The Model United Nations (MUN) program at Alma College, working in conjunction with AccessMCA — an enterprise affiliated with the nonprofit Michigan Colleges Alliance — is acting as a diplomatic bridge to India by bringing students to the United States from India and vice versa.

Two conferences are scheduled in India this spring and summer of 2024 that are expected to attract hundreds of students in order to learn from current Alma College MUN students and alumni who are now working for AccessMCA. The Alma College alumni are creating a “MUN All-Star team” specifically for the purpose of competing at these conferences, in order to show Indian students all that is possible through MUN.

“We understand that the future of small schools like Alma cannot be rooted in Michigan the way that it has been,” said Derick “Sandy” Hulme, the Arthur L. Russell Professor of Political Science and advisor to the MUN program. “The future is in partnerships such as the one we’re building with AccessMCA that allows us to deepen an intensely meaningful relationship with India. This is bigger than awards and competitions. Our students and graduates are leading the way on public diplomacy.”

In addition to Indian students coming to the U.S., Alma College is sending faculty to India. Janelle Blazek, an assistant professor of psychology, will travel to Hyderabad, India, in July, to teach a four-week, accelerated psychology course, through AccessMCA. Victor Argueta-Diaz, associate professor and engineering program coordinator, will teach an online class for students based in Undaipur, India.

There are also plans in the works to involve the decorated Alma College International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) student organization with Indian students.

Abbey Swanson, an Alma College 2021 graduate, is a program manager for AccessMCA, overseeing semester-long courses and summer residential programs in the U.S. Another Alma graduate, Jacob Keeley ‘23, works for AccessMCA, supporting students and operating MUN camps in India. The pair agreed that MUN programs are very popular among the students they meet in India, and Alma College plays a key role in introducing those students to the program.

“When international students think of studying in the U.S., they all too often think of state schools or Ivy League schools,” Swanson said. “The MCA is home to some of the most outstanding, under the radar schools in the U.S. I know from experience that a liberal arts education gives you skills and experience that you can’t get at a state school, so I believe in what I’m promoting.”

Added Keeley: “So much of this starts with Jeff Abernathy, the president of Alma College and the head of the MCA President’s Council. He is an important leader as far as sending Michigan colleges and universities into international markets is concerned. Alma is in the top-three of schools in the MCA for international students and we’re looking forward to continue growing that relationship.”

The Alma College MUN program is known and respected throughout the world. Over the past 29 years, it has received 58 “outstanding delegation” awards at the annual Midwest Regional Competition and 52 at the National Model UN Conference in New York City — the most of any college or university in the 95-year history of the conference.

MUN is also a driver of international enrollment at Alma College. Of the 43 students who participated in MUN last year, 19 came from 10 countries outside of the United States.

“MUN often acts as a foot in the door to Alma College. When students make it to a campus like Alma’s, they realize how their lives can change with smaller class sizes, 1-on-1 relationships with faculty, and so much more that it offers,” said Sheila Bauer, chief executive officer of AccessMCA. “There are so many wonderful programs that Alma offers in addition to MUN, and our students see that when they come here. It’s one of those win-win-win relationships.”