Orange County students win top honors at National History Day contest

Eleven students from Orange County were recognized for their historical reports, exhibits and websites at the National History Day National Contest.

Northwood High School student Riya Gupta poses with her winning project at the NHD-CA finals.
Northwood High School student Riya Gupta with her winning exhibit at the NHD-CA finals.

In May, the NHD-California contest selected 13 champion historical projects from the county in the junior and senior divisions to represent the state at the national finals, which concluded with a virtual awards ceremony on June 18. 

The NHD program features more than 600,000 students every year. Each individual or group entry is given the opportunity to conduct primary and secondary research to develop their theses based on the given theme. With this year’s focus of “Debate & Diplomacy in History: Successes, Failures, Consequences,” students utilized resources from libraries, museums, archives and eyewitness accounts to create their projects. 

After making it through the county and state competition levels, 2,700 students presented their historical findings through documentaries, exhibits, performances, posters, websites, papers and podcasts at the final ceremony. 

The Irvine Unified School District was widely represented at the national contest, with seven category finalists and two top prize students. 

The first-place prize for Junior Historical Paper went to Alexander Miller from Lakeside Middle School for his report, “The Cod Wars: Iceland’s Victory Through Diplomacy and the Global Consequences of Their Success.”  

Lakeside Middle School student Alexander Miller presents his historical paper titled, "The Cod Wars: Iceland’s Victory Through Diplomacy and the Global Consequences of Their Success."
Lakeside Middle School student Alexander Miller won first place for his historical paper.

“What is great about Alex’s topic is that it focuses in on something that appears to be a small and specific conflict between two nations,” said Jon Pang, Alexander’s teacher, “but has the unintended consequence to have a major impact on worldwide conflicts today.” 

Northwood High School student Riya Gupta won the first place Senior Individual Exhibit prize for her project, entitled “A World Without War: Women Empowered Debate and Diplomacy at the Hague.” Gupta was also honored with the National History Academy Scholarship in the Special Award Winner category.  

“I really enjoyed competing in NHD this year and truly learned a lot about history and the importance of equitable representation,” Gupta said. 

Both IUSD students, along with the remaining junior and senior division first-place winners, will receive the title of “National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar,” along with $1,000 awards from the NEH.  

The second-place prize for Senior Group Website went to Sofia Sevilla and Nataly Lopez from Samueli Academy in Santa Ana for their project, “We’re Not Experiments: Shaping Medical Ethics Through The Nuremberg Code.” Sevilla and Lopez will also receive a cash prize as part of their award.

Three Orange County student projects were recognized as finalists in their respective categories, including an entry for Senior Group Exhibit titled “Abstract Expressionist Art in the American National Exhibition: Modernist Culture as a Diplomatic Weapon” from students Sol Choi, Deul Choi and Allison Yue from University High School.

Students from Sierra Vista Middle School claimed two of the finalist spots with “Yu Gwan Sun: A Martyr of the Korean Independence Movement” by Susan Kim for Junior Individual Performance, and “Judy Blume and the Battle Against Book Censorship” by Isabelle Yang, Zixuan Cui and Yongjing Li for Junior Group Website. 

Samueli Academy students Sofia Sevilla and Nataly Lopez won a second place prize for their project at the NHD finals.
Samueli Academy students Nataly Lopez and Sofia Sevilla won second-place honors for their group website.

In all, three of the seven winning projects representing California were produced and presented by Orange County students. 

“We know the many challenges that students and teachers faced again this year, but we are so amazed that they remained so engaged with learning and discovering the past,” NHD Executive Director Dr. Cathy Gorn said in a statement. “I congratulate all of this year’s National History Day participants.”

Next year’s National History Day competition will center on the theme “Frontiers in History: People, Places, Ideas” and will likely return with in-person presentations, according to Dr. Gorn.  

A list of the 2022 NHD winners and finalists can be found at: