A great opinion piece from our Vice President Mr. Kevin Kitchlin was published recently in the Missoulian.
Every year as winter transitions to spring, students from across Montana converge on Missoula and the University of Montana campus to participate in the Montana Worlds Affairs Council’s Academic World Quest.
AWQ began several years ago as an attempt to facilitate a greater understanding of world affairs among Montana’s youth. The competition began small with few participants. It has since grown to encompass over 60 schools and hundreds of students. For many participants, AWQ marks the first time they have ever visited a larger urban setting or stepped foot on a university campus. AWQ includes a full day of activities treating students to a variety of stimulating conversations regarding world affairs, and culture. Former ambassador Mark Johnson, the council’s founder, generously gives his time to speak on global affairs and answer student questions. Udo Fluck introduces students to the power of culture through film analysis. A panel of international students from the university answers questions about life abroad. The full day of activities culminates with the competition itself.
Mayor John Engen emcees the festivities, lending a humorous take on difficult pronunciations and lightening the air of a serious academic competition. Students work in teams of four to answer 10 questions on international topics, from world health, to development, education and current events. Due to the generosity of the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, the winners receive an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C., to participate in the national competition.
We are lucky to live in a state where people are willing to donate funds for our students’ academic pursuits. It is a testament to that commitment and students’ hard work and dedication that Montana’s AWQ students are known across the country as a force to be reckoned with.
This year, Hellgate High School earned the honor of representing all of the student participants and the state of Montana at the national competition that took place in late April.
AWQ truly represents what makes Montana such a special place to live. Students from our smallest communities compete side by side with the largest AA schools. Many participants travel great distances to be part of this event; others simply walk down the street.
Montanans are a naturally curious lot and perhaps our relative remoteness creates a hunger for knowledge. What else would make students from Rosebud drive eight hours to demonstrate what they know about global health concerns? Why would educators give their time and energy to prepare students for the competition, stating over and over again how much AWQ means to them and their students?
In the end, we all benefit by having students, teachers, and the communities in which we live more connected to the world outside Montana’s borders. AWQ makes the world just a little bit smaller, our students more aware and better prepared to understand events happening outside, and shaping the future of, the great state of Montana.
Kevin Ritchlin of Missoula is vice president of the Montana World Affairs Council.