UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Students in the Penn State School of International Affairs (SIA) participated in the annual U.S. Army War College simulation on Friday, Nov. 4, to Saturday, Nov. 5. Each year, the Army War College, based in Carlisle, Pa., sends a team with a crisis simulation to provide students with the opportunity to experience what a real-world crisis and resolution process could involve. Col. Michael Stinchfield, Lt. Col. Chris Miller, and Mr. Edmund "Cliffy' Zukowski oversaw the simulation along with former U.S. Ambassador Dennis Jett, professor of international affairs at SIA, who acted as the United Nations Special Representative.
“It is the most popular part of INTAF 802, which is a core course on the fundamentals of diplomacy. The students really enjoy playing the parts they are assigned and get into their roles with enthusiasm,” said Jett. “Each year there is a different scenario about a particular international problem. This year it dealt with the South China Sea.”
Jett described how the simulation works. “The students were divided into seven teams representing the countries most directly involved – China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, U.S., Japan, and the Philippines. The fundamental skills are formulating and negotiating a strategy that represents your country's interests. We prepare for this event in several ways during the semester in order to develop those skills,” he said.
Vice Admiral (Ret.) James W. Houck, interim dean of Penn State Law in University Park and SIA, said, “The Army War College simulation provides students with a multifaceted crisis scenario that tests their communication, strategic, and diplomatic skills. They gain hands-on experience outside of the classroom.”
SIA students Jennifer Garcia-Ruiz and Von Ruthie PetitFrere during the Army War College simulation.
First-year SIA student and simulation participant Will Bame explained some of the issues they had to keep in mind while conducting their negotiations. “There were several overlapping issues with the South China Sea scenario. One of which is territorial waters. Given the geography of the South China Sea region and different interpretations of that convention, there are overlapping claims in certain islands and waters. Within that there’s maritime trade, access to natural resources and their economic benefits, food and subsistence, and security.”
Bame, who acted as Head of Delegation for the Philippines, had participated in other simulations like Model UN and mock trials. He noted the difference in his Army War College simulation experience. “It’s an entirely different beast because of the time constraint and all the factors in play. There are implications on your conclusions and therefore there’s more emphasis on being persuasive and there are things you’re not going to get in other types of settings,” he said.
“Even if you have previous simulation experience, it’s valuable to be able to hone those skills to develop them or learn and grow in new ways,” Bame added.
Each delegation was given their primary objectives in their simulation packet. Delegations had 45 minutes to debate amongst themselves. First-year SIA student Emily Roberts, who was the Head of Delegation for Vietnam, said “I got so much out of it. It helped me figure out how to adapt with challenges that I haven’t faced before, it helped me personally grow as a leader with my strategic thinking and gave me insight into how I would handle a situation if it is up to me.”
Jett said, “It is as close to a real-world experience as one can get without being in the real world. It provides them a profound appreciation for how diplomacy and multilateral negotiations can attempt to deal with the problems in the world today, how to avoid military conflicts and why those efforts sometimes fail.”
SIA students Will Bame and Omar Aittakalla take notes.
As Heads of Delegation, both Roberts and Bame found how quickly this time passed when members in their delegation had differing opinions. Roberts eventually employed a rule that each member of the team had 20-30 seconds to state their opinion and reasoning, with an additional rule of no interruptions from other members. Roberts and Bame also agreed that this experience gave them a newfound respect for people handling a real-world crisis.
“The Army War College simulation was such a valuable experience. To get into a real-life simulation of a situation and figuring out how to go about it, you get personal insight about how you would handle it. You learn to adapt, negotiate, and to get feedback. I absolutely loved it,” said Roberts.
Zachary Vertefeuille, a second-year student assistant for Jett, had been an active participant in the previous year’s simulation. In comparing this year’s to his, he noticed how the 2022 cohort moved more carefully and had less agreements than that of the 2021 simulation.
“This simulation is extremely valuable to SIA students. Experiential learning can teach students a lot about themselves and how they might handle these situations in the future, as well as helping them identify areas of strength and for improvement,” said Vertefeuille.
“The simulation applies stress to students and forces them to make quick decisions and articulate positions, even when it may cause disagreement. The simulation is very relevant for anyone interested in the many aspects of international affairs, but also has application beyond this realm,” added Vertefeuille.
Roberts talked about the unique learning experience of participating in the simulation and how it benefited everyone at SIA. “A lot of SIA students are here because they want to work in foreign service or policy, and this gives you a new perspective of what exactly goes into that. You can’t get that kind of insight in a class or any other way except to experience it the way we did.”