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Utah History Fair Recognized by Utah Legislature

Thursday, Mar. 08, 2012


USU History Fair Director Nicholas Demas on Utah Senate floor for honors

Nicholas Demas (left), Utah History Fair director, and the Utah History Fair were recognized on the Senate and House Floor at the Utah Legislature's 2012 session for contributions to student learning.


The Utah History Fair, a program supported by the Department of History at Utah State University, was recognized by the state legislature for its contributions to student learning and civil service for the past 31 years.

Rep. Bradley Daw (R-Orem) facilitated the reading of the citation in the House of Representatives Monday, Feb. 27, lauding the fair’s “outstanding effort by many in promoting learning, education and the understanding of history.”

The History Fair was founded in 1980 by USU history professors Errol Jones and Ross Peterson with support from the Utah Humanities Council. The intent was to establish a research competition that teaches Utah grade school students to think critically and become informed citizens of the past. Participants learn to analyze source material, interpret facts, and evaluate policy for effectiveness and fairness. Top finishers compete in the national competition in Washington D.C.

More than 9,000 students in districts statewide participate in the annual research competition. Despite its success, the Utah History Fair was on the chopping block in 2009 when state budgets tightened. The program was salvaged months later when a $10 entry fee was implemented to keep the program afloat. In 2010-11, five Utah students placed in the Kenneth E. Behring National History Day Contest.

“The results at nationals show how well we do when the program has stability,” said director Nicholas Demas after the Utah State Historical Society recognized the program last fall. “I think programs like the Utah History Fair and National History Day are extremely important in teaching knowledge of the past. There are quite a few lessons that can be gathered from what happened earlier.”

Sara Hacken, a teacher at Lakeridge Junior High in Orem, believes the History Fair helps prepare students for a lifetime of learning and achievement.

“Students don’t just develop academic skills, they learn real-life skills such as creating a documentary, a website, an historical paper, an exhibit or a performance,” she said. “In order to complete any of these projects students have to choose a topic based on a theme, research the topic, and develop a product … In short, I do not know of a better program to introduce students to academic and professional skills that they will build on for the rest of their life.”

In January, Brad Baird, a parent involved with the History Fair, notified Demas that he wanted the state to formally recognize the program. Over the past eight years, Baird’s four children have been involved with the History Fair and he has witnessed positive changes in the way they approach their school work.

“History Fair has affected every single class they have taken,” he said. “Learning is all about discovery, so if you can learn how to discover, it makes your ability to learn is greatly enhanced. Plus it’s fun.”

When his daughter entered the ninth grade and began taking advanced placement classes she confessed that she wasn’t nervous about class assignments. She told him she had done this type of thing before — in the History Fair. She didn’t complain about tackling assignments or writing long papers. The same happened with his other children as they participated in the program.

“That’s what the first lightening flash went off that maybe there is something to this thing,” Baird said. “They really learned how to do research. They learned why it’s important to do research; they learned how to do quality research. They learned that the Internet is not the only place that you can find information.”

Baird argues the skills they developed participating in the History Fair they can apply across disciplines. He believes the research students perform on their topic not only changes their view of history and their role in it, but also prompts parents to continue learning.

“It has opened my eyes tremendously,” Baird said. “Because they are researching a topic, I start researching a topic, too. I start to go back and learn all those things I was supposed to have learned when I was in school.”

For him, the experience has been an awakening.

“I did become more politically active because of what I was learning,” he said.

Baird first approached Rep. Daw last year about ways to help the program. They decided honoring the program during the legislative session would be best.

“The History Fair helps students to not only enjoy school, but get through school,” said Baird. “It teaches them to not shy away from what would be a difficult assignment. It is what learning is all about.”

The Utah History Fair was one of several citations issued this year by members of the Utah legislature applauding USU programs, teachers and students. Among the others include recognition for professor Jim Cangelosi, the 2011 Carnegie Professor of the Year, and the USU students who saved the life of one of their peers trapped beneath a burning vehicle in September.

Related links:

Writer: Kristen Munson, (435) 797-0267, kristen.munson@usu.edu

Contact: Nicholas Demas, (801) 652-6837, Nicholas.demas@usu.edu





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