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Student research presented to the U.N. opens eyes and doors

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Mari Romney | University Relations | 15 July 2014

Five political science students from BYU–Hawaii presented papers at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) in New York. This is the second time students from BYU–Hawaii have participated in this annual conference at the United Nations.

“This is a great opportunity for our students to take on leadership positions,” says Christina Akanoa, professor of political science. “They go straight to the top and get involved in the international arena where world leaders meet and work.” 

To prepare for the UN trip this year, the five students first presented their research findings at BYU–Hawaii’s Undergraduate Research Conference in March. Then in April, the five presented again at a graduate-level Human Rights conference at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. These experiences provided an excellent warm up for the trip to New York where they presented their findings to NGOs, ambassadors, and IPOs at the UNPFII conference.  

“People from the Syrian, Australian, New Zealand, and Taiwan delegations listened to our research and found relevance to their own countries, and they said they wanted copies of our papers,” said Marvin Cravens, a political science major from Laie, Hawaii. His paper was on global warming effects on the sea level in Kiribati and Tuvalu. “They helped us see that our ideas do have merit.”

“They are looking at us as future leaders,” added Maklen Kapalu, a political science major from Vanuatu. Her paper compared the decolonization processes of Vanuatu and New Caledonia and the impact on indigenous peoples. “It’s great to help people have their voices heard to get their problems solved.”

The five students who participate in the UN forum also visited various international embassies and took advantage by securing high-profile internships. “We want our students to return to their own countries and become leaders in government and civil service,” says Michael Murdock, chair of the Political Science department. “Political science is an excellent springboard into government occupations, but you really need experience. Participating in this conference allows our students to go back to their home governments and say, ‘I presented at a UN forum,’ which will definitely attract attention.” All five students who attended the conference this year secured internships with embassies, including Kapalu and Cravens who got internships with the Vanuatu and Samoan embassies, respectively. 

“These kinds of internships are particularly valuable for the students from the Pacific islands,” says Murdock. “Working with an embassy in a small country means you have a chance to make a significant difference. National affairs are affected by embassies, so there is plenty of opportunity to do significant things.” Last year, Jone Temo, a political science major from Fiji, spent three months working with the Tuvalu embassy. He was able to establish diplomatic relationships with other delegations, give reports to the ambassadors, and even attend meetings at the UN on behalf of the government of Tuvalu. “I got an ID badge that officially said I was a diplomat for Tuvalu,” Temo said. “It was a great experience.”

Akanoa hopes that the relationships between the UN and students from BYU–Hawaii will continue to develop, making this an annual opportunity. “BYU–Hawaii produces skillful, academically qualified students,” she says. “This trip helps them prove to the UN what they can do.”