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Ellicott City student takes 3rd place in Nat Geo Bee

A Howard County, Maryland, eighth-grader earned third place in the National Geographic GeoBee held in D.C. Wednesday.

Ellicott Mills Middle School student Rishi Kumar won a $5,000 college scholarship for placing in the top three.

The National Geographic Society said that more than 2.5 million students participated in the 2019 GeoBee. Fifty four made it to the final in D.C.

Rishi appeared composed during the competition, but he said what was shown on the livestream does not portray the experience of what it’s like onstage.

“I got pretty nervous,” he said.

Rishi said that he knew he was likely going to be eliminated coming into the mapmaker round, as he was already a few points behind the competition.

Applying knowledge of shipping routes, climate science, and geography, Rishi finished out the round with six points out of 10.

Rishi’s family had a globe in the house while he was growing up, which helped spark his interest in geography around 3 years of age.

“I would spin the globe that was in the house, and I would read the place names off it. And later on I would learn the place names and the states and capitals and countries and capitals,” he said.

He learned about the GeoBee when he was in the second grade, but he was too young to participate. He started training for it in the fourth grade. This is not Rishi’s first time placing in the top 10. In 2016, he tied for fourth place.

Rishi said that he has been interested in city planning and urban development after reading the National Geographic magazine edition on greener cities.

He said that he learned a lot from doing the GeoBee competitions. For example, he believes that every threat to nature can be put in four different categories: climate change, pollution, habitat destruction and declining biodiversity.

“The first three lead to the last one, so we need to protect our planet from the first three, and also the fourth,” he said.

Rishi’s GeoBee days are over because eighth grade is the last year he is allowed to participate.

“It’s a great honor to come into this position. Although I think first would have been better, it’s still a great honor,” he said. “I’m third out of 2.5 million.”

The winner of the GeoBee is Austin eighth-grader Nihar Janga, who received a $25,000 college scholarship, a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society and trip to the Galápagos Islands. Second place went to sixth-grader Atreya Mallanna from Lexington, Massachusetts who won a $10,000 college scholarship.

The society also held the first-ever national-level competition of the GeoChallenge, a team competition that asked for innovative solutions to modern problems. This year’s challenge: plastic pollution in our waterways.

A team from Flushing Christian School in Flushing, New York, won by building a model filtration device to clear plastic debris from the Hudson River.

WTOP’s Liz Anderson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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