Dickinson Middle School students competed in the National History Day competition at the University of Maryland this week.

National History Day is an academic program focused on historical research, interpretation and creative expression for 6th to 12th grade students. Students choose a topic on the year's theme and create one of five projects: documentary, website, performance, exhibit or paper.

This year's theme was from tragedy to triumph. DMS Seventh-graders Rylee Davis and Sami Ficek created an exhibit on the Salem Witch Trials; Eighth-graders Abby Lange and Elizabeth Keele created an exhibit on Stephen Hawking.

The students competed in the regional and state competition and were the top two in their category (exhibit), so they were invited to the national competition.

"They did really well. They did their best," said Mitch Meier, teacher. "There was an award that they gave out for the top three in each category, and we didn't get any of those, but they do give out an award for the top project in each category in each state, and one of my groups did come away with one of those."

Rylee and Sami won the Most Outstanding Entry for North Dakota.

"We were really excited because there was quite a few other people from North Dakota that could have gotten it," Rylee said.

One project from each state was chosen to present their exhibit at the Smithsonian American History Museum. Abby and Elizabeth's project was chosen for North Dakota.

Presenting at the Smithsonian was Abby's favorite part of the trip.

"We got to go and talk to all these different people about our project, and a lot of them were very talkative. It was fun to talk about Stephen Hawking with them," she said.

Abby picked Stephen Hawking for their project because she's admired him for most of her life. While reading his books, she thought his life would fit well with the year's theme.

"We did it based off of how we thought his ALS was going to be his tragedy, but then we realized that his lack of motivation in life before his ALS was the actually tragedy. What everyone thinks is his tragedy became his triumph, and he used his ALS to motivate himself to achieve all that he has achieved," she said.

Meier said the work that goes into the projects helps prepare students for high school and college.

"I think it really just kind of prepares them for what college can be like, no matter what field you go into. These kids may not go into the history field, but it's really preparing them with finding how to research and cite things and just explore different places to find information. It really helps prepare them for the next level, and even high school," he said.

This is Meier's first year taking students to the national competition, and he plans to continue National History Day with his future students.