Lake Oswego Review: Local students place at history conference
Author: Jillian Dalley
Posted: May 17, 2016

The Young Historians Conference is organized by the Portland State University Challenge Program. This article was originally published in the Lake Oswego Review

PHOTO: Lakeridge senior Sam Levin took first place at the Young Historians Conference, a statewide competition launched by Lakeridge teacher Karen Hoppes.

Local students were among the best in the annual Young Historians Conference on April 28 at Portland State University.

Lakeridge High School senior Sam Levin earned first place and Riverdale High School senior Emma Komers finished third in the 26th-annual competition. Lena Breda of Portland’s St. Mary’s Academy walked away with second.

Levin’s paper, titled “Since Time Immemorial: The Decline of Columbia River Basin Salmon,” focused on why the river once held the largest population of salmon in the world, but now is home to a relatively scant gathering of the fish. He wrote from an eco-conscious standpoint, coupled with the pragmatic position of preserving the environment to maintain profitable fishing.

Levin says he did not expect to take the top spot.

“I was very, very surprised,” he says. “It was not even a thought that I would win after I read the abstracts of the other (students competing) in the conference. I was just very excited. I felt very honored that all of the graduate students and professors thought that mine was the best out of so many scary-briilliant kids.”

Teachers decide which papers to send to the conference for judging, and PSU grad students and professors review the submissions, which are written by high school students from throughout the state. Students deliver presentations on their papers at the event, but Levin says judges have already settled on the winners by then.

Topics this year included: voodoo, ancient Greek medicine, the Islamic Iberian Peninsula, human dissection, imperialism in the United States, print media in the Cold War and much, much more.

Komers’ paper, titled “The Link Between Artemisia Gentileschi’s Biography and Her Artistic Oeuvre,” centered around the body of work of a female painter born in Rome in 1593.

“Writing the essay was rigorous, but fun,” Komers says. “I was asked to write about a topic of choice and therefore felt more motivated to research it than other school papers. It made me realize how much I like to conduct research if the topic itself interests me. I did not write it expecting to submit it into Young Historians, but the overall process was worth the final result.” 

Other Riverdale students who presented at the conference were Cynthia Abrams, Ellie Barany, Alexander Klas and Matous Komers (Emma Komers’ twin brother). Other Lakeridge presenters were Ceili Charley, Spencer C.J. Gregg and Logan Marek.

Inspiring local students to learn more about history through such rigorous research and writing was the idea of Lakeridge High School teacher Karen Hoppes, “the driving force behind" the creation of the conference, says Sam Levin’s father, Matt Levin, an attorney with Portland law firm Markowitz Herbold.

“It’s become a highly competitive competition around the state,” Matt Levin says. “People who love history love this conference.”

Hoppes says the idea sparked after she had read yet another article about how Oregon schools were "failing students." She was tired of it.

"I was teaching excellent students who were dedicated and hard-working, and I couldn't understand why the newspapers did not talk about the success stories," she says. "So, I wanted to develop a project where students in history programs would have an opportunity to showcase their talents."

It's now the 24th year a Lakeridge student has been awarded for a paper at the Young Historians Conference.

"It has been quite an honor to work with talented and dedicated students who are willing to let me push and prod them into raising their expectations," she says, "who allow me to help them improve by forcing them to rewrite that paper one more time, of students who let me to be part of their academic growth. I can't express enough how proud I am of these young people — and the thrill of it all, is that I get to 'tag along' in their journey of academic success."