Campus & Community

Students compete for DU scholarship at geography competition

The Danube River, the golden-headed lion Tamarin and Malaysia are found nowhere near each other, except in the National Geographic Geography Bee.

More than 100 students from across Colorado descended on the University of Denver campus April 4, and anything — or anywhere — in the world was fair game. Students competed in multiple rounds, pitting their knowledge of the world against each other for a trip to the finals.

In addition to a free flight to Washington, D.C., a National Geographic globe and the $100 cash prize awarded to the winner in each state, the Colorado winner each year collects one extra gift: a half scholarship for four years to the University of Denver.

This year’s winner, named April 4 after a grueling final against nine top competitors, was Autumn Hughes, a 14-year-old home-schooled student from Wheat Ridge. And for Hughes, it was her second win, having taken the top prize in 2006.

DU Assistant Professor Matthew Taylor, who hosts the all-day state competition on campus, says the University’s association with the National Geographic competition dates back at least to the 1980s. He says it’s a challenge he hopes awakens the minds of competitors in fourth through eighth grades and exposes them to the world’s varied geography, history and future.

The Geography Bee, like the better-known Scripps National Spelling Bee, challenges students’ memory. But in geography, it’s not just memorization at play; students must also understand global events and politics.

“It brings the world events — political, social and natural events — together in a special way,” Taylor says. “It’s important because it makes people realize that geography is more than the ‘principle products of Peru.’”

Nathan McNew, a second-year student at DU, won the bee in 2001 and took advantage of his scholarship prize. Keys to making it to the finals, he says, are an understanding of current events and knowing the locations of key rivers and capitals that are often clues buried in the questions.

Hughes, who won at DU in 2006 and made it to the top 10 at the national competition, says she’s ready for a return trip and hopes to do as well. Active in politics and sporting buttons supporting a free Tibet and an end to war, she says she hopes to study journalism and languages in college. Geography and an understanding of the world is a passion.

“I’ve been studying the world for years,” she says. “When I was little, I’d just stare at the maps on the wall for hours.”

The question that won it all for Hughes: “Walvis Bay, the largest port in Namibia, was ruled by which country until 1994?” The answer: “South Africa.” Of course.

The geography bee started with local competitions back in November, at some 14,000 schools across the country. The national finals are May 20–21 in Washington.

Think you know your geography? Here are some sample questions from the 2007 competition:

Q: Sabah, a state on the island of Borneo, belongs to which country?
A: Malaysia

Q: Which term describes a flat-topped plateau with steep sides that is often formed by erosion?
A: A Mesa

Q: What term best describes precipitation that does not soak into soil but eventually flows into other surface waters?
A: Runoff

Q: The expansion of human settlement has encroached on the habitat of the golden-headed lion Tamarin in which state that shares its name with Brazil’s second-largest city?
A: Rio de Janeiro

Q: What river forms much of the border between Romania and neighboring Bulgaria?
A: The Danube River

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