Alumni Spotlight: Emily Willard

National History Day (NHD) has alumni all over the world, in numerous professions. Our new Alumni Spotlight Q&A is designed to highlight the achievements of past NHD students. This month’s Alumni Spotlight Q&A is Emily Willard.

What is your current occupation?

Research associate for the Genocide Prevention Project at the National Security Archive, a non-governmental research institute located at the George Washington University in Washington, DC. (The Archive is a great place to find primary sources for History Day projects!)

When and what category did you compete in for NHD?

I participated in the 2003 Senior Individual Documentary National History Day competition.

Can you tell us a little about your project?

My project was titled “Rosie the Riveter,” the year’s theme was “Rights and Responsibilities” and I looked at the new responsibilities that women took up for the war effort during World War II, and how that influenced the women’s rights movement.

Did you walk away with any hardware for your work?

I was awarded the University of Maryland Women’s History Award at the state level competition.

How has NHD helped shape your future?

National History Day certainly helped to shape my career path. I have always loved learning, and History Day was a wonderful opportunity to do an in-depth research project about something that I was interested in. I think my History Day experience greatly helped my college application where I continued to research human rights issues – all the way through graduate school and my current career position. The in-depth research was so important in preparing me for my career because it teaches many essential research skills that are not always covered in traditional public school curricula, such as: identifying primary sources vs. secondary sources; determining if a website is credible; developing an idea around a theme; creative analysis of source; writing a bibliography; and thinking outside of the box (among many others!).

If you could pick on favorite, defining moment from your NHD experience what would it be?

My favorite moment of National History Day was doing the interview after I screened my documentary, and my high school principle came in to hear me present my project. I remember thinking, “Wow, this is a really big deal!” I was very proud to be representing my school and the State of Maryland, and it meant so much to me to have that level of support and interest.

What did you learn from your NHD experience that other students should know?

One of the most important things I learned from history day was that my ideas matter, and that I have something of value to say. The fact that students get to select their own topics and pursue their own unique research interests—and that there is a whole community of parents, teachers, and other adults who make History Day possible— is so empowering.

Why is it important for students to compete in NHD?

I think students should compete in National History Day because it is a wonderful way to develop important research skills, especially because of the different levels of competition, and the opportunity to improve your project in-between competitions based on judge’s feedback. The whole process of developing an idea, researching it, presenting it, and having the opportunity to improve will teach students very practical, useful skills for any career.

How does NHD continue to impact your life?

My History Day experience still impacts me today. I often volunteer as a judge with Maryland History Day, and also help students at the county level with their projects. It is a great gift as I continue to learn about doing better research, writing, and creative thinking from the current students.  On several occasions, History Day students have contacted me and interviewed me for their projects as an expert in my field – which brings the whole experience full circle. I still feel part of the History Day family and I get so much gratification to now be able give back and support today’s History Day students.



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Crafting Innovative Professional Development

Written by: Lynne M. O’Hara, Director of Programs, National History Day

For teachers, time is always a challenge.   In addition to teaching their classes, teachers wear many hats:  as sponsors, as coaches, as spouses and partners, and as parents.   Despite the challenges of time, many teachers work hard to develop the craft of teaching and improve their content knowledge in order to enhance the experience of the students in their classrooms.  In many states, teachers are charged with earning graduate credit in order to earn a permanent certificate, salary advancement, or license renewal.

At times professional development can be frustrating.  In-service days of sitting in an auditorium being lectured to rarely result in inspiration and breakthroughs.   The best professional development results occur when teachers leave with classroom ready materials.  In addition, it has to be adaptable and applicable to the grade and level of students one is teaching.

National History Day (NHD) wants to expand and support professional development for Social Studies teachers, English teachers, and School Librarians across the nation and around the world.   For the last 30 years, NHD has developed materials, lessons, and summer institutes to help teachers improve their content knowledge and their strategies for working with students.

In an effort to reach a larger number and broader scope of teachers across the nation, NHD is offering online professional development – webinars and hangouts designed to help teachers learn from their homes and classrooms.   These online learning opportunities – developed in partnership with the Library of Congress, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the National Endowment for the Humanities – has found an audience of eager teachers and librarians seeking professional development on their schedule.

For the fall of 2014, NHD will be offering our first graduate course, an Introduction to Project-Based Learning through the National History Day Curriculum Framework.  The course will provide practical advice as well as pedagogical strategies.  Teachers will earn three graduate credits from the University of San Diego while creating classroom-ready materials customized to the needs of their students.

