Tennessee Students Tackle National Competition on Global Affairs Awareness

Tennessee Students Tackle National Competition on Global Affairs Awareness

Martin Luther King, Jr., High School team travels to Washington for competition and insights.


Washington, D.C. | April 27, 2016 – One hundred questions on ten international affairs topics is all that separated 49 teams from around the United States from the title “Academic WorldQuest 2016 Champs.” Four students from the Martin Luther King, Jr., Magnet High School in Nashville took on the challenge at the competition held April 23, 2016 at the National Press Club in the nation’s capital.

The MLK team bested nine other teams from around the state and from Alabama and Georgia in the Tennessee Championship Tournament on February 21, 2016. They were well prepared for the national match and finished in the number eight spot among the 49 competing teams. The local program and the trip to Washington were organized and sponsored by the Tennessee World Affairs Council in Nashville.

The Tennessee team members are: Jocelyn Hartley, Regan Goodrich, Kevin Gomez and April Townson. They were coached by Catherine Kelly of Martin Luther King High School and assistant coach Elizabeth Ashwood, a senior at Lipscomb University.


The Tennessee Academic WorldQuest team in Washington representing Martin Luther King, Jr., Magnet High School, Nashville,  (L-R) teacher/coach Catherine Kelly, Regan Goodrich, Kevin Gomez, Jocelyn Hartley, April Townson and student/coach Elizabeth Ashwood of Lipscomb University.


The World Affairs Councils of America which organizes Academic WorldQuest describes why the program is important on its web site:

“Preparing the next generation of American decision-makers and opinion leaders to thrive in tomorrow’s world, where our national interests and policies are deeply intertwined with those of the greater global community, requires that we close the gap in students’ knowledge about global affairs and restore American excellence in science and math. Research is showing troubling signs. American students are performing well below students in other developed nations in science and math and American students are also lacking in basic knowledge of world history, international geography and global issues. The mission of Academic WorldQuest is to help close this gap.”


The Academic WorldQuest competition was recently named in honor of businessman and philanthropist Carlos and Malu Alvarez for their significant support of the program’s endowment, a contribution of $500,000 toward permanent funding of the effort. At the time of the donation WACA President Clifford noted, ““Mr. and Mrs. Alvarez’s generosity is an inspiring affirmation of the purpose of Academic WorldQuest – to offer young people a fun and interactive way to learn about critical challenges facing the U.S. and the world – and their gift will enable WACA to sustain and expand the Academic WorldQuest national competition while enhancing support for educational programs provided by 96 local nonprofit World Affairs Councils.”


Council President Patrick Ryan, who accompanied the MLK team to Washington, said, “We are very proud of the Martin Luther King High School students who represented Tennessee in the WorldQuest championship; they did a terrific job in a field of World Affairs Councils’ teams representing the best of the best.” He added, “We also want to make sure to thank FedEx our principal sponsor for the Academic WorldQuest program in Tennessee. It is only with their support that this important global affairs awareness program is possible.”

The students had a busy four-day agenda in Washington in addition to the Saturday morning Academic WorldQuest title match that included visits to a variety of international affairs organizations and officials. Ryan said, “The Tennessee World Affairs Council wants to make sure the students get the most out of the trip to DC so we arrange a full schedule of events at embassies, think tanks, government offices and such.”

When the team hit the ground in Washington on April 21 they were soon walking into the Center for Strategic and International Studies to learn about the role of think tanks in foreign policy making and to be briefed on a current hot topic for US leaders, ISIS and the situation in Iraq and Syria. Distinguished scholar Dr. Anthony Cordesman, the CSIS Arleigh Burke Chair on Strategy provided a lengthy brief on the ISIS threat and trouble spots for America in the Middle East as well as how someone could find themselves working at a think tank like CSIS. The visit included a conversation with CSIS Senior VP and Director of the Middle East Program, Dr. Jon Alterman.


Dr. Anthony Cordesman, the Arleigh Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies talked with the Tennessee WorldQuest teams about the threat of ISIS, the situation in Iraq and Syria, challenges to American foreign policy in the Middle East and the role of think tanks.


The delegation, including the MLK team and World Affairs Council VP Beverly Lee, rushed across town for a visit with Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) in his Capitol Hill office. He spent considerable time with the group to talk about the WorldQuest competition, his role as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the current challenges in the area of U.S. foreign policy.


