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Students From Texas and New York Tackle Plastic Pollution and Answer Expert-Level Geography Questions at First-Ever National Geographic Geo Championships

Meet the winners of the 2019 National Geographic GeoBee and National Geographic GeoChallenge national competitions.

Winners of the National Geographic GeoBee and National Geographic GeoChallenge National Competitions Announced

Students from across the country gathered at National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C., today to compete in the first Geo Championships, the combined competitions of the National Geographic GeoBee and National Geographic GeoChallenge. Final rounds of both competitions were held this afternoon.

After an intense championship round with five tiebreaker questions, Nihar Janga, an 8th-grader at Canyon Ridge Middle School in Austin, Texas, took top honors at the 31st annual National Geographic GeoBee (formerly the National Geographic Bee). Nihar and Atreya Mallanna, a 6th-grader at William Diamond Middle School in Lexington, Massachusetts, were tied heading into the championship round. The winning question was “More than one-third of Norway’s northernmost county is located on what plateau?” Nihar answered correctly with “Finnmark Plateau.”

In addition to earning the title of National Geographic GeoBee Champion, Nihar received a $25,000 college scholarship, a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society, and a Lindblad expedition to the Galápagos Islands aboard the National Geographic Endeavour ll.

As part of National Geographic’s expanded commitment to education, the Society also held the first-ever national-level competition of the GeoChallenge in conjunction with the GeoBee. A themed, project-based competition, this year’s GeoChallenge asked student teams to develop innovative solutions to the urgent issue of plastic pollution in our waterways.

The GeoChallenge theme, Tackling Plastic!, is aligned with National Geographic's Planet or Plastic? initiative, a global commitment to significantly reduce the amount of single-use plastic that reaches the ocean by raising awareness, elevating science and education, advancing innovation, and inspiring action. More than 1,000 solutions were submitted for this year’s competition.

The grand prize for the 2019 GeoChallenge was awarded to The Navigators team from Flushing Christian School in Flushing, New York, including Victor Jimenez (5th grade), Alex Jun (5th), Jeremiah Pierre (5th), and Natanel Rozic (5th).

The Navigators received a $25,000 team prize coupled with support and guidance from National Geographic staff to implement their project. Their winning solution focused on the effects of plastic pollution on aquatic life in the Hudson River watershed. The team built a model of a device that would clean the Hudson River with filters to collect plastic debris.

The other GeoBee and GeoChallenge finalists also received impressive prizes. As second-place GeoBee winner, Atreya received a $10,000 scholarship. Rishi Kumar, an 8th-grader at Ellicott Mills Middle School, Ellicott City, Maryland, won third place and a $5,000 college scholarship. Each of the top three GeoBee finalists have previously competed in the national competition and advanced to the top ten.

The seven other GeoBee semifinalists, who each won $1,000 in cash, were Omkar Gadewar (7th grade) of Naperville, Illinois, Vaibhav Hariram (6th) of Cary, North Carolina, Jishnu Nayak (6th) of Mountain House, California, Kaylan Patel (7th) of Windermere, Florida, Dylan Rem (8th) of Bronx, New York, Lakshay Avi Sood (8th) of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Aarush Tutiki (5th) of Troy, Michigan.

The second-place team for the GeoChallenge and recipient of $10,000 to implement their solution was The Pioneers team from Epiphany Stars Homeschool in St. Louis, Missouri., which included team members Dulce Brown (8th grade), Abby Irwin (6th), Anna Irwin (8th), Naomi Irwin (7th), Elise Zeigler (8th) and Titus Zeigler (5th). The team developed a filter device to prevent debris, microplastics and toxins from entering storm water drains in St. Louis.

The third-place team for the GeoChallenge, winning $5,000 to implement their solution, was The Bayou Protectors from St. Francis Episcopal School in Houston, Texas, which included team members Sammy Little (7th grade), Mykayla McMillian (7th), Emily Morris (7th), Elliott Preston (7th), Mackenzie Schmidt (7th) and Abbie Wallace (7th). The team developed a prototype net to prevent debris from entering stormwater grates.

Building on the success of the Tackling Plastic! theme of the 2018 GeoChallenge, Geo Championships host Mo Rocca made an exciting announcement from the stage that the 2019-2020 GeoChallenge will continue to focus on addressing plastic pollution.

Experiential learning programs like the GeoBee and GeoChallenge reward students’ curiosity about the world and inspire them to engage deeply with real-world content. Learn more about these programs at

Note to Editors: 2019 National Geographic GeoBee and GeoChallenge press resources are available at (Note: required caption and credit info enclosed).

Developed by the National Geographic Society in 1988 to promote geographic knowledge among young people in the United States, the National Geographic GeoBee is an academic competition for public schools, private schools and homeschools in the U.S. and its territories, as well as Department of Defense Dependents Schools. Students in grades four through eight from nearly 10,000 schools participate annually for a chance to win college scholarships and the glory of being the National Geographic GeoBee Champion. Over more than three decades, 120 million students have learned about the world through participation in the GeoBee. Learn more at


The GeoChallenge is an annual themed and project-based competition from the National Geographic Society that challenges student groups in grades four through eight across the United States to develop a creative solution to a real-world problem. Students form teams — between four and six people — and respond to a problem, challenge or critical issue by using research, collaboration, creativity and communication to create and present real-world solutions, just like National Geographic Explorers. More information is available at

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