Living in Washington, D.C., when meeting a person for the first time the conversation often goes like this:
X: Hi, I’m X.
Sam: Hi, I’m Sam.
X: So, what do you do?
Sam: I work at National Geographic.
X: No way! What do you do there?
The truth is, it’s hard to answer that question: “What do you do there?” In the simplest sense, the Education department acts as the education and outreach arm for the National Geographic Society. We strive to increase geographic literacy by providing free educational material and training to educators. We provide all of this content, for free, online at NatGeoEd.org. In particular, my job involves creating material that uses iconic National Geographic media, like photos or videos, from special National Geographic projects (hence, outreach). However, my job/our jobs is/are so much more than that. At no time of the year is this truth more evident than during the Explorers Symposium, when National Geographic Explorers are invited to campus to share their stories, work and passions with NGS staff.
Yesterday, we heard from half of the new class of Emerging Explorers. This included Sayed Gul Kalash, an effervescent young woman who is working in Pakistan to preserve and protect her native Kalash culture. At age 25, she is proving that you’re never too young to change the world. We also met Jer Thorpe, Sandesh Kadur and Raghava KK, who all dance on the collision of art and science. Biologists Andrea Marshall, Erika Cuellar and Steve Boyes work to save the species and places that they love. Jason De Leon and Adrian Myers are pushing the boundaries of what it means to be archeologists. Lale Labuko saves lives by working tirelessly to reverse, rebuild and reinvent cultural practices. Today’s presentations will no doubt prove equally inspiring.
As motivational as the Symposium is, it’s hard not to feel inadequate when listening to the explorers share their work. What do I do at National Geographic? I sit at a desk. As much as I’m inspired listening to the explorers’ stories, I’m equally shamed. Shouldn’t I also be out in the world, discovering new species, breaking down walls and inventing solutions to global problems? Despite this feeling, I’m not discouraged—in fact, I’m emboldened.
So, what is is that I do for National Geographic? I share the stories of these incredible explorers with educators, in hopes that an educator will choose to share these stories with his or her students. That’s what I do for National Geographic. I tell stories in hopes that a student somewhere in the world will become inspired, and use an explorer’s story as a catalyst to ignite their own passions.
We at National Geographic are honored to help these explorers on their journey, and we choose to be inspired by them. I challenge you to do the same. Choose to explore your own frontiers, whatever they may be. Choose to be brave and break down barriers in your own life, discover something new about yourself and, as explorer Erin Pettit said this morning, step outside your comfort zone. There’s still more left to be discovered about the world we live in—this is the new age of exploration, and we’re excited for you to begin your own journey as we celebrate the stories of these explorers who are guiding the way.
Written by Samantha Zuhlke, National Geographic Education Programs