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Making some history: 12 compete today at Minnesota History Day

Senior Amanda Swenson (left) consults with teacher and adviser Pam Roiger as she and Maija Faver prepare for today's Minnesota History Day competition.

BEMIDJI -- In her seventh and last year competing on the local History Day team, senior Amanda Swenson chose a difficult topic to research.

For eight months, she's been delving into the Nazi medical experiments.

"I'm an emotional wreck half of the time," she said, discussing what she has learned. "Some of the stuff I've actually had to watch for a lot of this, it made me feel disgusted, made me feel terrible, made me feel sad that this could actually happen."

She is among 12 local students competing today in Minnesota History Day at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

History Day is a program through which students in grades 6-12 research individually chosen topics to fit an annual theme -- this year's is Rights and Responsibilities -- to develop a project. Amanda, making her sixth consecutive trip to state this year, is doing an exhibit board, through which she can use limited amounts of multimedia and props.

"I have a short clip of one woman's experience under (Josef) Mengele, who was the head physician. I have her telling her story," Amanda said. "She was forced to have a baby and then she was forced to starve that baby. She told of how her experience was in Auschwitz and what she had to go through. She had to actually kill her own daughter because she didn't want to have it suffer and starve to death."

It's a tough topic for sure, but she said that's part of why she chose it.

"You get to learn a lot about people and how people influence other people," she said of History Day. "I'm really interested in psychology and I tend to focus my topics around the psychology of things."

Maija Faver and Gavin Lewis

This duo is competing as a team, making an exhibit board to showcase their research into the Manhattan Project.

"Mainly, the decision to drop the (atomic) bomb," Gavin said.

Maija said a feedback session from experts suggested the pair examine more closely and present on the emotional aspects of the topic.

"It would be more on the philosophical, morality (aspect) that we're now trying to focus on, like how all the scientists that created it felt aftward," she said.

"And President Truman," Gavin added.

Both are ninth-graders and have previously participated in History Day. Maija wasn't sure if she'd do it again this year because her partner from last year chose not to, but then Gavin asked if she'd like to partner up.

History Day teaches students how to conduct research, attribute primary and secondary sources, and how to analyze and digest the information.

"It can be really depressing," Maija said. "Sometimes we'll talk and be like, 'Oh I think this should have happened,' or, 'Oh we shouldn't have done this,' but we have to keep it in the point of view of the people and not us.

"We do talk about it and it is interesting to see what everyone else thinks about it. I have my grandfather who is like, 'We dropped it for a reason, it saved our country,' and I'm like, 'We killed thousands of other people.'"

Amy Rietveld

This sixth-grader, in her first year on the History Day team, is making her first trip to state. She is creating a website on the Transcontinental Railroad.

On the first day of the program, Amy was looking through the Minnesota Historical Society website and stumbled onto something concerning the Chinese workers' strike associated with the railroad.

"At first, I was going to just do that, the Chinese strike, but it just snowballed," Amy said.

As she learned more and gathered more research on the railroad, Amy opted to construct a website for her project.

"I thought it was kind of cool that I could make a website," she said.

When asked what she found most interesting about her project and research, Amy said she was struck by "the totally unfair treatment of the Chinese" during that time in history.

Stephanie Bunich

The senior, making her third trip to state in the six years she has been involved with History Day, is making a documentary to present her topic on the Women's Army Corps.

In a documentary, participants can choose to either present their project through a PowerPoint or iMovie. Stephanie qualified for state by making a PowerPoint but opted to revise it into an iMovie for today's competition.

"This one had a lot more information that I could use," Stephanie said of her topic this year. "This one girl, she went down to Milwaukee to sign up to be part of the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, through the U.S. Navy) and men just laughed at when she went in, that she even grabbed the pamphlets, so she just left. But she later ended up signing up for and joining the WAC."

She said the research has been enlightening, noting the story of one female who wanted to join the war because her father, grandfather and great grandfather had all fought in previous wars.

"You had the men thinking they couldn't do it, that they should go back to their houses," Stephanie said.

Tom Leverette and Ethan Erickson-Lucas

Both seventh-graders, the pair is competing together with a website they are developing on Robert E. Lee.

"We both like the military so Robert E. Lee was a good choice," Tom said.

"We were also studying the Civil War in seventh grade, too," Ethan added.

One of the things they learned was that Lee was the superintendent of West Point prior to the war. Tom and Ethan participated in History Day together last year as well, after Ethan joined up first and then convinced Tom to join.

"We have more knowledge of what we are doing this year," Ethan said, commenting on how this year's project has been better than last year's. "We had an idea of what is going on because we were in it last year, a better understanding."

Paige Headlee

Paige is another sixth-grader who qualified for state her first year.

Her project is an iMovie documentary about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad.

"I'm learning a lot about her," Paige said. 'It's been fun putting a project together."

She said she didn't expect to get to state but had set a goal to do so. She loves history and said she most definitely will take part in the History Day again next year.

"She risked her life a lot of times to save other people," Paige said of Tubman. "She felt that she she do that, that she didn't want other people to feel like she did."

Tyler Sandberg

The sixth-grader, also qualifying for state his first year, is making a website discussing the issue of slavery and President Lincoln.

"I liked this time of America, the Civil War," Tyler said, of how he came to choose his topic. "I've always been interested in it."

Tyler, who won the social studies award for his fifth-grade class at J.W. Smith Elementary, said he has long been interested in history.

As for what makes a project strong, he said it's about more than simply having good research.

"You can't just copy it all and be done, that's plagiarism," he said. "It's how you put it into your own words."

As for his project this year, Tyler said he's learned a lot.

"Harriet Tubman didn't really like Abe Lincoln at first," he said, "... but as he kept fighting for slaves' rights, she came to like him more.

Jay Tooly

Seventh-grader Jay Tooly will appear at state today to present his website project on the Tenerife Airport.

Joe Schoning

A seventh-grader, Joe qualified for state as an individual performer on The Right to Laugh.

Conner Binkert

Conner, a ninth-grader, is at state today presenting on his documentary project, the Responsibilities of Founding Fathers.