GVSU holds Michigan History Day

GVL / Courtesy - GVSU.edu
Professor Sean ONeill

GVL / Courtesy – GVSU.edu Professor Sean O’Neill

Constance Turnbull

Grand Valley State University hosted West Michigan high school students at its annual Michigan History Day contest this weekend. In addition to providing a venue for the event, GVSU gave high school students a look into the campus and university life.

Students from local high schools showcased their projects at an exhibition and were judged by 33 historians who enjoyed the works and the interviews with students. Some of the students worked alone while others worked in groups for their projects. There were 43 entries, and 67 students qualified for the state contest.

Although the event is mainly focused on history, there were many different ideas presented at the exhibit. Students focused on leadership with George Washington, innovation with Walt Disney, invention with Thomas Edison and Christianity with D.L Moody. A student group gave the historical theme a twist and combined a discussion of Theodore Roosevelt with conservation, giving their project the slogan “Saving our blue, protecting our green.”

High school junior Vennila Thillaivanan explained that she gained inspiration for her project from a recent trip to New Dehli. She participated in the junior exhibition project with her friend Lisha Chadda and showcased the life of Akbar the Great and his Red Fort. The juniors supplemented their submission with a Styrofoam replica of the Red Fort, and they went on to win a place to compete at the state competition.

Professor Sean O’Neill coordinated the event and announced the winners. He has been the regional coordinator of this event since 1991 and explained that a lot of planning goes into the event.

“We had over 150 students from 17 schools this year,” O’Neill said. “We limited schools this year to just their top entries at our contest, so our total number of students is about half as many as we had last year. Every year, we pick up new schools – rules are tweaked a little, and the technology shifts.”

O’Neill added that the Michigan History Day Contest is not only important for the high school students who compete, but also for GVSU as an institution because the contest brings hundreds of West Michigan students, siblings and parents onto the campus.

“The history department shares its resources in judging the History Day entries because we appreciate what a special opportunity this is for middle and high school students to study history in a similar way to how historians work,” O’Neill said. “The History Day program is a great educational program. Students go through all of the steps of determining and narrowing a topic, producing a thesis, researching and preparing a historical presentation. History Day students may present their work in a paper, an exhibit, a performance, a documentary or a website. We see some of the most creative works in the History Day program.”

GVSU student Scott St. Louis was a Junior Division judge for the paper competition at last year’s program and spoke highly of its ability to connect GVSU with high school students.

“The opportunity to serve in this capacity was very rewarding,” he said. “I read some outstanding papers written by students in grades 6-8, and was very impressed with the quality of their writing and the depth of their insight. I hope that History Day encourages these students to follow their passion for the subject. Perhaps a few of them will end up at GVSU.”