In 2013, Abhinav Karthikeyan became the youngest student to win the Maryland State Geography Bee, representing Clearspring Elementary School. He would repeat the feat again in 2014.
But in 2015, Karthikeyan, now a sixth grader at Roberto Clemente Middle School, has gone on to achieve the three-peat winning three-straight Maryland State Geography Bees.
The state Geography Bee was held at the Community College of Baltimore County in Catonsville on March 27. He will go on to represent Maryland as he competes in the 2015 National Geography Bee, sponsored by National Geographic magazine, which will be held May 11 through May 13 in Washington DC.
“I’ve had interest in it since pre-school,” said Abhinav, who said his interest was inspired by an uncle in India who was a cartographer.
While studying maps is a large part of preparing for a geography bee, he says it is only one aspect of the knowledge needed to be successful at in the bee. Sure, knowing names of countries, capitols and cities are important, but so is knowing rivers, mountains and other topography. However, if you want to be successful beyond the school level, you also need to have a great understanding of world commerce and trade, natural resources, GDP, the Human Development Index for countries and regions, as well as major attractions such as the great monuments and roller coasters of the world.
Up to 100 fourth- to eighth-graders in each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, U.S. Atlantic and Pacific territories and Department of Defense Dependents Schools have qualified for the state Bees, which are the second level of the annual National Geographic Bee.
The Maryland State Geography Bee and the National Geography Bee are open to students in grades four through eight. Karthikeyan says the pressure mounts as participants move on up through the ranks. “In the Nationals there is pressure,” said the sixth grader who will be seeking the national title for the third time next month in hopes of winning the $10,000 prize.
“The school bee it is fun,” said Karthikeyan. “The pressure builds in the state bee. This year there was pressure on me to repeat, but I felt that I was going to win so that took some of the pressure off. I am kind of cockey sometimes,” he said, and when you are a veteran three-time repeating state champ, and you have buddie calling you up to have you help them with their homework, you can sometimes be cockey.
“My friends are always asking for help and advice on homework dealing with geography,” said Abhinav. “I have a friend in Pennsylvania who had geography homework and he video-called me to help him with his homework.”
Much of Abhinav’s interest in geography is home grown. While Montgomery County Public Schools and Roberto Clemente certainly help guide his interest, Abhinav says he studies for the geography bee for an extra two hours each night and five hours on weekends.
“There is a focus on geography within the curriculum,” said Douglas Nelson, coordinator for the Center for the Highly Gifted at Roberto Clemente, “but it is different from when students went to a class called geography. MCPS teaches geography through its units of study that might be about something else. It is woven into the curriculum. The world studies department has always sponsored a geography bee at RCMS. The kids compete in the classroom, and each class puts forward a winner which competes the school-wide geography bee, which gives us the school champ.”
Karthikeyan’s World Studies teacher, Allison Taplar said the world studies classes at the sixth grade level focus on ancient civilizations, such as ancient Rome, ancient Greece, and ancient China and focus on modern world religions in the second part of the school year.
”My motivation for learning geography is winning the $50,000 check,” said Karthikeyan referring to the prize money the national winner receives. But, he also says there is some cultural pride which drives him on noting that many of the top ten finalists in recent years have been of Indian decent. “In fourth grade there were eight Indian students in the top ten at nationals, and this year there were five in the top 10. I want to represent the Indian community.”
The National Geographic Society will provide an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for state champions to participate in the National Geographic Bee championship in May. The national champion will receive a $50,000 college scholarship; lifetime membership in the Society, which includes a lifetime subscription to National Geographic magazine; and a trip to the Galápagos Islands, courtesy of Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic. Second- and third-place finishers will receive $25,000 and $10,000 college scholarships, respectively.
Caption: Abhinav Karthikeyan and Scott Jefferey, Maryland State Geography Bee Coordinator after Abhinav’s third straight victory at the Maryland State Geography Bee held at Community College of Baltmore County in Catonsville on March 27.