Two students from CSB, SJU attend conference at West Point
November 15, 2018
By Mike Killeen
When undergraduate students attend the Student Conference on U.S. Affairs at the U.S. Military Academy, you almost become a cadet.
You stay in the barracks with other cadets. You get up when the cadets get up, and turn out the lights when they have to.
“I was kind of scared they were going to have us do calisthenics,” College of Saint Benedict senior Anahi Ortiz said, smiling.
Calisthenics weren’t on the agenda, but Ortiz and Saint John’s University senior Dan Eggert attended the 70th annual conference Oct. 24-27 at West Point, New York.
The purpose of the conference is to facilitate interaction and constructive discussion between student delegates and West Point cadets in an effort to better understand the challenges the U.S. faces today.
Round tables, on 15 issues relating to democratization, put delegates on the forefront of national issues and exposed them to complex problems facing leaders today.
Eggert took part in a round table on Russia, while Ortiz participated in a group discussing Europe. Both found the experience interesting.
“My interest in Russia actually extends from research I am doing right now, in my capstone class, focusing on the determinants of military strategy using the 2014 Crimean crisis as my focal point,” said Eggert, a political science major from Hastings, Minnesota.
“We came together and discussed what avenues of cooperation exist and what ways do we gauge Russia, both militarily and then diplomatically as well,” he said.
Ortiz’s first choice was to serve on the migration and refugee round table, but ended up on the round table on Europe, which included three European students who are attending college in the U.S. It turned out the Europe group did talk about immigration issues facing the continent’s countries.
“We got to see how they saw Europe relative to how we saw Europe as American students,” said Ortiz, a senior global business leadership major from Houston. “I thought that was really valuable because when we were talking about the European Union and we were talking about the U.S. influence and involvement in NATO, it was really cool to hear what they thought about the U.S. in comparison to what we thought.
“Alleviating some of the tension among the countries benefits us because it helps create a more unified European Union,” Ortiz added.
Each round table then had to prepare a position paper on their topic before leaving West Point.
“We looked at what steps we can take to strengthen cooperation that is already happening (between the U.S. and Russia),” Eggert said, citing a recent joint decision between the two countries and the International Maritime Organization detailing shipping routes through the Bering Strait and Bering Sea.
The European group decided to split its paper and group into two halves: one concerning the European Union (which Ortiz was on) and the other on NATO.
“What we decided was that it’s to the U.S. convenience to have a more centralized Europe. Therefore, we should continue advocating for a strong European Union as opposed to a weak European Union,” she said. ”That was a hard consensus to come to, because all the European students at our table were saying they would prefer otherwise.”
Both Ortiz and Eggert found the experience valuable, and encourage others to consider applying.
“It’s a very, very unique experience that you don’t have a chance to do every day,” said Ortiz, who is interested in public policy as a career. “It was inspirational to be surrounded by such great student leaders who will someday be the people I hope to work alongside when creating public policies.
“On top of the networking and the experiences that you have, you get to see some really top-notch people, like Ambassador (Susan) Rice,” the conference’s keynote speaker who served as Present Barack Obama’s National Security Adviser from 2013-17, Ortiz noted. “I got to talk to her for a good five minutes, and that was really awesome having a one-on-one conversation with someone that is so prominent.”
“It’s a unique way to really put yourself in that military mindset,” said Eggert, who is interested in public service as a career. “It’s something that many people will never find themselves in. Being able to see that from a civilian perspective was really invaluable.
“I definitely encourage anybody that’s interested in U.S. affairs in general to give it a shot and apply,” he added.