The Tennessee WorldQuest team visited Senator Bob Corker’s Capitol Hill office. (L-R) Elizabeth Ashwood, Kevin Gomez, Jocelyn Hartley, Senator Corker, Regan Goodrich, April Townson, Catherine Kelly and TNWAC VP Beverly Lee.


The next day, April 22, the students were given a tour of the U.S. Capitol escorted by a staff member, courtesy of Congressman Jim Cooper’s (D-TN) office. It was followed by a visit to the office of the Kurdistan Regional Government where they were briefed by Remziya Suleyman, a former Nashville resident, who now serves as the KRG Congressional and Academic Affairs Director. Suleyman and KRG Representative to the United States Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman were recently in Nashville to talk at World Affairs Council public affairs events and with the business community. At the Washington meeting Suleyman briefed the students on the status of the KRG in northern Iraq and the challenges facing the autonomous Kurdish enclave including combat with ISIS, the overwhelming challenge of hosting internally displaced people and the troubled economic picture.


The afternoon included a second stop at a diplomatic mission. Next it was the Embassy of the Russian Federation for an expansive tour by Cultural Attache Kutsuk Taysaev of the embassy compound including the exquisitely appointed grand ballroom of the diplomatic reception building. Afterward he was joined by Denis Daichkov, the head of the Bilateral Political Affairs Section at the embassy – the main interlocutor with American officials – for a briefing on U.S.-Russian relations and to take questions from the students on international challenges facing both nations.


At the Russian Federation Embassy diplomatic reception hall, (L-R) Catherine Kelly, Jocelyn Hartley, April Townson, Attache Kutsuk Taysaev, Regan Goodrich, Kevin Gomez and TNWAC President Patrick Ryan.


The Russian Embassy tour and conversations were mentioned by some of the students as the best part of the Washington visit, both for the eye-opening view inside the gates of a diplomatic post most people don’t get to see and for the frank and insightful talk with high level diplomats on arguably the most important relationship America has in the world.


Mr. Denis Daichkov, head of the Russian Embassy’s Bilateral Political Affairs Section provided perspectives on Russian-US relations to a team of students from Tennessee representing the World Affairs Council.


Following a quick stop to check in with the World Affairs Councils of America (WACA) team who were running the WorldQuest competition it was off to a reception at the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center (SQCC) in Washington, a facility that celebrates the ties between America and the Sultanate of Oman and Oman’s rich culture and history.

The Academic WorldQuest teams from around the country who were competing for the national title attended the reception to get to know one another and to hear a welcome from WACA President Bill Clifford and Ambassador of Oman to the United States Her Excellency Hunaina Sultan Al-Mughairy. The networking and remarks were followed by a sumptuous dinner of Middle Eastern cuisine.

The prestigious National Press Club was the venue for the 15th Academic WorldQuest Championship match on Saturday, the 23rd of April and the Tennessee team came well prepared. The almost 200 students present were the best of about 4,000 students around the country who competed in local WorldQuest matches.


This year’s competition ended in a tie which necessitated an extra round in which all teams participated. At the end of the tie-breaker ten questions there was still a stale-mate. It took a sudden-death, question by question playoff to determine the winner. In the end it was the Keystone School representing the World Affairs Council of San Antonio that took the title and the $3000 per student study abroad scholarship prize. Second place went to Saint Edward’s School of Palm Beach, Florida and third place went to Plano West Senior High School representing the Dallas/Ft. Worth Council.

The Tennessee team pivoted from an agenda of international affairs and the WorldQuest competition to sightseeing in Washington, spending Saturday and Sunday touring museums, monuments and other popular spots.

On Sunday evening the Martin Luther King High School students were back in Nashville with good memories of a trip to Washington, insights and perspectives on global affairs only earned by special meetings, and a record of accomplishment in their competition at the Academic WorldQuest 2016 tournament.

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For information on the Tennessee World Affairs Council Academic WorldQuest program visit: www.TNWAC.org/worldquest or contact TNWAC President Patrick Ryan: patryan@TNWAC.org






The Tennessee World Affairs Council is a nonprofit (501c3), nonpartisan educational charity based in Nashville that works to build understanding of global issues in our communities. Learn more about the Council and find how you can join, donate and volunteer at: www.TNWAC.org  — 

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