Goessel seventh-grader to represent Kansas at national history contest


“I actually didn’t hear my name called,” she said about her award announcement. “I was clapping for the second-place winner because her booth was right next to mine. My dad was like, ‘Go on, get up there.’ So I went up there. I felt like I was in a dream because I didn’t believe it yet.”

National History Day is a highly regarded academic program for elementary and secondary school students.

Each year more than half a million students, encouraged by teachers nationwide, participate in the NHD contest. Students choose historical topics related to a theme and conduct extensive primary and secondary research through libraries, archives, museums, oral history interviews and historic sites.

After analyzing and interpreting their sources and drawing conclusions about their topics’ significance in history, students present their work in original papers, websites, exhibits, performances and documentaries.

These projects are entered into competitions in the spring at district, state and national levels where they are evaluated by professional historians and educators.

The program culminates in the national contest in June.

Initial inspiration

Lanna’s project was part of her Extended Learning Program at school.

“I needed a large project so I chose this (contest) because I had done it last year and it was a lot of fun,” she said.

Last year’s theme was “Debate and Diplomacy” and Lanna chose the topic of women’s suffrage.

“I don’t really know where they came from,” she said. “It kind of came out of the blue. I guess maybe because I saw Susan B. Anthony on a coin.”

This year’s theme is “Revolut­ion, Reaction and Reform.” Students must identify a significant historical event or development (revolution), the initial resistance to it (reaction) and its the resulting impact on modern life (reform).

Lanna’s inspiration for her topic was a billboard featuring Newton Medical Center.

“I saw a billboard that said ‘Newton, meet da Vinci’ and I was curious about it,” she said. “I asked my grandma and she explained it had sort of a double meaning. It meant Newton, as in Isaac Newton, meet Leonardo da Vinci—and the town of Newton, meet the da Vinci Surgical System.

The Da Vinci Surgical System is a breakthrough platform currently employed at NMC for robotically assisted minimally invasive surgery.

“I wanted to display the evolution from trepanation to robotics and how surgery has changed so much over the years,” she said.

About the topic

For the record, trepanation was, well….

“Trepanation was an ancient form of surgery where they take a trepanning tool and drill through a person’s head to let out evil spirits,” Lanna explained easily.

“At the time they didn’t have any anesthetics, so the people just passed out from the pain. Most people didn’t survive, but there is evidence that some lived through the process.”

Researching the evolution of surgery through books, personal interviews and the Internet, Lanna developed a timeline that traces key events and discoveries that ultimately has led to the use of robotics.

One of her favorite examples of “revolution, reaction and reform” on her timeline is the discovery of chloroform as an anesthetic during the 1800s. The church initially forbade its use to ease the pain of childbirth until England’s Queen Victoria asked for it for the birth of her eighth child.

“The event is the discovery of chloroform, the reactionary response was the church forbidding it and the queen wanting it, and the change is that it’s being used today,” Lanna said.

Researching robotics

The use of robotics actually began with da Vinci during the 1500s. His ideas didn’t surface as an aid to surgery until the late 1900s.

“When they brought his ideas back, they became aware of pulley systems and how that can be used for robots—that’s how they came up with using robots for surgical procedures,” Lanna said.

Originally, the vision for using robotics in surgery was to develop the ability to perform long-distance operations on patients in space or soldiers wounded overseas.

“But the information couldn’t travel fast enough without glitches, so until they can figure that out they’re using it for surgeries in the same room.”

Lanna’s research on surgery and robotics extended beyond personal interviews to personal involvement. As a result of talking to Kent Bradley, medical director of robotic surgery at NMC, she actually got to use the hospital’s system to suture pieces of foam.

Contest requirements

After more than 200 hours of research, Lanna began to create her a free-standing display. The dimension and content of a display is regulated by contest rules.

“The have a 500-word limit on a display, but you can use quotes that don’t count toward your words,” she said. “A lot of my information (on the display) are quotes, so I could save most of my words for the timeline. I learned from last year that’s what takes up the most words.”

The exhibit also includes photos from her experience with robotics plus several “3-D” items, including an empty pill bottle with a penicillin label, a surgical mask and glove, a robotic tool and a striking Styrofoam head she found at Hobby Lobby to illustrate trepanation.

Her project also includes a 500-word process paper on how she conducted her research, and a 10-page annotated bibliography of her primary and secondary sources.

But the focal point is the display.

“The judges interview you—you don’t give an oral presentation,” Lanna said. “Your display pretty much has to stand on its own—especially at nationals, because at the finals level there is no interview. They just go in and look at (the display).”

Lanna said a good portion of her work was done at home, with help at school from ELP leaders Sherri Sells and Anne Harvey.

“They kind of guided me a little bit,” Lanna said. “I had to be the one who did the research and everything, so obviously I would know my topic. They allowed me to work on the research at school using a laptop, so I could at least do the Internet research there.”

Personal impact

Regardless of her success at the national contest in June, this project already has had an impact on Lanna’s life.

“I’ve kind of grown up with health care and I’ve always enjoyed people,” she said. “Now, after doing all this research, I want to be a surgeon. The doctors that I interviewed told me I have to be a surgeon at Newton Medical Center when I get older.”

Lanna’s family, including parents Paul and Gretchen and brother Leighton, plans to work in some family sightseeing while Washington, D.C.

Lanna said she’s looking forward to that, but her priority focus will be on the contest.

“I’m really glad I can have the experience of going to nationals and being able to go to Washing­ton, D.C.” she said.

“And I’m really glad that I can represent Kansas and Goessel at nationals, and I hope I represent them well.”


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