An Interview with Maryland’s first NHD gold medalist
Spotlight on Ethan McComb, NHD Gold Medalist
Maryland’s first ever National History Day (NHD) gold medal winner answered a few questions about his experiences with the History Day program. McComb, who starts eighth grade at Plum Point Middle School in Calvert County this fall, competed in the junior individual exhibit category at the national level when he was in both sixth and seventh grades.
1. How did you pick your topic? What did you know about the Marshall Plan before you started your research for History Day?
I chose my topic by analyzing the theme and then finding a topic that not only fit the theme, but was a researchable topic and one I would enjoy exploring. Before I started this research, my knowledge on the Marshall Plan was limited, but this research vastly increased my knowledge to a point of being able to create an in-depth project such as my History Day exhibit.
2. How much time did you spend working on your project each week or overall? How did you balance your project with your other schoolwork and extra curricular activities?
Throughout the entire process I have spent over a hundred hours working on and perfecting my project. I always kept in mind that school came first and if that meant having to go shoot baskets in the dark then so be it. I made sure to do my homework and my History Day project before sports, but on some nights you don’t have enough time, so I just did more work the next night.
3. What skills did you learn from your History Day experience that you may use in other courses or activities (in the future or today)?
I learned to be a better researcher and a better writer. These skills helped me excel as a student and will benefit me in whatever job field I choose to enter.
4. What were some of the most rewarding parts of your History Day experience (besides winning a gold medal)? What was exciting about the competitions themselves (e.g., seeing other projects, camaraderie with other students, talking to judges)?
The most rewarding part of History Day is the historical knowledge you gain and meeting all the other contestants. This allows you to get a better understanding of how other students think and how they choose to go about completing a History Day project. I also enjoy seeing the other exhibits that I was competing against and learning about those topics.
5. What was the most challenging part of History Day?
The most challenging part of History Day is staying dedicated and continuing to improve on your project, but if you do you will see yourself move on further and further in the competition.
6. What did you do to improve your project between each competition?
Between each competition I improved my project by continuing to do research and adding additional things to my project. For example, between states and Nationals, I conducted research at the National Archives. This research greatly improved my project by giving me primary source documents and real telegrams about the Marshall Plan which I used in my project.
7. What sources were the most important for your project, and where did you find them?
The sources that were most important for my project were the George C. Marshall Foundation and doing actual research at the National Archives.
8. What suggestions do you have for other History Day students?
Pick a topic you will enjoy doing and stay dedicated. Remember the reward of knowledge and understanding is well worth the price.
9. In what ways do you think History Day changed or impacted your life?
History Day changed the way I research and how I manage a large project. The History Fair has only impacted my life and my learning experience for the better.
10. Do you want to study history in the future—at college or perhaps as a career?
History has always been my passion and I truly love it. I haven’t decided what I want to be when I am older, but I am sure that history will in some way be involved with my life.
Photo: Classic Photography, courtesy of NHD
Ethan McComb with NEH Chairman Jim Leach at National History Day 2011.