This is not to say he is prematurely jaded, nor is it to say he is overly pessimistic. It is to say he recognizes that the stick the Republic of South Sudan wields on the global stage is a mere twig compared to, say, Japan, or France, or China, or the United States.
South Sudan is the country Tharp and 13 other St. Ambrose students represented in a Model United Nations Assembly session in Chicago in November.
Assistant Professor of Political Science and Leadership Studies Duk Kim, PhD, is no stranger to Model United Nations events, nor are his students. St. Ambrose has fielded a Model U.N. team since 2008. This was Tharp's fourth year of competition.
But this year marked the first time St. Ambrose sent a delegation to the larger and more fiercely competitive event in Chicago, sponsored by the American Model U.N. (AMUN) organization. Nearly 90 schools competed.
"There were so many schools," Kim said. "We didn't win anything but we did really well and I'm very pleased with the students' accomplishment."
The AMUN event is not for the ill-prepared. The three-day competition requires students to fully participate in plenary sessions, modeled exactly on actual United Nations debates, votes and resolutions. Participants are assigned to committees and sub-committees that examine and debate a wide range of issues, including women's rights, nuclear proliferation, land mines and famine. At the end of the conference, students walk away with an entirely new appreciation of real-world issues and world politics.
"It's a reality check," Tharp said. "You learn quickly that it's not a fair and equal system. For a small country like South Sudan, it's hard. They have no voice compared to a country like the United States, and the only way for them to have any voice was to align with the African bloc. That means their needs get pushed aside for the most part. The model really shows how it works."
Model U.N. is more than just an exercise. It's a rigorous event that requires intense research and develops skills in debate, public speaking and critical thinking.
"I learned a lot more than I thought I would," sophomore Jordan Meier said. "My issue was human rights and water conservation, and I learned how non-government organizations and multinational corporations play a vital role in very important issues affecting people all over the world. In the case of South Sudan, it was a real lesson. It's tough to be a third-world country."
Senior Brittany Anderson is one of just three members of the St. Ambrose team who does not major in political science, history or international studies.
"I'm an exercise science major, and what I learned from this is unlike anything in my classes," she said of her Model U.N. experience. "This really opened my eyes to things going on in the world, and I was forced to sharpen my debate skills, learn how to make a point and defend that point."
More than anything, perhaps, the Model U.N. competition teaches students to look beyond their own perspective.
"It teaches a lot on a practical level," Tharp said, "but it also teaches more. You come away with a good feeling. You meet people from all over the world and get an idea about what you can do to make the world a better place. Being exposed to the things you see at this event makes you think that maybe we can find a way to a better system when it's our generation's turn to take over."