Iowa Students Take Top Honors at National History Day Contest

    DES MOINES – Five Iowa students are celebrating this week after winning top honors at the 2019 National History Day contest at the University of Maryland.

    Leslie Kim of Ames Middle School took first place for her website and Daynen McKee and Hayden Wahlberg from the Akron-Wesfield Community School District won for their exhibit. Andrea Koehler and Tatum Buckley of Bettendorf Middle School took third in the country for their website.

    National History Day is a year-long academic enrichment program that challenges students to research, develop and present papers, exhibits, documentaries, websites and performances about historical issues, ideas, people and events related to an annual theme. This year’s theme was “Triumph and Tragedy in History.” More than half a million middle and high school students around the world participate in the program annually.

    “This program is incredibly challenging and helps students develop skills that will serve them all their lives," State Historical Society of Iowa Administrator Susan Kloewer said. "We are proud of our National History Day students for the time and commitment they devoted this year and we congratulate our national champions and our other national finalists. We also thank their teachers and families for their support."

    In Iowa, nearly 8,000 students participated at school contests this year and about 2,000 advanced to district contests. About 600 of those students moved on to the state contest at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines in April. Overall, Iowa sent 67 students to the 2019 National History Day finals where they competed against nearly 3,000 students from the United States, Guam, American Samoa, Department of Defense Schools in Europe, and international schools in China, Korea and South Asia for scholarships and prizes.

    The National History Day program includes a Junior Division (grades 6-8), Senior Division (grades 9-12), and a non-competitive Youth Division (grades 4-5). Students learn important literacy skills and how to conduct research using primary, secondary, community and statewide resources. Working individually or collaboratively in groups of two to five, they develop the following attributes that are important for future success:

    • critical thinking and problem-solving skills
    • research and reading skills
    • oral and written communication and presentation skills
    • self-esteem and confidence
    • a sense of responsibility for and involvement in the democratic process

    The list of this year’s National History Day medalists, finalists and special award recipient in the junior and senior divisions from Iowa follows:


    Junior Individual Website
    Student: Leslie Kim
    School: Ames Middle School
    Title: "The Gwangju Uprising: Triumphs from Tragedy"
    First Place

    Junior Group Exhibit
    Students: Daynen McKee and Hayden Wahlberg
    School: Akron-Westfield Community School District
    Title: "Tragedy in the Chicago Fire and Triumph in the Architectural Response"
    First Place

    Junior Group Website
    Students: Andrea Koehler and Tatum Buckley
    School: Bettendorf Middle School
    Title: "Loving v. Virginia: Love Triumphs over Virginia's Tragic Anti-Miscegenation Laws"
    Third Place


    Senior Individual Performance
    Student: Tanner Striegel
    School: Nashua-Plainfield High School
    Title: "A Night at Ford's Theatre: Military Triumph Turns to Tragedy"
    *The Legacy Award is a student prize given by the Creativity Foundation


    Junior Paper
    Student: Paige Thacker
    School: Johnston Middle School
    Title: "Visions for a Vaccine: The Benefits of a Bitter Rivalry Between Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin"

    Senior Individual Performance
    Student: Allie Tubbs
    School: Johnston High School
    Title: "Governor Ray's Humanitarian Efforts Triumph over the Tragedy of Vietnam"

    Senior Group Performance
    Students: Hannah Belk and Jenna Willet
    School: North Scott Senior High School
    Title: "A Field of Honor"

    Senior Individual Exhibit
    Student: Dylan Engelbrecht
    School: North Scott Senior High School
    Title: "Herblock's Triumphant Cartoons Exposing America's Tragedy of McCarthyism"

    The National History Day in Iowa program has been coordinated by the State Historical Society of Iowa, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, since 1994 and is sponsored by the State Historical Society, Inc., Principal Financial Group. Bravo Greater Des Moines, Prairie Meadows and Luther College.


    The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and its three divisions – the Iowa Arts Council, Produce Iowa - State Office of Media Production and the State Historical Society of Iowa – empower Iowa to build and sustain culturally vibrant communities by connecting Iowans to the people, places and points of pride that define our state. The department’s work enables Iowa to be recognized as a state that fosters creativity and serves as a catalyst for innovation where the stories of Iowa are preserved and communicated to connect past, present and future generations.