanitarian backgrounds sufficed enough to help with the writing of the policy and instead opted to start writing the skit. When we finally had a someone with a higher rank than all of ours, listening to her and compromising became much easier. We met during dinner (despite the fact that we were supposed to be eating and not working) and worked out what exactly we were going to be doing, with Dr. Aubone carefully making sure we stayed within the parameters of two, closely related proposals that would fit within the page limit. When we started working from there, in small groups meant to tackle the different sections of the proposal, and even smaller groups within that meant to either find research or be writing, we found ourselves getting things done. At that point, when we finally had a chain of command, a concrete goal and set roles within the team, we were able to start getting things done effectively. Somehow, we managed to complete the proposal within a couple of hours. Where we didn’t have a single point down by the end of roundtable session 4, but the end of session 5 we had a complete, cohesive policy proposal that all of us were proud of (mostly because of the circumstances with which we managed to complete it). Where we had been frustrated and arguing, after finally coming together to tackle and complete the paper, we were too relieved and amazed at our own accomplishment to feel anything but mutual relief and excitement that we conquered that hurdle together.  I’m so glad I got to meet all of those wonderful individuals and work with them, and I’m excited to be able to see them again because I know we’ll cross paths.

It was overwhelming and frustrating and tiring and a whole lot of other things but that experience was something I needed. I got to be in a team that failed, and came back from it. I got to see the importance of roles and being on the same page in a team and having a leaders of some sort because when those things weren’t present we weren’t working and when they were we literally managed what none of us though we’d be able to do. I’d know the importance of these things in theory. I’d seen how they worked and how they didn’t on television or in groups around me. Sometimes I’d have a group that didn’t exactly mesh together but worked something out anyway, but I had never been in a group that showed me both extremes of teamwork in a matter of days. It was kind of a shock, but I think even if I didn’t learn a single thing from the talks or a single piece of new information about immigration and national security (which I did), I leaned more about teamwork in those 3 days than I have in 3 years of being a color guard captain, countless group assignment, and countless group tasks in subcommittees or officer positions of organizations.

It was amazing.

Small Steps.

Karla Valerie


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