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Minnesota History Day Mentors Inspiring Youth

December 18, 2015

Anyone who has ever studied history at the collegiate level knows one of the most commonly asked questions is, without a doubt, “Do you want to teach history?” This question can be a daunting one to address. However, if you were to ask a History Day mentor this question, they could give you a confident, honest answer because of their incredible engagement through History Day in Minnesota schools.

Minnesota History Day is Looking for Judges
The Minnesota Historical Society is looking for
judges for their regional events, as well as the state
finals on May 1, which take place at the U of M.

Judges receive a same-day orientation on the
day that they have signed up to judge. No prior
experience with History Days required, but judges
should possess an interest in history and be
comfortable interacting with students and making

A critical eye, willingness to give your time, and
your constructive feedback are important. History
Day judging locations are throughout the Twin Cities
and greater Minnesota. 
Sign up to be a judge or
learn more about the program

Each year in May, thousands of students from junior and senior high schools around the state come together on the University of Minnesota campus and present research they’ve been working on all year for the competition known as Minnesota History Day. The program is organized and run by the Department of History and the Minnesota Historical Society. Participants are given a theme at the beginning of the academic year. Students create a project based around the theme in the format of a research paper, exhibit, documentary, performance, or website. Next, they participate in a series of increasingly challenging competitions throughout the school year, culminating in the national competition in June, where the state of Minnesota has enjoyed tremendous success.

History Day is an exciting program for students to showcase their work and engage with a community that shares their passion for historical research. The theme this year is "Exploration, Encounter, Exchange," and students are researching topics as diverse as Hayao Miyazaki's use of anime to explore themes of masculinity and femininity in postwar Japan, the encounter of Jesuit missionaries with China, the exploration of solar energy possibilities after the end of apartheid in South Africa, and the encounter of African-American urban culture in Miami with the University of Miami football program in the 1980s.

While the projects that make it to the state level never fail to impress judges, the process leading up to the competition is long and can be challenging for many participants. To help overcome this challenge, a unique program that engages about 100 undergraduate college students called the History Day Mentor Program was created at the University of Minnesota.

Mentors from the College of Liberal Arts, the College of Education and Human Development, and a few neighboring universities are assigned to a variety of junior and senior high schools to work with students on their History Day projects. Mentors spend 100 hours working at their respective schools, helping students understand and work through the research process. Matt King, a graduate student in history and one of the coordinators for the History Day mentors, explained the significance of the program: “The program is all about getting the diverse undergraduate population of the University of Minnesota out into the even more diverse population of the Twin Cities, to spread the word about how the University of Minnesota is the University for them.”

Megan Goeke, a senior at the University of Minnesota, is currently in her third year as a mentor. Her positive experiences with the program have her coming back to help more students prepare for History Day. Many students’ interest in history piqued because of their participation in History Day projects.

“Helping students understand the importance of the steps in research is really fun," Megan explained. “I had a really long conversation once with an 8th grader about citing materials, and why it was important to do so. I talked about why you need to write down the date a source was written and gave the example of something written in Germany in 1940. What does that mean? World War II was going on, Hitler was in power - the frame of how you're going to read the source is different. In that moment, she said 'oh my gosh, I've never thought of it this way.'"

Besides working with students in the classroom, mentors also receive University credit by taking a concurrent class, taught by Tim Hoogland of the Minnesota Historical Society, in which they contextualize and historicize the work they are doing with their students. This course explores relevant topics in urban education: active learning, project-based learning, the achievement gap, equity in Minnesota, and how History Day seeks to eliminate some of the problems that plague the education system.  

Although History Day mentors strive to make a difference in their schools and communities, they are often confronted with unexpected challenges that illuminate the perennial difficulties of being an educator. “The goal is to be a positive force to the students when they might not have that going on in their lives,” Matt said. The Minnesota History Day Mentor program provides unique opportunities for college students to engage with younger students in the community and to help them see their own potential. Mentors create close relationships with their students, and by helping them work on their research, they learn what it means to teach history and inspire the pursuit of knowledge.


This story was written by an undergraduate account executive in CLAgency. Meet the team.