Millions of students from thousands of schools took part in the 2012 National Geographic Bee, which was sponsored for the fourth year by Google. Indian Americans swept all the top four positions. Rahul Nagvekar of Sugar Land, Texas (near Houston), a 14-year-old eighth-grader at Quail Middle School in Missouri City, Texas, who took top honors at the 24th annual final competition in Washington, DC, on Thursday spoke to India America Today.
Second-place winner and recipient of a $15,000 college scholarship was Vansh Jain, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Minocqua-Hazelhurst-Lake Tomahawk Elementary School in Minocqua, in northwestern Wisconsin. Third place and a $10,000 college scholarship went to Varun Mahadevan, a 13-year-old seventh-grader at Prince of Peace Christian School in Fremont, California, near San Francisco. Fourth place and $1,000 went to Arizona’s Raghav Ranga, a 14-year-old eighth-grader at St. Gregory College Preparatory School in Tucson, Arizona.
Three of the six other finalists, who each won $500, were also Indian Americans: Karthik Karnik of Massachusetts, Gopi Ramanathan of Minnesota and Neelam Sandhu of New Hampshire.
The winning question was: “Name the Bavarian city located on the Danube River that was the legislative seat of the Holy Roman Empire from 1663 to 1806?” Answer: Regensburg.
After answering the question correctly and winning a $25,000 college scholarship, lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society, and a trip for two to the Galápagos on an expedition aboard the National Geographic Endeavour, Nagvekar shared his excitement, labor over the years and his advice for the younger generation about the competition.
Speaking to India America Today on Friday before boarding a flight back home to Houston, Nagvekar sounded excited and wondered if President Barack Obama would be inviting the winners to the White House.
How do you feel today?
I am obviously excited that I was able to win the competition, but at the same time it has been a day and things have quieted down a little
What motivated you and what part did your parents’ push play in this?
When I was very young, my parents gave me a globe and the globe showed all the countries and a number of cities, oceans and all of that. I liked to turn it around and look at the various places that were on the globe and that was a way of learning about the world and it was fun.
Later when I was a little older in kindergarten and first grade, I was interested in learning about animals, especially exotic animals which came from exotic places and that was another way of learning about more places and that developed an interest in geography.
When I was in 4th grade, I learned about this competition. I was interested because I wanted to use it as a way of learning about the world.
My parents, while they did push me, the pushing was mostly in the form of encouragement. They never forced me to enter the competition and at the same time they never forced me to prepare for it. They did help, they did tremendous help on their part, much more than I could ask for.
But the decision that if I am going to participate or not was my own.
How many hours were devoted to this?
I am not exactly sure because I measured the amount of work that I did by what I got done rather than how much time I spent. I didn’t really measure.
What else did you have to let go or what other activities did you have to curtail to devote more time to this?
I was able to participate in a number of competitions. I was also able to play the piano. Maybe I was not able to devote as much time to activities as I wanted to, but still I am glad I could do those in addition to preparing for this.
What is your vision after being the number one man, defeating millions?
So far as college is concerned, it would be nice to go to a prestigious college like Harvard or Stanford or MIT or Cal Tech, something of that sort, but there are a limited number of sponsored seats and a lot of people do want to go there. So it is important that I keep all my options open.
What are you looking forward to as a result of winning?
For one, I have a trip to the Galápagos Islands, which belong to Ecuador in South America, and that’s something I am definitely excited about.
Also I have life-time membership in National Geographic Society, which is also an exciting perk for winning this competition and I look forward to taking full advantage of that.
How did you feel when President Obama asked a question?
That is one of the great things of being able to come this far at the national stage of the competition and I enjoyed that.
Would you like to get invited to the White House?
That will be great. I would love to visit and meet President Obama
Do you have a message for the younger generation about these competitions?
Specifically for the National Geographic Bee, I have been participating in it since 4th grade and this was my fifth and final try that I was able to come here to Washington, DC for the national competition and win it. So a lot of people are not successful in their first try, but they can always go back, start again and improve and come back. So everyone has a chance and they should always remember that, even if they get disappointed and not quite make it.
What age should they start?
The competition is open to anyone from 4th to 8th grade, so if you hear about it in the 4th grade and you are interested, this is one competition which does require a lot of work so you should try only if you are genuinely interested in it. So if you are interested, then 4th grade is when you should try. That’s what I did and they will gain experience from that.