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Son of PEF field rep wins labor history essay contest


Gehrig Synder

Gehrig Synder’s essay on the impact of Japanese internment camps on the American labor movement won first place in this year’s American Labor Studies Center’s Walt Wheeler American Labor History Contest.

Gehrig, a student at Christian Brothers Academy in Syracuse and the son of PEF field representative David Snyder, began researching his topic a few years ago when his father gave him a flyer about the competition.

“I have been working on my essay on and off for the past three years,” Gehrig said. “The hardest part was doing all the background research about my topic. Originally, I got interested in this topic when I found Professor Hinnershitz’s article online. Later, I learned I could access documents from library archives through inter-library loan, and was able to secure the actual government reports from the Japanese internment camps from the University of Oregon, which was pretty cool.”

David said the essay contest is a stepping-stone to larger goals for his son.

“You try to invest in what you see as their strengths, whether its academic, athletics, music,” David said. “You try and get them to emphasize those strengths. Our goal is getting into the best college possible and without student loans.”

Building a strong resume will help him do that. Gehrig is enrolled in the University of Alabama’s early college program. He recently partnered with another student for the 2021 Virtual Central New York Science & Engineering Fair, winning grand prize and a scholarship.

The pandemic has been tough for students across the globe, with remote learning and fewer opportunities for academic and extracurricular activities.

“It’s gratifying to see him achieving these things,” David said. “Right now, it’s so hard to keep our kids on track. When you have a kid who excels and then all of a sudden their critical years are put in jeopardy because of the pandemic, it’s hard for them to distinguish themselves.”

The essay contest, named after Walt Wheeler, a longtime Capital Region labor leader, is open to students in grades seven through 12. The American Labor Studies Center creates, collects and disseminates labor history and labor studies curriculum materials and resources to K-12 teachers nationwide through its website and via conferences, workshops, seminars and exhibits.