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Students present projects at YSU History Day

Fair studies turning points

YOUNGSTOWN — The effects of immigration, access to Adobe Premiere Pro through his school and his own Irish ancestry were some of the things that drew Hawken School’s Ben Miyares and Sawar Sahni to do a documentary about Ireland’s potato famine.

“First of all, most obviously my friend here, Ben, has a family history dating back to Ireland, and they immigrated during the famine,” Sawar said. “But it’s also like we had four people in our group, but two couldn’t make it. But all four of us were wondering about the Irish potato famine but wanted to know more and we don’t really get taught about it.”

Ben, Sawar and their other partner were both from India, and their experience with Britain having colonial rule over India brought them together as a turning point. The lack of conversation about it also made it applicable, Miyares added.

Miyares and Sahni were two of 110 students partaking in Region 4 Ohio History Day across Youngstown State University’s facilities on Saturday.

The event, which draws students from Mahoning, Trumbull, Ashtabula, Geauga and Portage counties, tested their research skills and ability to use primary and secondary sources to support a thesis with some connection to the theme. Students were allowed to use varying forms of media to present their research, with a vast majority choosing trifold display boards over websites, documentaries and performances.

History Day is a nationwide contest in which middle and high school students present exhibits, websites, papers, documentaries and performances on historical subjects related to this year’s theme, Turning Points in History. The students’ work is judged and selected for state competition.

Belinda Weiss has served as the director of the National McKinley Birthplace Memorial Museum since 2022, but her involvement with History Day dates back much further.

Weiss explained she first did the event because she had to as a graduate student, but after graduation, she kept coming back as a way to give back to her college and assist the history department.

Weiss said that over her 12 years of judging, it was interesting to see students turn something current and make it fit the theme rather than stick to basics. She added that one of her favorite parts was interacting with the students.

“I do enjoy talking with the students a lot of times. It’s their first time really doing something where they’re doing a presentation. So I look at it as a way of sort of helping that process and hopefully the more that they do it, the better,” she said.

This year’s theme challenged students to learn about the world prior to a topic and draw conclusions on how it affected people or parts of the world. This year’s junior individual exhibits saw multiple 9/11 and May 4 Kent State shooting projects, which Weiss guessed was caused by their desire to choose something that they might have heard more of from their parents or grandparents.

Youngstown State University history professor David Simonelli has been the District 4 event coordinator since 2016, and he admitted there were fewer students this year.

“Presumably teachers are struggling in their classrooms to get kids focused and all,” Simonelli said. “So I mean taking them out to a place like here to put on their own very personalized projects on history might be kind of daunting to consider. But I am not pessimistic that we will recover our numbers.”

Simonelli said out of 59 projects, a third of them go on to state.

“We’ve had projects that have made it to nationals in the past, although I don’t know if any of them have actually won,” Simonelli said.

Simonelli encouraged anyone who wants to get involved to reach out to him, as they are always looking for new schools to participate. He can be reached via email at

dsimonelli@ysu.edu.

History projects

The following students won various categories at the annual Region 4 Ohio History Day at YSU:

• Junior Group Documentary — Brynn Biddlestone, Grace Cafaro and Anna Ulicney, St. Rose Catholic School, Girard

• Senior Group Documentary — Brooke Gemechu, Areesha Nouman, Siya Lakireddy and Aanya Lakireddy, Hawken Upper School, Gates Mills

• Junior Group Exhibit — Carson Stiftenger, Marco Fiorini and Antonio DeGennaro, St. Rose Catholic School, Girard

• Senior Group Exhibit — Luke Wack and Jon Miller, Hubbard High School

• Junior Group Website — Lilly Partain, Alexa Howard, Zoe McNeil and Kaela Maniscalco, St. Rose, Girard

• Senior Group Website — Abby Gemechu, Liam Workman, Rebecca Chin and Arnav Sahni, Hawken Upper School, Gates Mills

• Junior Individual Documentary — Jody Said-Salloum, Notre Dame Elementary School, Chardon

• Senior Individual Documentary — Qiwen Wu, Hawken Upper School, Gates Mills

• Junior Individual Exhibit — Nikolina Injic, Notre Dame Elementary School, Chardon

• Senior Individual Exhibit — Delaney Thomson, Hubbard High School

• Junior Individual Website — John Mele, Notre Dame Elementary School, Chardon

• Senior Individual Website — Calvin Lei, Hawken Upper School, Gates Mills

• Junior Paper — Samuel Manning, Holy Family School, Poland

• Senior Paper — Omar Elbadawy, Hawken Upper School, Gates Mills

SOURCE: David Simonelli, YSU history department and organizer

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