November 16, 2023
Crisis simulation provides diplomacy skills to international affairs students
The Penn State School of International Affairs hosts an annual international crisis simulation conducted by the U.S. Army War College.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – There are some experiences that cannot be perfectly replicated in the classroom—such as being a diplomat working to resolve an international crisis. For two days each November, however, students in the Penn State School of International Affairs (SIA) experience the next best thing during the annual crisis simulation exercise conducted by the U.S. Army War College (USAWC).
SIA Professor and former two-time U.S. Ambassador Dennis Jett coordinates the simulation as a component of his core course on the foundations of diplomacy and international relations theory. The USAWC, located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, manages the details of the simulation in the form of its International Strategic Crisis Negotiation Exercise (ISCNE), in which students are assigned roles as the diplomats of various nations and non-state actors involved in a real-world conflict.
SIA’s long-standing connection with the USAWC allows the school to tailor the simulation to fit its students and add unique elements over time. For example, second-year students (who participated in the simulation the year before) serve as mentors to the students going through the simulation for the first time, adding a valuable peer-to-peer perspective rather than being driven solely by professors and USAWC instructors.
“Penn State SIA is the USAWC’s second-longest continuously running ISCNE program,” said ISCNE Program Director Cliffy Zukowski. “The relationship between the USAWC and SIA is strong and valued by both institutions.”
LEADERSHIP, DIPLOMACY, AND TEAMWORK
This year’s exercise focused on the South China Sea and the conflicting territorial claims there. Students were divided into groups representing China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Japan, the United States, and Vietnam, and each group was provided with specific goals, which they strove to achieve through intense negotiations over the course of the 48-hour simulation that took place in the Lewis Katz Building.
Following the simulation, students expressed an appreciation for the skills and insights gained during the hands-on learning exercise. Among the many real-world skills that the simulation imparts, students mentioned leadership, negotiation tactics, and teamwork most frequently. Here is what they had to say:
As one would expect in a crisis simulation, the intense exercise generated tension and competition as the students embraced their roles as diplomats. By the end of the two days, however, going through that experience together helped the cohort bond as members of the Penn State SIA community.
“The diverse make-up of the SIA student cohort added a richness to the exercise,” ISCNE Program Director Zukowski said. “The students really got into their roles but, despite the expected animosity throughout the exercise they also know that, at the end of the day, they are all Penn State students. The resounding ‘We Are’ chant at the end brought them back to a common place.”