Students Win Top Awards at National History Honor Society Conference

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Southern Virginia University students JJ Feinauer and Lauren Hafen placed first and second, respectively, for research papers they presented at a regional Phi Alpha Theta National History Honor Society conference in Newport News, Va., last month.

In February, four Southern Virginia students submitted papers to the Phi Alpha Theta conference. Topic specialists from around the country reviewed each and rewarded a cumulative score before the conference took place. The conference itself consisted mostly of verbal presentations on the papers, after which the winners were announced.

Feinauer, a graduating senior who will intern for the Deseret News this summer, placed first in the conference’s American history category, and Hafen, a junior from Detroit, Mich., placed second in the European history category.

“We were really prepared,” Hafen said. “Presenting academically in a variety of classes helped me have more confidence in going forward with my presentation.”

Dr. Lora Knight, associate professor of history at Southern Virginia, advised both students during the writing process. Knight praised Feinauer and Hafen for their high-caliber preparation.

“The key element was the quality of their primary research,” Knight said. “JJ [Feinauer] traveled to the State Archives in Richmond to search through the papers of a previous state governor. One of the really impressive things about Lauren’s research was that much of it was in French, so she had to translate it.”

Feinauer wrote his paper on an early progressive Virginia governor, Andrew Jackson Montague, who promoted education of African Americans despite supporting the disenfranchisement of the African American vote. He said that he specifically chose a topic relevant to Virginia so that he could access primary sources.

“My paper explored the progressive identity in the South,” said Feinauer. “How the South approached progressivism was unique because it had only been 30 years since the civil war… Montague tried to reshape how the South viewed itself and how the North viewed the South, which was a very Southern progressive task. Many progressives saw themselves as the bridge between the South and the rest of the country.”

Hafen’s paper explored the relationship between American soldiers and French citizens during World War I. As part of her research, she worked with Professor James Leva on translations of her French documents. Hafen and Feinauer praised Knight and other professors for mentoring and providing individual support throughout the writing process.

“One of Dr. Knight’s strengths is that she helps you see the world through the social classes,” Feinauer said. “That helped me examine the progressive era in the context of the African Americans’ struggle for civil rights.”

Hafen presented her paper to Knight and two other professors, Dr. Francis MacDonnell and Dr. Virginia Mosser, before attending the conference. She noted that all three opened up their schedules to preview her presentation. Mosser also accompanied all four Southern Virginia students to the regional conference and participated as a panel moderator at the conference.

“Your professors are familiar with the papers you’re writing,” Hafen said. “They take a more active role in the writing than you might get at other universities.”

Feinauer said that he was “blown away” when he heard his name announced as the first-place winner. Both he and Hafen expressed gratitude for the preparation they received in Southern Virginia’s history program.

“One of the biggest things that separated [Southern Virginia] students from other students we could see was this strong emphasis on primary documents, doing our research, and making sure that we have strong thesis statements and take a firm stance,” said Feinauer. “There were a lot of presentations that were good and interesting, but didn’t have that edge; they weren’t making a statement about a time in history… These four years of writing papers and reading essays have really paid off. I feel comfortable in an academic discipline. That’s a gratifying feeling.”