Texas History Fair takes Baylor campus by storm with over 100 students

Heart of Texas History Fair presentation on submerged towns. Grace Everett | Photographer

By Stephy Mahoney | Staff Writer

The Heart of Texas Regional History Fair held its annual competition Thursday morning at The Bill Daniel Student Center holding over 100 student competitors from 11 schools in the surrounding counties.

History Fair Coordinator Alexis Whiteford said she joined Baylor in September 2022 and has been working diligently in the upcoming of this fair for the past few months.

“It’s a really great opportunity to encourage kids to learn more about the history and gain lifelong skills such as being able to do research, use different sources and have a heart of work to be able to continue and grow with a competitive edge,” Whiteford said.

Baylor has hosted the Heart of Texas Regional Fair since 1986 and is currently sponsored by The Texas Collection.

Dr. Elesha Coffman, associate professor of history, said she has been at Baylor for seven years and involved with this competition from the beginning years. This competition acts as enrichment for local students’ passions and future possible career paths, with personal experience because her daughter competed in middle school and is studying history in college.

Coffman said there are 15 categories in that students can compete. Medals are given out to first, second and third place in every category as well as the top two students of every category advancing onto the next round.

“This feeds into the state contest and then national so we want our regional winners to have time to be able to improve their projects,” Coffman said. “They get a lot of feedback from the competition and they are able to take that and use it to change and compete at the next level.”

Coffman also said special awards are unusual among regional fairs. She said they have a lot of them from different departments on campus, local organizations, historical societies and museums. The local organizations or businesses sponsor special awards relating to something they are passionate about or involved in.

“It could be something that has to do with Black History or the best project understanding of the Texas Revolution. Any student project that meets the criteria for the special award,” Coffman said. “Some of the special awards have cash, books, kindles and things like that. We’ve got over a dozen sponsors I can think of off the top of my head.”

Whiteford said each competition has an annual theme which offers students a lot of creativity within their projects and helps students gain a deeper understanding and passion as they compete each year.

“This year’s theme is Frontiers in History: People, Places, Ideas,” Whiteford said. “They have to choose a project within that but they have a lot of open interpretation so they are able to find what they are interested in and continue building on that passion.”

Coffman said the whole event is great for involving the general public and showing them what students do at Baylor.

“Most people in the community don’t know that there is one, would never visit it or have any connection to it at all so this is a great way to show all of the resources we have here,” Coffman said.

The regional contest then advances the strongest projects to the Texas History Day and National History Day competitions, Coffman said.

“It’s a great opportunity for enrichment for middle school and high school students who might have a deep interest in history or might not know they have a deep interest yet, but this is a chance for them to discover it,” Coffman said.

Even though the competition is smaller than she would’ve liked this year, Coffman said they are still grateful students are able to come and enjoy their passions in a competitive and educational way.

In the past two years, COVID-19 forced many changes for the competition, including making everything virtual, Coffman said.

“All judging and submissions were online, some of the project formats more easily than others, like websites, which made performance really hard for students who had trifold boards and would just have to submit a picture of it. It doesn’t give the same experience at all,” Coffman said. “This year is smaller than pre-pandemic fairs which changes the structure a little bit too trying to get 100 students through in one day.”