Teachers will work on independently-paced modules with weekly deadlines.  This allows a teacher to complete his or her work at any time of day from anywhere in the world. At the end of this course, participants will be able to analyze the reasoning behind project-based learning and its connections to Common Core Curriculum and C3 Framework, develop an action plan to implement NHD into their specific classrooms, create classroom materials that can be used at each stage of the inquiry process, and develop a portfolio of research resources to help them develop connections to assist their students with the research process.

The course will run from September 15 to December 15, 2014 and details can be found:

We hope that you will consider joining us in the fall to experience professional development on your schedule!

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Learn about NEH’s Chronicling America Prize and EDSITEment

Today’s guest post comes from our partners at the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and EDSITEment. This post will also appear on EDSITEment’s blog for educators, Closer Readings, and NEH’s Congressional Affairs blog, Humanities Insights. NEH and EDSITEment partnered with NHD on last month’s Google Hangouts.

Chronicling America Prize for National History Day

NHD contest season is in full swing! Do you know that the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) sponsors a special prize for NHD students who make the best use of NEH’s Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers website at the Library of Congress? A $1,000 prize will be offered in both junior and senior divisions of the competition to entries that make the best use of newspaper resources available on Chronicling America. To be eligible, projects must properly cite content from Chronicling America and note it in the primary sources section of their annotated bibliographies.

What’s in Chronicling America?

Students finishing up projects for upcoming regional contests, revising their work in preparation for the next contest, and even those already preparing to head to the national contest in College Park should consider identifying and filling in the gaps in their research. They all might find some great primary sources in Chronicling America. Chronicling America, created through a partnership of the NEH and the Library of Congress, is a free database that enables users to read historic local and regional American newspapers from the 1830s to 1922. NHD students will find a variety of exciting primary source materials in Chronicling America. For example, a student researching the onset of World War I could select the appropriate dates in a search and find an article like this one: reporting on the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand;

or this one to support their paper on Gavrilo Princip’s motives for the assassination:

EDSITEment’s Chronicling America portal, especially created for teachers and students, contains helpful how-to video tutorials and other guides to using Chronicling America and other NEH resources that will help you create exciting noteworthy National History Day projects. Check it out today!

For more about NEH:
For more about EDSITEment:

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Happy Birthday Mr. President! Five Things to Know about President’s Day!

Monday is President’s Day, but there are some things your might not know about this holiday.


1. The observance of President’s Day dates back to 1799. It initially started as an unofficial remembrance of George Washington on his February 22 birthday the year after his death, (HISTORY, 2014).

2. The shift from celebrating on Washington’s actual birthday February 22nd to the third Monday in February, was part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act and initially was not meant to become President’s Day in recognition of both Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays, (Archives, 2014).

3. It was not until the mid 1980’s that Washington’s Birthday become known as President’s Day and transitioned to recognizing all President’s.

4. The third Monday in February is still listed by the Federal Government as Washington’s Birthday and not President’s Day, (Padilla, 2012)

5. President’s Day never falls on the birthday of any U.S. President anymore even though George Washington, William Henry Harrison, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan were born in February (HISTORY, 2014).



·         National Archives and Records Administration. “George Washington’s Birthday.” National Archives and Records Administration. (accessed February 11, 2014).

·         Padilla, Steve. “No lie: It’s Washington’s Birthday, not Presidents Day.” Los Angeles Times. (accessed February 11, 2014).

·         A&E Television Networks. “Presidents’ Day.” History.com February 10, 2014).

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Happy Digital Learning Day!

Whether it is a performance, documentary, exhibit, website, or paper, NHD students use technology to bring their projects to life. It is no secret that technology now plays a key role in quality education, and must be integrated into class curriculum if a student is to succeed beyond academia. For that reason the Alliance for Excellent Education started Digital Learning Day.


“Digital Learning Day is about giving every child the opportunity to learn in a robust digital environment everyday, with the goal of success in college and a career.” – Alliance for Excellent Education


Visit, to see how you can participate in Digital Learning Day today!

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Hangout with National History Day!

It can be difficult to continuously find history experts and historical experiences that expand on classroom lessons. For that reason National History Day wants teachers and students to have the opportunity to “hangout” with them and their partners. National History Day (NHD) started using Google Hangouts this year to connect teachers and students with experts from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Smithsonian, the Newseum, Carnegie Museum of Art, and others.

NHD Hangouts in the Classroom

On Tuesday, January 29th, NHD executive director, Dr. Cathy Gorn, will lead a classroom Q&A session to help assist students with the NHD projects. Gorn will connect through the Google Hangout Platform with Mr. Winfield Watson’s eighth grade class at Lakeside Junior High School in Springdale, AR. Students can ask questions and get their answers from THE primary source on the National History Day Contest.

