Crystal Johnson

NHD 1990, 1991, 1992

Where do you currently live?
Skokie, IL

What is your current occupation?
Manager of Chicago Metro History Day, Chicago History Museum

What school did you attend while participating in NHD?
Uniontown High School, Uniontown, KS

What college did you attend?
–BA in history and BS in secondary education, Kansas State University
–MA in history of education, Loyola University Chicago

Who were your teachers?
The Extraordinary Norm Conard

What years and in what category did you participate in NHD?
1989-90, Individual Performance
1990-91, Group Performance
1991-92, Individual Documentary

What are a few of your favorite or defining moments from your NHD experience?
— Researching in the University of Kansas Library (with the prehistoric version of Google known as the card catalog)
–Long days and nights imagining with my Incredible Collaborator Shana Younggren McClure
–Our set falling over in the middle of NHD finals while my partner was changing clothes behind it
–Visiting an exhibit on the British suffragettes and the grave of Emmeline Pankhurst with Shana while we were studying abroad a few years later
–Respect for the power of printing off multiple iterations of your bibliography after losing all copies to a computer snafu the night before regionals

How did NHD help you after high school?
HD led to my degrees in history/education, an amazing experience with Amma Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin as a student teacher, more than 20 years as an NHD coordinator, a 14-month fellowship in Germany, and a master’s thesis. I guess I am an NHD addict. It also prepared me for a far more difficult task, being a History Day parent.

What recognition did you receive for participating in NHD?
A lifelong love for research, critical thinking, and growing into your better self through historical inquiry!

Did you do anything with your NHD project or research after the contest year?
Wow – that was a long time ago. I can’t really remember. I think we presented our performance at some teacher conferences.

More importantly, my stories of personal NHD triumphs and tragedies made for a lifetime of solid advice for NHD students and teachers while I was serving as a coordinator. Nothing teaches NHD performers the lesson that “less is more” on performance props like a personal story about your set falling over during national finals with your partner changing clothes behind it! Today’s NHD students: Don’t fear your embarrassments or failures — they may rank among your important life lessons one day!

What has kept you busy since your days as an NHD student? Any particular challenges, stories, or achievements?
I’m old — how much time do you have? In 1996, I student taught at Manhattan High School in Manhattan, KS, with the Incredible Mickey Bogart and stayed involved in the Kansas NHD program coordinated by the Brilliant Mark Adams. That year I had the good fortune to meet the Fabulous Amma Ghartey-Tagoe and coach her through her first NHD experience. She went on to win the Case Western Reserve University Scholarship at NHD in Senior Individual Performance — what a stellar conclusion to a semester of student teaching!

I came back from College Park that year completely pumped. I immediately contacted the Iowa NHD coordinator, the Marvelous Lora Allison Bird, told her my story, and volunteered to do whatever I could to help the Iowa program (including presenting at workshops and stuffing envelopes). Clueless 22-year-old Crystal had no idea that one could actually make a career out of doing NHD, but the stars aligned for me to be hired as the Iowa coordinator about 18 months later. I worked at the State Historical Society of Iowa for about six years, with the Most Amazing teachers and students one could possibly meet. NHD kept opening even more doors, with time on the executive committee of state coordinators and in NHD strategic planning with the group of Very Exceptional coordinators, NHD staff members, and partners around the country who are now my very dear friends (thanks, Cathy Gorn, Opportunity Maker!).

I turned the Iowa reins over to the Naomi Peuse the Magnificent and tried to take a leave of absence from NHD by spending 14 months in Germany with the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s German Chancellor Fellowship Program. Naturally, it didn’t take. Instead, I met Die Fantastiche Leute who run the German version of NHD, the Geschichtswettbewerb des Bundespraesidenten. Long story short, that fellowship resulted in more than a decade of conversations and joint programs with partners who run (or aspire to run) history competitions similar to NHD in Germany, Israel, Ireland, Wales, and several other countries…and a master’s thesis on — you guessed it — the history of NHD and the Geschichtswettbewerb.

I moved to Chicago in 2004 to become the executive director at the Chicago Metro History Education Center (the local affiliate of the NHD program), working especially closely with the Most Remarkable Lisa Oppenheim. After spending time with the Totally Inspiring Chicago History Fair teachers and students, I decided that grant writing and managing budgets weren’t as much fun as working with kids and teachers, so I spent a few more years at CMHEC coordinating teacher and student programs.

After a few years in the college scholarship world, I have returned to my NHD home. I now direct the Chicago Metro History Day program and professional development grants at the Chicago History Museum. It really is Hotel California.