Shriya Yarlagadda, a high school junior from Grand Blanc, Mich., credits the GeoBee with helping her develop self-confidence and a “more nuanced perspective” on world events. She finished second in the 2015 GeoBee national finals, and more recently appeared on the Jeopardy! Teen Tournament. Edited excerpts of our conversation follow.
Q: How has studying geography made you more of a global citizen?
Shriya Yarlagadda (SY): I do Model United Nations at my high school now, and without my GeoBee experience I wouldn’t necessarily have the tools to understand all of the underlying issues of a topic we were discussing. I wouldn’t necessarily think, oh, how does this issue affect this particular ethnic group that lives in this area? Or, how can we be conscious of the religions that are prevalent in this area?
Q: Are there any moments that stick out to you when you reflect on your GeoBee career?
SY: When we were waiting to enter Grosvenor Auditorium for the finals in 2015, one of the other contestants started playing Panamanian music on his iPad. I can’t imagine another group of kids who would appreciate Panamanian music as much as a bunch of geography fanatics. Even in these high-stress situations we were able to have fun, because we were just a group of kids who loved geography and had so much in common.
Q: What advice would you give a student competing in the GeoBee this year?
SY: I would advise GeoBee competitors to remember that you’re doing the GeoBee because you love geography. You’re not doing it because you need to prove anything to anyone, but because you want to use this opportunity to learn more about geography and to mesh with other people who love it as much as you do.
Q: What are your academic or career goals?
SY: My career goals change all the time, but for the past few years my focus has been on finding a way to incorporate my love of geography into a field that deals with social sciences. Currently my plan is to become a lawyer, and down the line my dream job would be to be an international human rights lawyer. I always tell people I want to be the next Amal Clooney.
Q: Is there any question we didn’t ask that you’d like to answer?
SY: I wanted to say that the GeoBee quite literally changed my life. Prior to doing the GeoBee I wasn’t the most outgoing person. I tended to be shy around a lot of people. By being in the GeoBee, I had the opportunity to prove not only to other people, but also to myself, that I had the capability of doing things that I was very proud of myself for doing. Even though I wasn’t necessarily proud of myself in the moment, I could look back on it and think wow, I, as an 11-year-old, was one of the best geographers in the country. Believing that has given me so much confidence; it’s allowed me to open so many doors for myself.
Join us next week for the final installment in “Five Questions With a GeoBee Champion,” in which we speak with three-time District of Columbia champion Max Garon.
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.