Submitted by the Lowell Milken Center
Students in history teacher Nathan McAlister’s Royal Valley Middle School class in Mayetta, Kan., have won the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Hero’s 2016 Discovery Award $7,500 grand prize. This international student competition awards creative projects that discover positive role models, or Unsung Heroes, whose positive impact on history remains largely unknown.
Seventh graders Luke Boyden, Colin Everts and Colin Caviness created a documentary on Emma Darling Cushman, an American nurse who saved the lives of thousands of Armenian children during the Armenian genocide. In addition to caring for countless orphans, Cushman served as Acting Consul of the Allies and Neutral Nations, overseeing millions of dollars in relief funds and prisoner exchanges. Because of their work to bring Cushman’s unsung heroism to light, the students have been given the honor of inscribing her headstone at the American Cemetery in Cairo.
“This was our strongest year of applicants yet,” says Lowell Milken Center Executive Director Norm Conard. “We are truly impressed by the discoveries made and quality of projects completed by students across the country and the world through robust research and a commitment to celebrating Unsung Heroes from history.”
The $2,000 second place prize has been awarded to Jeremy Wells and Natalie Brodine, seniors in Susan Sittenauer’s history class at Seaman High School in Topeka. Their award-winning documentary tells the story of Eugene Lazowsi, a doctor who saved the lives of more than 8,000 Polish Jews during World War II by injecting them with a phony vaccine that would create a false positive for typhus. By convincing the Nazis that the typhus epidemic was spreading across 12 different villages, Dr. Lazowski’s ruse caused the Nazis to sanction off the “infected” Polish ghettos and stopped the transport of these Polish Jews to death camps. In an article written by Dr. Lazowski 35 years later, he wrote,” I was not able to fight with a gun or a sword, but I found a way to scare the Germans.” His bravery is largely unknown but his impact was immense.
Additional winners in this international student competition discovered Unsung Heroes whose actions positively changed the course of history and improved the lives of others. They include:
Third Place ($1,000)
Students: Mya Hagerty and Kate Clarke
Teacher: Jeffrey Rudkin
School: Batchelor Middle School (Bloomington, Indiana)
Project: The documentary “A Kristallnacht Survivor Courageously standing up to Discrimination,” tells the story of Unsung Hero Walter Sommers, a World War II veteran whose actions helped de-segregate lunch counters across Southern Indiana at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.
Outstanding Elementary Project ($1,000)
Students: Adam Perez, Addison Theriot, Allison Leach, Suzette Medina
Teacher: Beth de Mahy
School: Iberia Parish 6th Grade Gifted Program (Iberia Parish, Louisiana)
Project: The documentary, “The Florence Nightingale of the Bayou Country,” tells the story of Katherine Buckner Avery, a nurse who broke social boundaries to improve rural health care in Louisiana, particularly for African-Americans, during a time of intense racial segregation. Avery took charge of a refugee camp following the 1927 Mississippi River flood, and later established the New Iberia Crippled Children’s Association to treat children afflicted with polio and other spinal injuries.
Outstanding Middle School Project ($1,000)
Students: Molli Christensen and Rachel Osborn
Teacher: Alice Bertels
School: Washburn Rural Middle School (Topeka, Kansas)
Project: The documentary, “Heroes Don’t Always Wear Capes,” tells the story of Frances Kelsey, a Canadian pharmacologist and physician who, as a reviewer for the FDA, refused to authorize thalidomide, a drug later shown to cause serious birth defects. Through a long career with the FDA in decades following, Kelsey continued to have a significant impact on strengthening the agency’s oversight of pharmaceuticals.
Outstanding High School Project ($1,000)
Students: Avery Munns
Teacher: Lindsey Dowell
School: Washburn Rural High School (Topeka, Kansas)
Project: The documentary, “Ex Parte Endo: A Journey Toward Justice for Japanese Americans,” tells the story of Mitsuye Endo, a woman who challenged Japanese-American internment all the way up to the United States Supreme Court and won.
Outstanding International Project ($1,000)
Students: Eva Jemelkova, Martin Muzikar, Tomas Rysavy, Martin Tichy, and David Valecky
Teacher: Olga Myslikova
School: SSTE Brno, Olomoucka, prispevkova organizace (Czech Republic)
Project: The website tells the story of Jan Opletal, a brave activist whose premature death in 1939 from injuries sustained during an anti-Nazi demonstration catalyzed widespread student activism and served as a model for Nazi defiance across the Czech Republic. Fifty years later, on November 17, 1989, a mass demonstration organized to commemorate Opletal sparked the Velvet Revolution.
LMC’s Discovery Award provides U.S. and international students in grades 4 through 12 a unique opportunity to use their creative talents to develop projects that feature Unsung Heroes from history who demonstrate the power that one person has to make positive change in the world. Projects can take the form of documentary/multimedia, performance or website. In addition to robust research, an annotated bibliography and a process paper, projects must show potential for life beyond the development of the project and an ability to inspire students and others to take sustainable actions that carry out the legacies of their subjects.