In a semester of lasts, two University of Miami seniors who will graduate in December are not shying away from an opportunity for firsts.
It will be the first time Luis Sierra and Joon Chung serve as co-chairs on United Nations Day, which will be held Wednesday.
UN Day has been celebrated at UM for the past four years to honor the diplomatic organization’s charter, which was created in 1947 to promote international peace and cooperation.
The Council of International Students and Organizations (COISO) is the umbrella organization at UM that hosts the event, but Sierra and Chung are introducing big changes to this year’s agenda.
“We are making so many changes and yet there have been no setbacks. It’s amazing,” Chung said. “This is the first time the event will be at night, the first time it will be interactive, the first time professors will participate and the first time organizations will be able to collaborate.”
Both Chung and Sierra immersed themselves into the diversity of UM during their freshman year. For Sierra, being a multi-cultural student was anything but a limiting factor upon his arrival at UM.
“I wanted to be multi-cultural. I remember going to the Horizons meeting at the beginning my freshman year to get a taste of campus life from an international perspective, and seeing so much diversity there made me realize diversity was something I wanted to be around,” Sierra said.
Sierra, a sociology major, is also dedicated to his role as a fraternity brother in Sigma Lambda Beta. He was born in Puerto Rico and moved to the Dominican Republic with his mother and three sisters at the age of 8 or 9. He lived there for three years, and then moved to Miami in 2001.
“It is important to keep in touch with your national roots because if you don’t know where you are from, it’s harder to know where you are going,” he said.
Chung, a biology pre-med major, was born in Korea and moved to the United States in the fourth grade. She has been involved in many international organizations on campus, such as the Asian-American Students Association, the Filipino Students Association and the Vietnamese Student Organization, but she has never played a direct role in a COISO event.
“Your national roots define who you are,” Chung said. “They shape your cultural ethics and state of mind, how you interpret issues and treat other people.”
Sierra and Chung’s goals for UN Day 2010 is to make the event more interactive through visual and audio displays. Unlike previous years when the event has been hosted during the day on the UC Patio, eight tents will be set up on the Green in front of Richter Library from 5 to 7 p.m. Each tent will represent a different social issue. Examples include environmental policies, child trafficking laws, poverty, hunger and human rights.
For the first time organizations that want to bring attention to an issue are not limited to international student organizations under COISO. Any group on campus is welcome to identify themselves with an issue represented by a tent and then encouraged to collaborate with other groups focused on a similar issue within the same category.
“This year the tents aren’t just going to have poster boards that you read information off of. We are going to focus on issues you don’t hear about every day and submerge people into these issues by captivating the five senses,” Sierra said. “They can watch a video, listen to music, touch, taste or smell something that will make them feel like they are part of the problem and feel the possibility of change.”
The official theme this year is “Undercover Issues Uncovered.” In preparing for the event, Sierra and Chung have received help from five other members on the UN Day committee who were chosen through an application process. The seven member planning committee has been meeting every Sunday in preparation for the event.
“The committee has been very proactive,” Chung said. “The five other members are either freshmen or sophomores, so they bring a fresh perspective to the table.”
Andres Morfin is a freshman, architecture engineering major originally from Mexico who has been working with Sierra and Chung. His interests in world affairs encouraged him to apply for a position on the planning committee.
“Working with Luis and Joon has been great,” Morfin said. “I was trying to get sponsorship for the event but wasn’t sure how and they were happy to help me.”
After graduation Sierra and Chung plan to continue their involvement in improving the human condition worldwide. Sierra will pursue a masters degree in higher education and Chung will apply to medical school and pursue a masters degree in public health.
Hannah Romig may be contacted at email@example.com.