University Relations and Communications

Middle school, high school students showcase research skills at Montana National History Day event at MSU Billings

March 31, 2009


Dr. Tom Rust, Department of History, 657-2891
Dan Carter, University Relations, 657-2269


MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — While Montana State University Billings is normally a place where students come to learn, some talented middle school and high school students will arrive at the university in late April to show off their skills as researchers.


The Montana National History Day competition comes to MSU Billings on Thursday, April 23.  The event runs from 4-7:30 p.m. with sessions dedicated to exhibits, documentaries, research papers and website development, all done by Montana students in grades 4-12.


Exhibits, performances, documentaries and the awards ceremonies will be held in different rooms of the MSU Billings Liberal Arts and Library buildings and will be open to the public.


This year is Montana’s inaugural statewide competition in National History Day, a national program designed to give elementary and secondary students an opportunity to gain some lifetime skills and make learning fun. It also provides their teachers with some tools to engage students and meet national educational standards, said Dr. Tom Rust, assistant professor of history at MSU Billings. 


National History Day has a long standing reputation for excellence since the early 1970s, but it has only now reached Montana. More than 5 million students have gone on to careers in business, law, medicine and other disciplines where they are putting into practice what they learned through their National History Day endeavors.


National History Day is actually not a singular day, but an experience. It’s a yearlong program that uses history to challenge middle school and high school students to improve their research, analytical and communications skills. Whether done individually or in groups, students select a topic and conduct research on it based on a broad theme which changes annually. This year, the theme is “Individuals in History: Actions and Legacies.”


Rust said that the themes are selected to stimulate not only interest in history, but encourage students to become more familiar with local resources. Searches for primary and secondary resources for projects steer students to local libraries, newspaper archives, historical societies and museums.  Many students also conduct oral history interviews, allowing the past to flow from the memories of elders in their families and communities.


Students then present their findings in research or creative papers, museum-style exhibits, original dramatic performances or multimedia documentaries and even websites. The program culminates each June with a national contest at the University of Maryland.


Rust’s role as Montana State Coordinator of National History Day has been to work with area middle school and high school educators to encourage involvement. By incorporating National History Day projects in the classroom curriculum early in the school year, both learning and teaching can be enriched, he said.


“It helps students refine their thinking and analysis skills, it balances academic integrity with projects and engages students in new ways with history,” Rust said. “Instead of rote memorization, they learn to analyze history and what it means.”


Rust is also seeking judges for the April 23 competition. Anyone interested in history or providing feedback to students on their projects are urged to contact him. No experience is necessary and volunteers will receive a free barbecue bison burger and brat dinner provided by the MSU Billings History Club.


For information on volunteering as a judge for the Montana National History Day competition or for more information on National History Day, contact Rust at 657-2891 or via e-mail at