University of Lynchburg students competed successfully last week at the 30th annual Mid-Atlantic European Union Simulation in Washington, D.C., and Arlington, Virginia.
Representing Italy, the group addressed legislation on human trafficking and the treatment of Ukrainian refugees. They also visited the Italian Embassy for a “valuable diplomatic briefing” and were featured on the embassy’s Twitter account, said Dr. Marek Payerhin, professor of international relations and political science.
In preparation for the event, the students met virtually with Paolo Bongarzoni, dean of the Swiss School of Management in Rome, Italy. Payerhin said Bongarzoni “offered us useful advice on Italy’s positions and interests.”
At the EU simulation, Lynchburg students joined the European Parliament’s two largest parties — the socialist and Christian Democratic parties — as well as a conservative and a nationalistic party. Westover Honors Fellow Jacobsen Gamble ’25, Kodi Payne ’23, and Ana Reyes Leon ’25 were elected leaders of three of them, while Alexandra Sears ’26 was elected chair of the Civil Liberties Committee.
John Lucas ’23, as part of the European Commission, “helped draft a massive legislative proposal that was the subject of several days of spirited negotiations,” Payerhin reported. The Italian government, he added, was “valiantly represented by Kyle Thaller ’25 as the freshly appointed Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, as well as our ‘ministers’ Zachary Potts ’23 and Luke Sydnor ’23.”
Payerhin noted that all students made valuable contributions to the “substantive legislative work in their areas, were prominent in debates on the floor, and many of the resulting amendments reflected their preferences.”
Lynchburg students earned two of just eight available awards. Thaller, a Westover Honors Fellow from Gainesville, Virginia, with a major in political science and a minor in international relations, won the Outstanding Head of Government Award.
“I greatly enjoyed my role as prime minister of Italy,” Thaller said. “My favorite parts were interacting … and working with others to reach consensus on important issues facing Europe.
“I was humbled when I won the award, as there were so many talented individuals in my committee. Knowing that I was chosen by my peers to be the leader among leaders was both humbling and exhilarating.”
Sydnor, an international relations and security studies major from Lille, France, received the Outstanding Minister Award, while Mary Otu Okley ’24, who also majors in international relations and security studies and minors in economics, was nominated for an Outstanding Parliamentarian Award.
“I thoroughly enjoyed being surrounded by internationally minded individuals, discussing topics such as human trafficking and refugees flowing out of Ukraine,” Sydnor said.
“Finding consensus in light of diverse opinions was challenging, but healthy debate moved us toward unanimous decisions. Receiving the Outstanding Minister Award from my peers was an honor.”
While party and committee chairs cannot be nominated for awards, Payerhin praised the “outstanding work” of the entire Lynchburg delegation, which also included Olivia Kuennen ’23, Spencer Newman ’24, and Hayden Dietz ’23.
Dietz represented the far-right Italian party Brothers of Italy so well that he “nearly derailed the work of the entire European Parliament” with his nationalistic demands, Payerhin said.
“This simulation is a fantastic experiential learning opportunity that requires in-depth knowledge of real-life legal acts and policies of the European Union, while also providing avenues for leadership skills development, public speaking, negotiating strategies, as well as camaraderie and team spirit,” Payerhin added.
“It was uplifting to see so many bright and committed students dedicated to improving policies of one of the most consequential institutions in the world. After all, these young people will soon be running this country.
“And it was even more pleasing to witness University of Lynchburg’s students performing so well in that environment.”