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State Geographic Bee to test students' knowledge

by Mark Schwerin

March 30, 2011 | WMU News

KALAMAZOO--It's all about location, location, location.

That might sound like the mantra of a real estate agent, but it will be the theme of the day on Friday, April 1, when top middle-school geography whizzes from across the state gather at Western Michigan University to compete for the Michigan Geographic Bee title and a chance to travel to Washington, D.C., for the U.S. championship at National Geographic Society headquarters.

This will be the fourth time WMU plays host to Michigan's Geographic Bee. Similar competitions will take place on the same day in each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, U.S. territories and Department of Defense schools around the globe. Some 100 fourth- to eighth-graders will compete in each location, with the state competitions organized by NGS and sponsored this year by Google and Plum Creek, one of the nation's largest private landholders.

The Michigan bee is from noon to 4 p.m. in the WMU Bernhard Center. Preliminary rounds for the 108 students who have qualified for the Michigan competition will begin at 12:30 p.m. and take place in various areas of the center, according to Dr. Lisa DeChano-Cook, WMU associate professor of geography who is coordinating the Michigan bee. The top geography student in Michigan will be selected from a field of 10 students who make it to the final round, which will begin at 2:30 p.m. in the North Ballroom of the Bernhard Center.

The Michigan winner will receive $100 and an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for the national finals on May 24-25 and the chance to be crowned National Geographic Bee champion.

First prize in the national competition is a $25,000 college scholarship and lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society. Second- and third-place finishers receive $15,000 and $10,000 college scholarships. Additionally, the national winner will travel, along with one parent or guardian, all expenses paid, to the Galápagos Islands provided by NGS and Lindblad Expeditions. The winner will experience geography firsthand through up-close encounters with the wildlife and landscape of the Galápagos.

The state bees are the second level of the annual National Geographic Bee. The first level began last November with contests in about 12,000 U.S. schools, in which millions of students participated.

"National Geographic's mission is to inspire people to care about the planet," says John Fahey, president and CEO of the National Geographic Society. "Through the National Geographic Bee and our other activities, we hope to foster a lifelong passion for learning about other cultures and lands and to prepare young people to be responsible stewards of our planet."

The championship round of the National Geographic Bee--moderated by Alex Trebek of "Jeopardy!" for the 23rd year--will be held at National Geographic's Washington, D.C., headquarters on Wednesday, May 25. Programming on the bee, produced by National Geographic Television, will air the week of June 20 nationally on the National Geographic Channel. Bee programming also will be broadcast later on public television stations, presented by Maryland Public Television. Check local listings for viewing dates and times.

Visitors to the Bee section of the National Geographic Society website can hone their own geography skills by checking out the GeoBee Challenge online game.

The National Geographic Society is one of the world's largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations. Founded in 1888 to "increase and diffuse geographic knowledge," the society works to inspire people to care about the planet. It reaches more than 325 million people worldwide each month through its official journal, National Geographic, and various other tools.

The 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. The problem is not yet resolved. A National Geographic-Roper Public Affairs 2006 Geographic Literacy Study showed that Americans aged 18 to 24 still had limited understanding of the world within and beyond our country's borders. Even after Hurricane 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 more information about the Michigan bee, contact WMU's Dr. Lisa DeChano-Cook at, (269) 387-3536 or (269) 598-9532.