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2024 2023 2022 2021

Students Uncover Unsung Heroes in Media, Medicine and Human Rights to Win Lowell Milken Center Discovery Awards

Students in Minnesota, Louisiana, Iowa, Indiana, California, and New York reap $14,000 in prizes


FORT SCOTT, Kansas, (September 22, 2021) Unsung Heroes in history, with uncanny parallels to the present, have come to light for new generations thanks to the student winners of the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes' (LMC) 2021 Discovery Award competition. Surprising winners by Zoom, LMC presented the $6,000 Grand Prize to Sasha Allen, a tenth grader at Eden Prairie High School in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, who used primary and secondary research to create the documentary Walking in the Land of Death: How Gareth Jones Gave Voice to the Victims of the Holodomor.

Jones was a Welsh journalist who risked his life to chronicle Stalin's decimation of Ukrainian agriculture that resulted in a brutal famine known as the Holodomor. In a tragic irony, some of Jones' fellow journalists were on the dole from Stalin and betrayed him. According to LMC Executive Director Norm Conard, "Sasha Allen's scholarship and insights have produced a compelling documentary on Unsung Hero Gareth Jones' unique and inspirational bravery. With its relevance for our own times, we look forward to sharing his story in an exhibit for our Hall of Unsung Heroes."

From its base in Fort Scott, Kansas, LMC annually challenges students in grades 4-12 to conduct rigorous research to uncover unsung heroes in history whose accomplishments remain largely unknown to the public. The collective $14,000 in cash prizes can be spent at students' discretion.

"Real heroes tower and guide," said LMC Founder Lowell Milken. "But their stories need to be discovered and heard. And when we do, we have the opportunity to motivate new generations to aspire to values that are essential during the challenging times we face individually, as a nation and as a world community." Watch Sasha Allen's reaction and remarks.

The $2,500 First Place award goes to ninth graders Callahan Levi, Kadence Huck, Paige Franzen and Cameron Cleveland at Nashua-Plainfield Middle/High School, in Nashua, Iowa, for From Rural RN to Healthcare Hero: Barbara Fassbinder's Passionate Plea for PPE. Under the supervision of teacher Suzan Turner, the students' research and documentary reveal how nurse Barbara Fassbinder in Monona, Iowa, became the first healthcare worker infected with HIV during surgery in 1989 at the height of HIV and AIDS. Even while ill, this wife and mother of three shared her story on diverse media, reducing the stigma of HIV and AIDS while accelerating nationwide implementation of universal precautions in healthcare.

"The story of Barbara Fassbinder is so appropriate for our time," said Conard. "This film tells a powerful story of an unsung hero and role model whose courage has saved lives through the use of PPE." Watch the students' reactions and remarks.

The $2,000 Outstanding High School Project award goes to 12th grader Anjal Jain of Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA) in Santa Ana, California. From Asylums to Institutions: Samuel Gridley Howe's Unsung Perpetuation of Anti-Ableism was inspired by Jain's close family member's transition to blindness. Under the supervision of teacher Lana Sawalha, Jain delved into the history of Samuel Gridley Howe, who in 1878 countered the draconian asylums where deaf and blind children were typically sent, by creating the Perkins Institute for the Blind. Through a gripping one-woman performance, Jain traces the education of Annie Sullivan at Howe's Institute – the same Annie Sullivan who went on to teach the young Helen Keller, who was both deaf and blind. The chain of events prompted by Howe's bold actions strengthened as Helen Keller shattered society's assumptions of disabilities and led to the milestone American Disability Act of 1990. Watch Anjal Jain’s reaction and remarks.

The $2,000 Outstanding Middle School Project award goes to eighth graders and twin sisters Aurelia Martoglio and Jasmine Martoglio at Lora Batchelor Middle School in Bloomington, Indiana, for Thank a Hero: Maurice Hilleman. Exploring the achievements of Dr. Maurice Hilleman, the students' documentary engagingly depicts how the doctor's daughter's case of mumps inspired his prolific development of some 40 human and 40 animal vaccines. Hilleman predicted the 1957 influenza pandemic and stopped its spread with a vaccine before the disease arrived in the U.S. The film includes interviews with contemporary doctors and was supervised by teacher Jeff Rudkin. Watch Aurelia Martoglio and Jasmine Martoglio’s reactions and remarks

The $1,000 Outstanding Elementary School Project award goes to sixth grader Chloe Willis of Jefferson Island Elementary School in New Iberia, Louisiana, for Making a Difference: The Life of Reverend Dr. T.J. Jemison, supervised by teacher Margaret Simon. Motivated to learn more about her great-grandfather's contributions to the Civil Rights Movement, Willis conducted research and created a documentary telling how Reverend Dr. T.J. Jemison organized a protest in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1953 seeking equal rights to bus seats. After the boycott, the Baton Rouge City Council passed Ordinance 222, kept in Jemison's pocket forever after. His actions encouraged Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his mission. As Willis concludes, "He absolutely should not be forgotten … Once I make a change, others can, too. I am a proud descendant of this amazing person who inspires me to find the right way to live." Watch Chloe Willis' reaction and remarks.

The $500 Honorable Mention award goes to sisters 11th grader Emily Kim and then-12th grader Catherine Kim of Jericho High School in Jericho, New York, for their documentary Lorraine Hansberry: "To Be Young, Gifted, and Black." The play, "A Raisin in the Sun," made Hansberry the first female African-American author to have a play performed on Broadway. The project was supervised by teacher Theresa Cantwell.

Submissions for the next competition season will open February 15, 2022.

About LMC
Established in 2007 by businessman/philanthropist Lowell Milken and award-winning history teacher Norm Conard, the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes (LMC) discovers, develops and communicates the stories of unsung heroes who have made a profound and positive impact on history, yet are largely unrecognized by contemporary generations. LMC has reached over 2,000,000 students in all 50 states and internationally. Learn more about LMC and the Discovery Award. Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Jana Rausch
(310) 435-9259 (cell)