For more than three months, 14-year-old Michelle Dong of Jericho spent nearly every afternoon studying some of the worst atrocities in human history.
Dong, then an eighth-grader at Jericho Middle School, researched the horrific medical experiments inflicted at Ravensbrück, an all-female concentration camp run by the Nazis in northern Germany during World War II, and learned about Caroline Ferriday, the American philanthropist who helped the victims recover from their injuries.
On Monday, Dong's hard work, which grew out of her eighth-grade Jericho History Day research, paid off.
Now a freshman at Jericho High School, Dong was awarded the top overall prize by the Kansas-based Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes, which runs a national contest for students that profile lesser-known historical figures who changed the world for the better.
"I am shocked and really happy," said Dong, who also received a $6,000 check during a ceremony at the middle school. "It's a lot to take in."
Dong's research, compiled in a website that she wrote and built, chronicles the story of the primarily Polish women who were experimented on by the Nazis to simulate battlefield injuries. The women's legs were sliced open and filled with bacteria, such as streptococcus and tetanus, or with wood shavings and glass.
Ferriday, who died in 1990, helped expose the horrors and brought many of the surviving victims to America for treatment.
"It's a powerful story about a person who made a difference," said Norman Conard, chief executive of the Lowell Milken Center. "It's just totally different from any other Holocaust story that you can find."
Konstantine Kavoros, an American history teacher at Jericho Middle School, worked with Dong on the research project, which involved interviewing authors and experts familiar with Ferriday's story.
"We want kids to know they are capable of investigating these difficult topics," Kavoros said, "and forming their own questions and answering those questions."