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Back to School for the 2019 National Geographic Education Fellows

Learn more about members of the 2019 class of Education Fellows, what’s next for their school year and how their fellowship has impacted their work.

This past January, the National Geographic Society selected a group of outstanding educators to serve as the 2019 class of National Geographic Education Fellows. These individuals represent a wide range of backgrounds and experiences, and the Education Fellows program gives them the opportunity to develop and lead an impact-driven project — like connecting students with scientists and Explorers or bringing a geospatial tool to classrooms.

As a kick-off to the new 2019-2020 school year, we checked in with each of them to hear updates from their fellowship, what inspired them to be in their field and what they are looking forward to for their upcoming school year. See below for a selection of questions and answers from Fellows Anne Lewis, Willie Buford, Joe Grabowski, and Anita Palmer.


Anne Lewis: Special projects director at the South Dakota Discovery Center, leading earth and environmental science education outreach for students, teachers and community members.

What inspired you to become an educator?

I'm an educator because I love to learn! I'm also an educator because I love being present at the moment when someone else learns. Often you can visibly see the shift in someone the moment the learning "clicks." Learning something new changes your world, often making it bigger. I feel so honored and grateful to be part of that moment.

Share a fun fact you learned from your fellowship so far!

Appropriate self disclosure is a habit of highly effective teachers. I always knew this intuitively, but as I've researched the impact of educators teaching with the stories of their lived experiences, I learned more about the research on teacher immediacy [or the perceived distance between teachers and students]. Fascinating stuff!


Willie Buford: Leader in after-school education for the Flint & Genesee (Michigan) Chamber of Commerce YouthQuest, David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality Assessment and Michigan After-School Partnership (MASP) Quality Committee. He focuses on data-driven approaches to reaching diverse communities.

Explain your work in a sentence.

I inspire, encourage, empower and serve my community through collaborative partnership to steward responsible, productive, contributing citizens.

What is one thing you are looking forward to this school year?

I am looking forward to training and supporting students and educators in Explorer Classroom, the Geo-Bee and Geo-Challenge competitions.


Joe Grabowski: Former teacher, working to bring science, exploration, adventure and conservation into classrooms through virtual speakers and field trips. He is the founder of Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants which organizes virtual connections between classrooms and leading scientists and explorers. Grabowski is also the project lead for the National Geographic Education Explorer Classroom program.

What excites you each day about your work?

The reach I’ve had through technology. Since 2015 I’ve facilitated well over 1,000 live events, connecting hundreds of thousands of students with scientists and Explorers from over 70 countries. We can video broadcast into classrooms from the most remote regions of the planet, and new tech like virtual reality is opening all kinds of exciting opportunities.

How has the fellowship helped you and the students you work with?

The fellowship has given me the time to focus on growing my program, Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants, as well as Explorer Classroom through National Geographic. I’ve made countless connections around the world and had some exciting field opportunities including an expedition on Bob Ballard’s EV Nautilus and journeying two kilometers underground to visit Canada’s Snolab.


Anita Palmer: Former technology and social studies teacher who has organized and taught hundreds of institutes and classes for educators. Her focus is the integration of geospatial technologies across the curriculum. With her husband, Roger, Palmer co-founded GISetc and established the nonprofit organization Geoporter.

Why do you think it’s important for both educators and students to know more about GIS?

Geospatial technologies include geographic information systems (GIS), global positioning systems (GPS), remote sensing, image analysis, drones and other location-based technologies, so in my mind it is a much broader question. I think geospatially literate students are able to utilize critical thinking skills in order to locate, display and analyze geographic information while they draw conclusions and make sense of the large amount of place-based data in our world today. When educators and students are geospatially literate, they can better see and understand the interconnectedness of the planet and how actions in one area of the world can impact other parts of the globe.

What are three benefits of incorporating geospatial curriculum into the classroom?

  1. Geospatial curriculum integrates authentic technology to teach students how to think critically while solving real-world problems.
  2. With one simple geospatial activity, a teacher can teach multiple content areas all in one.
  3. It empowers students to build maps that help others to understand complex data and how those data affects their world.

For more information about National Geographic’s commitment to education and other opportunities to get involved visit,

These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 15,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit or follow us on Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.