State History Day Finalist Heading to National Competition in Baltimore

Paige Moffat ’19 and Cassie Reilly, a senior at Pomperaug High School in Southbury, were awarded second place in the Senior Group Division at Connecticut History Day on May 4 at Central Connecticut State University. The two students, who have been friends since elementary school, will now advance to the National History Day® contest, which will be held June 9‒14 at the University of Maryland, College Park. The pair will present their original research into the history of clinical trials, the culmination of which was an exhibit titled, “Who Plays God? The Tragedy of Medical Drug Trials Using the Placebo Affect.”
“Clinical trials have been the subject of ongoing debate for the last century,” Moffat said, explaining their thesis further: “The tragic outcomes of unregulated medical trials in World War II led to strong regulations by the FDA in the United States as well as the Nuremberg Code. During the 1970s, stronger acts were enforced to mandate patients’ rights throughout their participation in a clinical trial. These regulations have led to triumphant new treatments that ultimately give hope to the critically ill while also abiding by the patient’s rights.”

Moffat and Reilly selected their subject based on this year’s theme for Connecticut History Day, “Triumph and Tragedy.” They placed first at the regional Connecticut History Day contest in Torrington in April, which qualified them to present at the state level on May 4. Students with the top two entries in every category at the state level are then invited to participate in the national contest, a week-long event that attracts 3,000 students from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and international schools in China, Korea, and South Asia, according to National History Day organizers.

Moffat has been participating in Connecticut History Day since she was a student at Memorial Middle School in Middlebury, and this will be the third time she has represented Connecticut in the national competition.  “It is a lot of work, but I love learning about different historical events and connecting them to modern-day issues,” she said.

She has presented in both individual and group categories and researched topics including Native American boarding schools, and the Amistad. She prefers to present her research as an exhibit rather than an academic paper or any of the other accepted formats. “For each exhibit, we construct a comprehensive, annotated bibliography of sources, primary and secondary, take trips to the state library and interview prominent doctors, patients, etc.  We also provide a 500-word essay on our process of constructing the exhibit,” Moffat explained. At the competition, they presented their project to judges, “who interview us and ask some tough questions. Overall, I love the experience, especially the creative part of constructing a five-foot-tall exhibit,” she said.

In 2018, as a junior at The Gunnery, Moffat placed first in the Senior Individual Exhibit category at the Torrington regional Connecticut History Day event, and won third place in the state competition for her research on Sarah Pierce’s Female Academy in Litchfield.

In addition, Moffat has twice presented at the annual Rooted Research Conference at The Gunnery, including this year as a 2019 Gunn Scholar, which is the highest academic honor a student can achieve prior to graduation. She focused her yearlong, independent research project on the life of Abigail Gunn, the wife of school founder and abolitionist Frederick Gunn, and her influence on The Gunnery's establishment and legacy.

Emily Gum, Assistant Head of School for Teaching and Learning, introduced Moffat and all of this year’s Gunn Scholars at the Rooted Research Conference on April 28, noting that the students had conducted their research at a time when information is quickly accessible via Google and Wikipedia, and it can be hard to find the motivation to dig into a topic about which one knows little. As Gum said: “What each of us learns when we truly start to master a topic is just how little any one of us knows. Of course, that process is humbling. To truly understand a topic is to question it from multiple angles, to sit with it – waiting for new questions to emerge; to focus in on one small minor issue because it seems important, only to realize that there was actually nothing there of relevance; to ponder, to by stymied, to question; to be put back in your place by the complexity and scope of the world around us. Mastery is elusive; the closer you come to understanding, the more questions arise. It’s a fundamentally human predicament.”

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Founded in 1850 by abolitionist, educator, and outdoorsman Frederick Gunn, The Gunnery is a coeducational college preparatory boarding and day school for students in grades 9 through 12/post-graduate. Dedicated teacher-mentor-coaches challenge students to reach their full potential in a home-like setting where character and citizenship are valued as much as intellect and achievement. Individualized attention and high expectations help young learners develop not only the skills and confidence they will need in college, but also the moral compass and love of learning that will serve them well in life. The school attracts ambitious, academically curious students who will both shine as unique individuals and thrive as contributing members of a deeply connected community. By the time they graduate, Gunnery students have become well rounded, grounded young adults with a sharpened sense of who they are and who they want to become.