History projects bring opportunities

Tuesday, March 21, 2017
(Photo Contributed) Le Mars Community High School senior Kelli Susemihl (right) and her mother, Donnice, stand by her National History Day exhibit board at the 2017 American Historical Association Conference in Denver in January.

LE MARS — Le Mars Community High School senior Kelli Susemihl is making one final run to a spot in the National History Day competition in Maryland this summer.

Susemihl started doing History Day projects as a sixth grader under the direction of Jeanne Rust, LCS 6-12 Challenge Instructor.

For three years, she did it as part of a class project.

As a freshman she decided to continue in the senior division, and has worked on a project each year outside school hours, with a goal of making it to nationals.

In 2016, her persistence paid off as she not only qualified for the 2016 Kenneth E. Behring National History Day Contest at the University of Maryland, but took first place in the senior division for individual exhibit with her project, “The Transcontinental Railroad: Exploring the West, Encountering Pitfalls and Exchanging Culture.”

The project also earned her a second trip.

In January, Susemihl presented her National History Day project and research on the Transcontinental Railroad at the 2017 American Historical Association Conference in Denver, Colorado, on Jan. 7.

The invitation to present her project was extended after she placed first in the senior individual exhibit category at the national competition.

The National History Day organization provided funding to cover airfare and hotel for Susemihl and her mother, Donnice, who accompanied her daughter to Denver.

The American Historical Association assisted in coordinating transportation for the project.

“When told I was going to this conference in Denver, I was excited for the opportunity to be able to present my board again,” Susemihl said.

Rust said this trip was an outstanding opportunity and reward for Susemihl.

“Kelli spent hours outside of school hours to research and develop her project on the Transcontinental Railroad. The invitation to present at the Denver Conference was an unexpected but welcome recognition of her work. The customary presenters at a conference of this type are graduate students and professional historians, not high school students,” Rust said.

Susemihl said she presented her exhibit alongside the other posters, and people would walk by and talk with her about her presentation. 

“A lot of the people that stopped by were surprised I was only a high schooler. I also received a lot of congratulations,” she said.

The four day conference was held at the Colorado Convention Center.

“I knew that I would be presenting with other college students, but I assumed that they would be undergraduates, not graduate students. I felt a little intimidated, but definitely honored, to present alongside them,” Susemihl said.

She said her research included newspaper articles for primary sources, books for secondary sources, and a visit to the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs.

“I continued to do NHD as a high school student because of my goal to qualify for the nationals competition. Last year, I finally made it,” Susemihl said. “I wanted to do another exhibit this year because it’s my senior year and I wanted to do it one last time. I also had such an amazing experience at nationals last year, and I hope to be able to experience it again.”

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