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Ellicott Mills Middle School student takes third place at National Geographic GeoBee

Rishi Kumar, an eighth-grader at Ellicott Mills Middle School, finished third in National Geographic’s GeoBee 2019 national competition.
Rishi Kumar, an eighth-grader at Ellicott Mills Middle School, finished third in National Geographic’s GeoBee 2019 national competition. (Courtesy photo / Mark Thiessen / National Geographic)

Eighth-grader Rishi Kumar, a student at Ellicott Mills Middle School in Ellicott City, took third place in National Geographic’s GeoBee national competition last week after competing in the final round in Washington, D.C.

As the third-place finisher at the May 22 contest, Kumar will receive a $5,000 college scholarship and $1,000 in cash.

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“I was initially disappointed after coming in third, but I eventually felt happy for doing that,” Kumar said May 23, noting that according to National Geographic, more than 2 million students participated this year in the GeoBee, which begins at the school level.

“It was really exciting being one of those three participating in the finals,” he said.

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Kumar said he has been interested in geography since he was 3 years old, when he would play with the family globe. He started participating in the GeoBee as soon as he was eligible, in fourth grade. This was his second year making it to the national competition.

To study for the GeoBee, Kumar said he studied for an hour or more every morning, reading his family’s atlases and combing through National Geographic websites and databases.

“It was great just to be there, to see him represent Maryland,” said Paranika Natarajan, Kumar’s mother. “We learned a lot as well from the competition and other students.”

Fifty-four state-level winners from across the country competed by demonstrating their geographic knowledge and project-based skills, according to a news release from National Geographic.

Kumar was one of three students to make it to the final round. Atreya Mallanna, a sixth-grader at William Diamond Middle School in Lexington, Mass., and Nihar Janga, an eighth-grader at Canyon Ridge Middle School in Austin, Texas, also survived the semifinal cut. Janga was the ultimate winner.

In the semifinal round, Kumar won by correctly answering questions like: “Which strait in the western U.S. stretches from Cape Flattery to Whidbey Island?” (The Strait of Juan de Fuca) and “The West Frisian Islands belong to what country?” (The Netherlands).

In the final round, Kumar was tasked with challenges like identifying possible shipping routes through an Arctic Circle melted by climate change. He said he hopes people stop climate change so the scenarios he outlined during the competition will never happen.

According to a news release, the competition for students in fourth through eighth grade was established in 1989 to encourage students and teachers to prioritize geography education.

In the future, Kumar said he hopes to put his geography knowledge to use – right now, he is considering going into urban design and planning.

When he finishes eighth grade this year, Kumar will no longer be eligible for the competition. But he said making it to the final round was a good way to end his GeoBee career.

“Overall, it was a lot of fun,” he said.

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