UTEP to Host Annual History Day Competition

Melissa Avila has fond memories of her El Paso History Day participation at The University of Texas at El Paso, even though part of it involved getting lost in the Liberal Arts Building minutes before her presentation.

The senior history major with a minor in secondary education will be a volunteer judge at this year’s 22nd annual El Paso History Day contest from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019, at UTEP. Organizers expect about 400 students from the region’s public, private and charter high schools and middle schools to participate in this year’s event, which is themed “Triumph and Tragedy in History.”

Avila said she was an “overwhelmed” eighth grade student from Anthony Middle School when she came to campus for the first time for History Day. She and a partner had created a video documentary about UTEP’s legendary men’s basketball coach, Don Haskins, the year after his death in 2008.

Avila said that her greatest fear while wandering through the Liberal Arts Building was that she would not have enough time to set up her presentation on the Hall of Fame coach. Avila’s team finished third in her category, but the duo was able to present at the Texas History Day competition because the category’s winners could not go to Austin.

At the statewide competition, Avila and her partner earned a fourth-place finish out of 20 entries.

The El Paso native said the experience advanced her research, computer, interview and presentation skills, which have helped on her academic journey. Her advice to this year’s competitors is to take a deep breath and relax.

“You spent all year on this project and it is your time to show off,” Avila said as if addressing this year’s competitors. “Enjoy the experience, for it can and will be something you will talk about in the future.”

A cadre of 85 judges and 50 volunteers made up of community members and University students, faculty and staff, will assist competitors, who will make presentations as individuals or as teams in five categories: papers, websites, exhibits, performances and documentaries.

Brad Cartwright, Ph.D., associate professor of instruction in history and director of UTEP’s El Paso History Day (EPHD) program, called EPHD one of the biggest regional History Day events in the state, and one of the largest annual outreach activities made by the University’s College of Liberal Arts.

“This is a big effort,” Cartwright said.

The UTEP educator’s eyes widened as he mentioned the many benefits students enjoy through their participation, to include building research and critical thinking skills as well as effective communication techniques.

“The teachers love it because it allows their students to explore topics in greater depth,” he said. “The students work hard on these projects. It’s a meaningful experience that builds a range of skills and confidence.”

Kera Steele, a senior history major, said she participated in two EPHD competitions while a student at Terrace Hills Middle School and Andress High School. In both cases, she designed websites. She earned a trip to Austin for her high school presentation on Hatshepsut, a queen of Egypt who became the country’s ruler around 1473 B.C. She said the interview process at the state level groomed her for her college presentations.

“Going through that interview where I was asked about my own work was helpful, especially since my career path of being a curator will most likely call for those types of interviews,” Steele said. “I didn’t place in Austin, but it was still a fun time there.”

Steele advised History Day contestants to pick something they are interested in, or something they want to learn about because that passion will come through in the competition. She also suggested that participants should make use of their teachers as a resource for help and guidance.

“The most important part is to just have fun with it,” she said. “It’s a pretty cool experience.”

Isabel Mora, a dual-credit history teacher at Valle Verde Early College High School, said approximately 75 of her students participate annually in the EPHD competition and all benefit from the experience.

Mora, who earned bachelor degrees in history and English literature from UTEP in 1996, said History Day requirements force her students to build 21st century career and college readiness skills that go beyond standardized test results. The students learn how to make a formal presentation and how to use technology to conduct profound research, she said.

“This curriculum allows me to get the kids to transcend (the minimum standards) and reach for something much higher,” said Mora, an El Paso native and first-generation college student.

When not competing, participants and their families will be encouraged to visit booths staffed by representatives from the University’s Enrollment Services and various student organizations, or enjoy scheduled entertainment and campus tours.

Denis O’Hearn, Ph.D., dean of the College of Liberal Arts, will present the certificates at the event’s awards assembly. The top two finishers in each category will be eligible to participate in the Texas History Day competition in April in Austin.

“Of all of our studies, history is probably the one that reaches most deeply into the other disciplines,” O’Hearn said. “To do practically anything, from engineering to biology to psychology, you have to know how your field has developed over time. Otherwise, you just keep making the same mistakes over and over again. And this goes for life, too.”

Author:  Daniel Perez – UTEP Communications