WASHINGTON (May 5, 2006)–One takes flying lessons, another is a breath-hold free diver. Some are budding musicians, others enjoy martial arts. One is coming from Bahrain, another from Broken Arrow, Okla. But all have one thing in common — astounding geography skills that have earned them a spot at the 18th annual National Geographic Bee, to be held in Washington, D.C., on May 23 and 24.
Fifty-five fifth- to eighth-graders, ranging in age from 11 to 14, will be vying for the top prize of a $25,000 college scholarship and lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society. Second and third prizes are college scholarships of $15,000 and $10,000. The sponsor of this year’s competition is JPMorgan Chase.
The finalists, all winners of their state-level geographic bees, have triumphed over a field of nearly 5 million students to earn a place in the national championships. They represent the 50 states, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Pacific Territories and Department of Defense Dependents Schools.
The preliminary rounds of the National Geographic Bee will take place on May 23. The top 10 finalists will each win $500 and advance to the final round the following day, which will be moderated by Alex Trebek, host of the television quiz show “Jeopardy!”
The final round, on May 24, will air nationally later that day on the National Geographic Channel. Produced by National Geographic Television & Film, the finals also will be presented by WETA in Washington, D.C., for later broadcast on public television stations nationally. Check nationalgeographic.com/geographicbee or local listings for viewing times.
Thirteen students taking part in this year’s National Geographic Bee are repeat state winners; two are competing for the third time. Krishnan Chandra of Massachusetts and Paige dePolo of Nevada represented their states at the 2004 and 2005 championships. Other repeat winners are Ryland Lu of California (2004); Liam McCarthy of Connecticut (2005); Benjamin Geyer of the District of Columbia (2005); Yeshwanth Kandimalla of Georgia (2005); Bonny Jain of Illinois (placed fourth in 2005); Drew Coffin of Iowa (2005); Matt Hensley of Kentucky (2005); Jonathan Katz of New York (2005); Nirbhay Jain of Ohio (2005); Jeffrey Bennett of Utah (2005); and James Mothersbaugh of Wyoming (2005).
A survey of this year’s state and territory Bee winners shows that they have numerous talents in addition to their prodigious geography knowledge. Many are on their school’s honor rolls and in the National Junior Honor Society; many have won math, science and spelling contests; a number study music and are members of orchestras and bands; and most play a variety of sports.
When the students were asked who they most admire (apart from their parents), the highest number of votes went to their teachers and grandparents, while Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi also received several nods. While the majority of the kids said they were perfectly content being themselves, Bill Gates topped the list of other people they might choose to be.
The National Geographic Society developed the National Geographic Bee in 1989 in response to concern about the lack of geographic knowledge among young people in the United States. And the problem is not yet resolved: The results of new National Geographic-Roper Public Affairs 2006 Geographic Literacy Study released earlier this month showed that Americans aged 18 to 24 still have limited understanding of the world within and beyond our country’s borders. Even after Katrina, one-third could not locate Louisiana and almost half could not locate Mississippi on a U.S. map. Only four out of 10 were able to find Iraq on a map of the Middle East.
“For young people to be responsible and informed leaders of tomorrow, it is imperative that they have a sound understanding of our planet,” said National Geographic Society President John Fahey. “National Geographic has always recognized the need for geographic literacy and will vigorously continue its efforts to educate our young people and foster global knowledge.”
The National Geographic Channel will air a half-hour documentary, “Road to the Geo Bee,” on Thursday, May 25, at 4:30 p.m. The program follows three youngsters as they prepare for their long and challenging journey to the finals of the National Geographic Bee.
The 2005 National Geographic Bee champion was Nathan Cornelius, a 13-year-old seventh-grader from Cottonwood, Minn., who was a three-time state champion before winning the national title. The winning question was: “Lake Gatún, an artificial lake that constitutes part of the Panama Canal system, was created by damming which river?” Answer: Chagres River.
About National Geographic
The 118-year-old National Geographic Society is one of the world’s largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations. It reaches more than 350 million people each month through its five magazines, the National Geographic Channel, books, films, videos, maps and interactive media. The Society has funded more than 8,000 scientific research projects and supports an education program combating geographic illiteracy. For more information, log on to nationalgeographic.com.
Based at National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C., the National Geographic Channel is a joint venture between National Geographic Television & Film and Fox Cable Networks. National Geographic Channel debuted to an initial 10 million homes in January 2001 and has been one of the fastest growing networks in the industry. It has carriage with all of the nation’s major cable and satellite television providers, making its currently available in more than 57 million homes. The Channel’s Web site is at nationalgeographic.com/channel.
About JPMorgan Chase
JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) is a leading global financial services firm with assets of $1.2 trillion and operations in more than 50 countries. The firm is a leader in investment banking, financial services for consumers and businesses, financial transaction processing, asset and wealth management and private equity. A component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, JPMorgan Chase has its corporate headquarters in New York and its U.S. consumer and commercial banking headquarters in Chicago. Under the JPMorgan, Chase and Bank One brands, the firm serves millions of consumers in the United States and many of the world’s most prominent corporate, institutional and government clients. Information about the firm is available at www.jpmorganchase.com.
NOTE TO EDITORS: The names and pictures of the top three winners and the winning question will be posted in the National Geographic online press room at nationalgeographic.com/pressroom on Wednesday, May 24.