Briana Bardos ’15 was one of two UConn students who attended SCUSA 2014. She tells us about it below. Later this week, we will hear from Linnea Logie ’15, UConn’s other delegate.
What did you do at the Student Conference on US Affairs (SCUSA)?
The objective of the conference was to write a policy paper based on a scenario we were presented at our round table. This year’s conference was entitled, “What’s the Worst that Could Happen? The Politics and Policy of Crisis Management.” The topics of the roundtables were very intriguing and ranged from nuclear war to a zombie apocalypse.
I was part of the roundtable entitled, “After the Cyber Pearl Harbor: Vulnerability and Resiliency in a Networked World.” This topic is something that was extremely new to me; I had heard about cyber warfare in the past, but never in this extreme end-all-be-all sense. I was not alone in this, as many of my peers were in the same boat, with little former knowledge as there is not a large body of literature yet on this topic.
The biggest positive to this was that we were able to really take our discussion and our policy paper wherever we wanted; our table co-chairs were not political scientists but IT guys (with a bit of IR background), so it was a really interesting combination of the technical/IT and policy fronts that made for an intriguing policy paper.
That was the main goal of the conference, but secondarily we needed to write and perform a skit on our topics. I was one of the two skit-writers, ultimately choosing to write a parody song to Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” entitled “Hack it Up,” which I would deem to be a success. These two products occurred in the midst of various other activities, including a Keynote Address from retired Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering, various delegate social mixers, and a tour of West Point.
Does being at West Point make any difference in terms of the conference and how it feels (or operates)?
Especially at first, I would say yes. Knowing it’s at West Point, you go in with certain expectations or preconceived notions. For me, I assumed it would be very organized and that the cadets would be very serious (as I had received an email from two of the cadets on my roundtable and the emails came across very stern).
Well, I soon realized these thoughts were wrong. The conference is entirely cadet run-the equivalent of an entirely undergraduate-run conference. Of course, there are going to be issues. For example, the driving directions were a bit unclear and the shuttle was running way off schedule, so myself and two other delegates walked 45-minutes across West Point with all of our luggage to find where we were supposed to go. Honestly, I am really happy that happened, as it made me feel oddly more relaxed about the experience as I realized
that even West Point cadets make mistakes with planning.
The cadet-delegate line very quickly disappeared. Of course, some of the cadets, the first years or the “Pleebs,” had to do things like carry our luggage for us, but for the most part we were just peers who were either working together or hanging out (and the guys I thought were stern were actually really relaxed, way more than I am!). It was really interesting listening to how their experience at West Point is both similar and different to my undergraduate experience, most notably different for me in the living arrangements. Staying in the barracks for three nights was an extremely interesting experience, specifically the extremely high-off-the-ground bunks (which I was lucky to have, as many of my peers received army cots) and the open showers, which honestly were the biggest shock of the entire trip. However, I think staying there was an important part of understanding how the West Point cadets live. I think that being at West Point makes SCUSA more than just a conference and transforms it into an overall experience.
Photos: Briana Bardos.