NIU and community partners help to bring Illinois history alive

On Thursday, May 3, the best and brightest history students in Illinois competed in the Illinois History Day contest in Springfield. Among the students were top participants in the northern Illinois regional competition, held on Saturday, Feb. 24, at Northern Illinois University.

By creating projects focused on local or state history in Illinois, History Day participants are challenged to engage with the subject matter, to explore new ways to learn and to develop the research skills that will aid them in the next phase of their academic careers.

Lise Schlosser, program coordinator for the NIU Office of Continuing Professional Education, organized the regional history fair at NIU this year. She was impressed by the hard work the students put in on their projects.

“Projects with a ‘superior’ rating are eligible to advance to the state competition,” she says. “We had dozens of superior ratings between research papers, websites, performances, documentaries and exhibits.”

For Schlosser, the most exciting part of the day is the award ceremony. “I love seeing the looks on the kids’ faces when their names are called and their classmates and parents cheer as they come to the stage to get their ribbons.”

Lillian Schatteman, an 8th-grade student at St. Mary School in DeKalb, was one of the participants who advanced to the state competition, earning a superior at the state level as well as at the regional competition at NIU. Her project, a website about Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, tells the story of Mother Jones’ life and legacy and defines Jones’ time living in Chicago as a “turning point” in Jones’ life and the “starting point of [her] activism.”

Schatteman says, “If you have an older topic, it can be harder to find sources, but I actually found a lot of books through the NIU library. I even had some primary sources from over a century ago.”

Alicia Schatteman, an associate professor in the School of Public and Global Affairs at NIU and mother of Lillian, is grateful for the opportunity the history fair provides.

“As parents, we believe that history comes alive for students when they can do a research project like this, including examining primary sources,” she says. “It also teaches many other skills such as managing a large research project, managing time, using academic citations, accessing library resources and much more.”

Schlosser credits the success of the regional history fair competition at NIU to the nearly 100 volunteers from NIU and the surrounding communities who pitched in, including State Representative Bob Pritchard, who has volunteered as a project judge for many years.

Pritchard says, “I participate to help encourage students and this type of competition. Education is more than classroom work, and skills utilized in preparing a history fair entry not only enhance the research skills of the individual for life but also the knowledge of historical events, people and locations. This competition builds an appreciation of the past, which often influences how the individual views the future.”

NIU alumna Rachel Martiniak (M.A. anthropology, M.S. Ed. instructional technology, ’18) also volunteered as a project judge.

“I had helped with the History Fair when I was a graduate assistant, and I was always impressed by the quality of the research projects – both the papers and displays. Being a judge allowed me to see even more of the research and creativity. The writing and research skills necessary to create superior projects and papers for the history fair will certainly help these students succeed when they begin taking college courses.”

Lillian Schatteman says she would recommend the history fair to other junior high and high school students. “Nowadays, kids my age are all focused on technology,” she says, “but this is a way to use technology to learn about the past, things that we never knew happened. It’s a great way to express yourself, your creativity and your writing style. It is really something to be proud of in the end.”

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