Amherst High School Junior Jen Omernik started competing in the National History Day (NHD) competition in 2020 when she was in eighth grade. Each year, more than half a million students participate in the National History Day contest, in which students choose a historical topic related to an annual theme and then conduct in-depth research. Through Jen’s work in National History Day competitions and in cooperation with her mentor, Naomi Peuse, the duo recently received an all-expenses-paid invitation to participate in the Sacrifice for Freedom: World War II at the Pacific Student & Teacher Institute in Oahu, Hawaii this June.
Jen’s mother, Judy, a third-grade teacher at Amherst, said, “This past fall, Naomi saw a posting for the Sacrifice for Freedom: World War II in the Pacific Summer Institute Program on an NHD website and asked Jen if she would be interested in applying.”
Jen’s resumé in National History Day is impressive. In 2020, she and four other students presented A Journey to the Moon and Beyond, about the space race and the moon landing, which advanced to the state competition. In 2021, Jen and Carson Zietlow made a documentary, Rejecting Russification: The Fight to Save the Lithuanian Language, about how Russia tried to eradicate the Lithuanian language and culture in an effort to absorb Lithuania into Russia, which advanced to the national competition. Due to COVID-19, both the 2020 state competition and the 2021 national competition were held virtually.
In 2022, Jen entered the solo documentary category with Excusing the Enemy: How the United States Hired Nazi Scientists through Operation Paperclip. Her research explored how Nazi scientists were offered positions and pardoned by the U.S. and other countries following the fall of the Third Reich at the end of World War II. Her documentary advanced to the state competition.
Peuse, who was in charge of the gifted and talented program at TRSD for several years, introduced Amherst students to the National History Day Competition in 2020. She mentored Jen and her team of peers both in 2020 and 2021. In the fall of 2021, Peuse left Amherst to become a librarian at Weyauwega-Fremont but offered to continue mentoring Jen. Now the duo will take another incredible step in their journey by attending the Sacrifice for Freedom: World War II in the Pacific Student & Teacher Institute.
This National History Day program has 16 teacher-student high-school teams participating, selected from a field of 68, and is sponsored by the Pearl Harbor Historic Site Partners, which includes the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, Pacific Historic Parks, Battleship Missouri Memorial, and the Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum at Pearl Harbor.
Each team will select a silent hero from the same region they are from—a true hometown hero. They then have six months to research the context of World War II in the Pacific and specifically, the life of a silent hero who died during World War II and is buried in or memorialized at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii. In Hawaii, the teams will share their eulogies of their silent hero at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
Jen Omernik (right) and her National History Day mentor Naomi Peuse.
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