Taking control

Published 7:35 pm Thursday, March 18, 2010

A school day for most students means being behind a desk, taking notes.

But students in Old Dominion University’s International Studies and Model UN program spent Thursday dealt with crisis situations, such as an oil supply crisis in the Middle East and a terrorist attack in the Mediterranean.

During a day of hands-on application for a Crisis Decision Making course, graduate and select undergraduate students spent some time at the Virginia Modeling Analysis Simulation Center acting out three different crisis scenarios aimed to train them in problem solving.

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“You all are on the threshold of how these decisions will be made,” said Dick Bedford of Allied Command Transformation. “This is the business of getting information and achieving effective decision making.”

“Before you listened to keynote speakers; now it’s all about you,” said retired Navy Capt. Dick Whalen, ODU’s director of military activities.

Each student was assigned a different role — 28 represented countries, one was NATO’s secretary-general, one was chairman of the military committee and others were media — and responded to the manufactured crises as his real-world counterparts would have responded.

The event was built on a longstanding partnership between ODU and the NATO’s Allied Command Transformation, which generates the crises and helps direct the students. The crises were then simulated with the help of VMASC’s modeling and simulation technologies.

Modeling and simulation is an emerging technology, traditionally used by government and military agencies to create and test complex hypothetical situations and potential solutions.

In this case, it showed live maps and generated breaking news alerts, which helped the students learn how to respond to a world-crisis in real time.

“We are focusing the information they’re receiving to help them visualize the situation and then work through the decision process,” said John Sokolowski, VMASC executive director.

The program “gives the students an opportunity to practice leadership skills and work as a team,” said Dr. Regina Karp, professor of the graduate international studies program. “They learn they must be flexible and adaptable. They must choose to agree or be paralyzed.”

Old Dominion is one of the few schools able to benefit from modeling and simulation technologies, and Karp said she hopes to build partnerships with other schools.

“You are among good company,” Bedford told the students. “Very few universities have this. Among them are Harvard and the Naval Academy.”

“This is a very unique opportunity for us,” Karp said. “That’s why we hope to partner with other schools in the future.”