More than 350 middle and high school students from all over New York State gathered on the SUNY Oneonta campus on Monday, April 24, for the annual New York State History Day (NYSHD) competition.
SUNY Oneonta took over as the host of the event, which is part of National History Day, two years ago, and this was the first year that the competition was held in person on the Oneonta campus.
Faculty, staff and students from SUNY Oneonta’s Cooperstown Graduate Program (CGP) coordinated the event, and CGP students – wearing green, foam Statue of Liberty hats – were highly visible throughout the day answering questions and providing directions as volunteers at five competition sites across campus.
This year's contest theme, "Frontiers in History: People, Places, Ideas," invited students to explore topics in the history of science, art, technology, medicine, religion, politics, social change and the military. Throughout the daylong event, the students presented their research and findings in five categories: documentary, website, paper, exhibit or performance.
“This is such an important program,” said CGP Director Gretchen Sorin. “I think learning history is important. Of course, I’m a historian, so I think history is important, but for these kids, learning how to use primary sources and putting together websites and exhibitions and programs like this, really, really gives them a leg up when they’re getting ready to go to college.”
More than 80 volunteer judges – including several SUNY Oneonta faculty and staff members -- met with the contest entrants one-on-one or in small groups throughout the morning to see and learn about their presentations. After lunch, the judges’ scores were tallied and finalists competed in “run-offs,” meeting with different sets of judges, to determine the final standings.
At the end of the day, first- second- and third-place winners in each category, along with several special awards, were announced in a high-energy award ceremony emceed by event sponsor Don Wildman, host of “Mysteries at the Museum” and several other Travel Channel programs. SUNY Oneonta President Alberto J.F. Cardelle, City of Oneonta Mayor Mark Drnek and Sorin welcomed and congratulated the students, teachers and parents gathered in the Dewar Arena of the Alumni Field House. The top two finishers in each category will advance to the National History Day competition in College Park, Md., and Washington, D.C. in June, and the third-place finishers will serve as alternates.
Mae Cohen of Fayetteville-Manlius Senior High School was one of 18 individual or group first-place winners for her exhibit, “The Frontiers of Art in New York City, 1972-1989” Hip Hop, Graffiti and the Fight Against Poverty, Racism and AIDS.”
She said she chose a narrow topic at first but expanded it based on her research. “Keith Haring has been my favorite artist for a long time, and I wanted to look further into him and the art that he created, and as I looked into him, I realized that there were also other artistic movements in New York City going on at the same time, so I looked into all of that,” she explained. “Art history isn’t really talked about, especially when you’re in high school, so it’s really interesting to go into the details of music that you hear on the radio as well as art that you see in museums.”
It was Cohen’s second time at History Day; last year she competed in the papers category. “I just really like history,” she said. “I’m just a big history nerd, and I think research is the best part of it.”
After the awards ceremony, Sorin said she was amazed by the quality of the projects –especially at the sixth- and seventh-grade level - and happy and relieved that the day had gone so well.
“I was really impressed with the teachers who came and brought their kids from Brooklyn and from Long Island and from Buffalo, and how excited they were to be here,” she said. “Everyone thought that being on this campus was a great improvement. It was easy to find their way around, it was a beautiful day, and everybody had a lot of fun.”