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CASPER, Wyo. — Young history buff Jessica Ross was named a “Salute to Freedom” winner by The National WWII Museum, an honor that links 51 students nationwide to help the museum celebrate the grand opening of its new pavilion.

The Sheridan High School freshman qualified for the contest when her eighth-grade History Day project about the Lowell Mill Girls — female textile workers in the 19th century — was selected for a national event in Maryland last June.

While there, she learned her essay chronicling Wyoming’s contribution to the World War II effort had earned her the trip to New Orleans in January. She'll contribute a piece of Wyoming's past to help The National WWII Museum showcase the role each state played in the war.

It all started in a local museum for Ross, as she toiled with the History Day Club at the Sheridan County Museum.

Ross said her project idea came from her former history teacher, David Peterson, who told her about his trip to Lowell, Mass. Fascinated by the strength and independence of the women who made strides in reforming work conditions during the Industrial Revolution, Ross pursued the topic for her project.

“It’s amazing how much time outside of the club she spends on her projects,” said Nathan Doerr, the Sheridan museum’s curator. Her project the year before also qualified for nationals and won an award for Wyoming's best junior division entry, he added.

A sixth-grade class assignment hooked her on History Day, Ross said. She doesn’t have a favorite topic or era. “I really just like it all,” she said.

“Even though some people say don’t live in the past, live in the future... It is important to learn about history because history has shaped the world as we know it today,” Ross wrote in her winning essay. “My view on the past has changed dramatically since participating in NHD. It has helped me look beyond what the text books say and more in depth into people’s lives.”

Ross said she's excited to learn even more at the World War II museum this January. The museum will cover travel costs for Ross and a chaperon. But winners must complete one more task: write another essay and provide five images and captions to represent their state’s contributions during WWII for part of a special exhibition at the opening for its US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center. Ross worked on that duty over the summer, she said.

The National WWII Museum, which partners with the Kenneth E. Behring National History Day Contest, invited the national participants to submit an application and respond to two essay questions.

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Winners were chosen for knowledge of their state’s role in World War II and the connection of history to the future, according to a press release from the museum. There were 55 eligible students as part of Wyoming's delegation to the National History Day Contest, according to a spokesman of the National WWII Museum.

Ross found out about her award in June during the National History Day awards ceremony at College Park, Md.

“It was really shocking,” Ross said. Her name was the last called since they announced winners by state in alphabetical order.

“So when they said it, it was very exciting."

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