Marymount History program hosts Phi Alpha Theta Virginia State Conference remotely

On March 28, Marymount’s History program hosted the state conference for Phi Alpha Theta, the history student honor society. But in a first for the organization, the meeting was held remotely.

It was initially planned to be held in Marymount’s Ballston Center, with colleges and universities throughout Virginia and the nation’s capital invited to send students to participate. Students submitted paper proposals for inclusion in the conference, and could submit full written papers for judging in a competition for the best paper. More than two dozen students from around the state and Washington, D.C., submitted proposals.

Spring Break was nearing its end, and the History and Politics Department was ready to go. The proposals were reviewed and the papers were organized into themed panels. Marymount History students volunteered to work as conference aids, and Booeymonger’s restaurant next to the Ballston Center agreed to donate a discount to conference participants. Marymount’s Student Government Association (SGA) gave enough money to provide refreshments for a reception with a keynote speaker. The program was ready, the panels chairs were ready and the students were eager (and probably nervous.) Even the cherry blossoms downtown cooperated, showing off the D.C. area in its best light.  

But on March 11, in response to the spread of COVID-19, Marymount announced that its campus would not reopen immediately after Spring Break, and classes would resume remotely. In response, Dr. Mark Benbow, Associate Professor of Modern American History and the conference organizer, began working to convert the conference to allow participation via Zoom. Test sessions using the video conferencing software showed that a virtual conference would work, and so at 9 a.m. on March 28, the state Phi Alpha Theta student research conference began. 

Approximately 35 to 40 people attended, including students, professots and friends hailing from Virginia, D.C. and as far away as California and Utah. There were 12 papers presented in six different sessions, representing eight schools from Virginia, D.C. and Maryland. Paper topics included the 1968 Democratic Convention, the 1911 Mexican Revolution, slave rebellions in Virginia and the experiences of a student’s grandfather in the Vietnam War. Student papers were judged by Marymount History faculty and prizes (Amazon gift cards) were awarded to the three best papers. The cost of the prizes was covered by the Marymount Student Government Association. 

The winning papers were:
1st: Teresa Gunter, University of Lynchburg, “An American Story: Pierre Daura as a Refugee, Immigrant, and Naturalized Citizen”
2nd: Mason Connor, Southern Virginia University, “Visions of Democracy: Francisco I. Madero’s Mexican Revolution”
3rd: Haylee Orlowski, James Madison University, “Grayscale Thoughts: Reactions to Brown v. Board of Education”