Matthew McDonald is a high school freshman from West Orange, N.J., which he calls “the best town in the whole state.” He won the 2019 New Jersey state GeoBee and is considering a career as a civil engineer or city planner. He spoke with us for our series “Five Questions With a GeoBee Champion.” Edited excerpts of our conversation follow.
Q: You qualified for GeoBee nationals for the first time this spring. What was that experience like?
Matthew McDonald (MM): I was a little nervous because I had not been to a national competition before, but it was really fun. I met a lot of nice people from different parts of the country such as Puerto Rico and South Dakota. Even though I did not get into the finals for the competition, it was still exciting to compete and show off my geography skills.
Q: What advice would you give a student competing in the GeoBee this year?
MM: One thing I have to stress is, do not study only the large continents and countries. You’re going to need to know the geography and facts about small countries such as New Zealand too. Make sure you study the entire world map and pay attention to current events.
Q: How has your GeoBee experience benefited you in high school?
MM: It has definitely helped my study ethic. Studying for the national GeoBee is much harder than studying for a single math test. I think it has also helped with my self-esteem. It’s like, wow, I made it to nationals. I have also been able to apply my geography knowledge in classes like world history.
Q: What are your academic or career goals?
MM: I am in my high school’s math and science program, which is aimed at preparing students for careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). My career goal is to be a civil engineer or city planner.
Q: Going forward, how do you think you will apply your geographic knowledge? Have you thought about the intersection between geography and engineering?
MM: When you’re building tunnels, railways, highways, ports, etc., you need to know the geography of the place you’re building it in. If you’re trying to build a highway through, let’s say, rural Tibet, you’re going to need to know the geography of the area, like where major mountains are. You could travel around the world for different engineering projects, and that would require knowledge of the local cultures and landscapes. As a city planner you also need to realize that different geographic features require different plans for cities.
Check back next week for the fifth installment in “Five Questions With a GeoBee Champion,” in which we speak with 2015 national runner-up Shriya Yarlagadda.
Registration for the 2019-2020 GeoBee is open through Jan. 24. Title I schools are eligible for a discount on GeoBee registration. Go to NatGeoBee.org to learn more.