Participating in National History Day has helped to prepare me for college in several ways, even as engineering major. Doing deep research on one topic has allowed me to work on a few important skills that are applicable in many contexts. I have learned a lot about effectively managing my time and analyzing the widespread impact of events. My first semester in college, I took a history class that involved a lot of writing. We were asked to compare the events that lead to the rise and fall of democracy in a few different countries. I was able to apply the skills I learned from History Day to this assignment, specifically being able to evaluate the broader impact of an event as opposed to the discrete event itself. Time management is also important as a busy college student. History Day taught me to space out my work, which has been very helpful when I have several exams or essays within a span of a couple of days.
My advice for History Day competitors is that topic selection is critical. Pick a topic that really interests you, since you could be working on it for the whole school year, and approach it with a unique angle. For example, one year I researched Albert Pope and realized his contributions to bicycle manufacturing also had an impact on women’s freedoms. Dig deep and ask others for feedback on your approach, content, project, etc. In middle school I brought my Hartford Circus Fire exhibit into school and set up a feedback sheet for students and teachers. You would be surprised how small tweaks can really make a difference in driving home your points. For exhibits, incorporate one thing that makes your exhibit stand out. For the Hartford Circus fire, my exhibit was a tent. Tri-folds are effective, too, and for Albert Pope, I used a bicycle tire to outline the center part of my analysis. History Day is ultimately about the research, but having an element on your exhibit to draw people in, to spend time reading your exhibit, really helps.
This semester, I have enrolled in another history elective. Even as a biomedical engineering/materials science and engineering major, I will always have a little bit of a history buff in me thanks to History Day.
Sam Porcello competed in Connecticut History Day from 2011-2015. During those years, Sam won prizes at the National History Day competition in 2011, 2013, 2014, and 2015. He is currently a sophomore at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA and is studying materials science and engineering.