Indian-American teens make a clean sweep of awards at 2018 National Geographic Bee

Venkat Ranjan is crowned winner, Anoushka Buddhikot is in second place and third place finisher is Vishal Sareddy

By Geeta Goindi

Washington, DC, May 23, 2018 – Indian-American whiz kids made a clean sweep at the 30th annual National Geographic Bee competition winning the top three awards and notably, barring two, all the finalists, 80 percent, were of Indian origin.

For the seventh consecutive year, an Indian-American kid, Venkat Ranjan, 13, of California was crowned winner of the prestigious competition.

In second place was Anoushka Buddhikot, 13, of New Jersey and the third place finisher was Vishal Sareddy, 14, of Georgia. The winners were awarded one of three college scholarships totaling 85,000 dollars at the end of an informative, ever so engrossing contest held at the National Geographic headquarters in the nation’s capital.

Ranjan secured the top award of 50,000 dollars, the title of National Geographic Bee Champion, a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society including a subscription to the National Geographic magazine, and an all-expenses-paid expedition to the Galapago Islands aboard the National Geographic Endeavour II.

Buddhikot and Sareddy received 25,000 dollars and 10,000 dollars, respectively. Following the preliminary round which was held on Monday, each of the top ten winners were awarded 500 dollars.

Venkat Ranjan, 13, of California was named champ of the 2018 National Geographic Bee. He is seen here with his parents — mother Chinmayee Raman and father Amiya Ranjan

In the national championship round, the question which propelled Ranjan to the top was: ‘Lebanon has a population most similar to which South American country’? His answer: ‘Paraguay’.

Upon winning the competition, he confessed to not knowing the answer to the final question and arrived at it by eliminating other options such as Brazil and Argentina.

How does it feel to be crowned the champion, we asked. “I feel good, great”, he replied. “Not nervous any more”, he added unlike on Monday when he got the very first question wrong in the preliminary round.

Ranjan started seriously preparing for the competition some three years ago. This was the first time he was competing at the national level, and he won!

He is a bright, brilliant student in eighth grade at the Windemere Ranch Middle School, San Ramon, where he heads back on Friday for the remainder of his final exams.

‘What is your favorite subject in school’, we asked him. Pat came the reply, ‘Science’.

Buddhikot who is in eighth grade at Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School says history is her favorite subject. “I think it’s interesting to learn from the past and be able to bring that back to our future”, she told us.

About preparing for the National Geographic Bee, she mentioned studying for hours every day, especially over summer and the holidays, ever since she was in fourth grade.

And how does it feel to be the only girl in the top three and one of only two female finalists in this year’s competition, we queried. “I am so proud to get this far”, Buddhikot replied. “It’s unimaginable. I never expected to be able to do this. I had a great time participating in all the activities, meeting friends”, she said.

Anoushka Buddhikot, 13, of New Jersey secured second place in the 30th annual National Geographic Bee and was awarded 25,000 dollars in a college scholarship. She is flanked here by her proud parents following the championship event

Sareddy, in eighth grade at Riverwatch Middle School, Suwanee, was a returning contestant at the national level.

“Preparing for the competition was a lot of hard work”, he told us. Besides studying atlases and staying abreast of the news, “You have to have a passion for geography which is really your driving force to work this hard and win”, he said. “You also have to have a coach like a parent. For me, it was my Dad”.

“On stage, you have to be calm. You can’t be stressed or nervous or even over-excited. That can really hurt your performance in the Bee”, he noted. Sound advice from a winner!

Sareddy started preparing for the competition from first grade and more seriously from the fourth grade onwards. Given that geography has been his passion ever since he was a child, he would like to pursue a career in that field and cited possible options such as a National Geographic explorer, an international economist, marine biologist, or an archaeologist.

In school, his favorite subject is social studies, and in his spare time, he likes to play the violin, basketball, runs cross-country, and loves to travel.

Vishal Sareddy, 14, of Georgia secured third position in the 2018 National Geographic Bee and was awarded a $10,000 college scholarship. He is seen here with his proud parents and sister at the National Geographic headquarters in Washington, DC

It is noteworthy that the original pool of Geography Bee participants comprised 2.6 million students from over 10,000 schools in all 50 US states, the District of Columbia, Union Territories and Department of Defense Dependents Schools. A total of 54 state bee winners, 16 of Indian origin, who participated in the preliminary were selected from a pool of over 4,600 students in grades four through eight. The figures are staggering when one considers that out of this original pool of 2.6 million, only ten advanced to the Championship round and eighty percent of the finalists were of Indian origin in a country where Indian-Americans comprise one percent of the population.

The competition, also known as the Nat Geo Bee, is an annual geography contest open to students ages 10 to 14, organized by the National Geographic Society. It is tough and challenging, but also entertaining and very impressive! The aim is to inspire and reward children for their knowledge and curiosity about the world.

Speaking about the competition on Wednesday, National Geographic Society chair Jean Case told the audience, “It’s always a lot of fun, but it’s always very inspiring, too. The Bee goes to the heart of what we’re all about here at National Geographic. We are really about furthering our understanding of the world and the people in it”, she said, emphasizing that “today, it is more important than ever before to understand that we live in an inter-connected world”.

Geography, she pointed out “is about so much more than just memorizing a place on a map”. Looking around at the finalists, she said, “We’re trying to educate, inspire and celebrate you, our young people, because you are the future leaders”.

Regarding the reach and impact of the Bee, Case informed the audience that more than 120 million students have participated in the competition since it started thirty years ago, and over 90 scholarships have been awarded totaling more than 1.5 million dollars. In recent times, Indian-American kids have been crowned winners.

Pranay Varada, 14, of Texas was crowned champion of the 2017 National Geographic Bee. A year earlier, Indian-American kids aced the competition with Rishi Nair, 12, of Florida bagging first place, followed by Saketh Jonnalagadda, 14, of Massachusetts and Kapil Nathan, 12, of Alabama in second and third place, respectively.

Among other recent national champions are Karan Menon of New Jersey (2015), Akhil Rekulapelli of Virginia (2014), Sathwik Karnik of Massachusetts (2013) and Rahul Nagvekar of Texas (2012).

We queried Venkat’s parents — father Amiya Ranjan and mother Chinmayee Raman – about the reason Indian-American kids are acing the competition year-after-year. “We emphasize that our kids should study hard”, replied Raman. “We want them to do well in studies and we encourage them a lot more when they have an interest in that area. I see Indian parents are more involved with their kids in our school district in California. Also, Chinese parents”, she added.

The ten finalists who competed in the 2018 National Spelling Bee were: Gayatri Kaimal, 13, of Arizona, in seventh grade at Basis Tucson North, Tucson; Atreya Mallanna of Massachusetts, in fifth grade at Joseph Estabrook Elementary School, Lexington; Saket Pochiraju of Ohio, a returning contestant, in eighth grade at Orange Middle School, Lewis Center; Ashwin Sivakumar of Oregon, a returning contestant, in eighth grade at Oregon Episcopal School, Portland; Nihar Janga of Texas, 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee co-champ, now in seventh grade at Canyon Ridge Middle School, Austin; Sean Cheng, in eighth grade at Cooperative Middle School, Stratham, New Hampshire; Jonathan Song, in eighth grade at Salem Middle School, Apex, North Carolina; and the top three winners.

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