Hangout after School with NHD

Last week NHD kicked off a new Google Hangout series for students who are entering the National Contest. Each of the Hangouts in this series will focus on a different category and feature a different host with expertise in the field. All hangouts in this series begin at 7pm ET/4pm PT, and participants can live tweet questions during the event using #NHDHANGOUTS. These events are open to everyone and free.  Hangouts are scheduled for the following dates.

  • Performances – Tuesday, January 21 (Watch the recorded version here:
  • Websites – Tuesday, January 28
  • Exhibits – Thursday, January 30
  • Papers – Tuesday, February 4
  • Documentaries – Thursday, February 6

Hangouts for All!

NHD is expanding our use of the Goolge Hangouts Platform throughout 2014. Later this year several experts will work with NHD to broadcast their own hangout. To register for a NHD Google Hangout and watch for related updates, visit:

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A Word from the 2013 NHD Interns

National History Day Internship … It’s An Experience

Wow. Who knew that one month could bring so many wonderful experiences. Having the opportunity to serve as summer interns for National History Day has been an incredibly rewarding experience. We met for the very first time thirty days ago after traveling from opposite ends of the country, California and South Carolina, and arrived in College Park, Maryland. Having only a brief introduction via Facebook and email, we had no clue what to expect of this unfamiliar, yet very exciting new experience! Here we were interns, roommates, and travel buddies ready for an adventure.Image


So many envelopes, so little time:

We have to admit, we were a bit shocked on our first day – we didn’t quite realize just how huge National History Day is. As former NHD participants, we had experience from the student perspective; but as interns, our eyes were opened to all of the preparation that happens behind the scenes. Amazed by the high energy atmosphere in the office, we dove right into packet stuffing and envelope labeling in preparation for the contest! Despite our backgrounds as history majors, we soon realized just how many numbers are involved in National History Day. Granted we are not mathematicians, so we made a few approximations: about 2800 students, 1000 teachers, 300 judges, 56 affiliates, 6 full time NHD staff members, and 2 interns (with countless paper cuts). After two weeks of preparing for all of the NHD participants to arrive in College Park, we packed up the majority of the NHD National Office into a moving van, and set up headquarters in the Stamp Student Union. Finally, contest week was upon us!

The best week of our lives!

Students lined the hallways. Volunteers manned the doors. We took our stances behind the registration and merchandise table. 8:29 am and all of our preparations came down to this. The doors flung open and soon envelopes, buttons, t-shirts, and lollypops were circulating the room at lightning fast speeds. Life was a blur for those first few hours of contest week. We may not remember everything, but there is one thing we know for certain; we were having a BLAST! We would catch glimpses of each other during slight lulls at our posts and smile in excitement. National History Day was upon us once again! All day Sunday there was something looming in the back of our mind. On Saturday, Dr. Gorn informed us that we will be speaking and participating in the Fifty Nifty at the Welcome Ceremony in front of everyone. Keep in mind; we had become very aware of just how many people were going to be there. Remember those numbers we talked about earlier? We could never forget!



The rest of week we enjoyed embracing the spirit of the contest. We met most participants at registration or merchandise sales, we loved working with all of the fantastic NHD volunteers, and were in awe at all of the incredible projects. Our favorite part about the week was getting to interact with all of the different people involved in National History Day. You wouldn’t believe how many people it takes to make NHD the contest that it is! Despite our long work days, we couldn’t even sleep at night because we were too busy discussing all of the wonderful experiences we had throughout the day. Culminating in the heart-warming Awards Ceremony, our contest week as interns is one we will never forget.

Location, location, location!

One of the best perks of interning for National History Day is having the opportunity to explore our nation’s capital, Washington D.C. The National Memorial Day Parade welcomed us to D.C. and jumpstarted our explorations! Visiting all of the D.C. hotspots, our camera cards quickly filled up and our postcard collections grew immensely! One of the most special parts was seeing all of the appreciation for Mr. Behring’s generosity. Every time we saw his name on a museum wing or plaque we pulled our cameras out and struck a pose. From museums, to monuments, and even the zoo – Washington D.C. was very good to us.



The Good-Bye

As we are writing this we have already had to say good-bye to 4/6 … oh wait … 2/3 (we are not mathematicians, remember) of the NHD staff. This good-bye is one of the hardest that we have ever had to do. We truly feel like part of the NHD family now, and definitely plan to visit soon and frequently for fear of getting homesick. We want to take a moment to thank everybody involved in National History Day for making this experience one that we will never forget. We came here strangers and are leaving as good friends. This rewarding opportunity has truly reminded us that National History Day is not just a day … It’s an experience that has only just begun.


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