Venkat Ranjan scores with ‘Paraguay,’ beating two other strong South Asian contenders
Space, particularly the galaxies scattered across it, knowledge about the many countries that dot the earth, and watching travel shows with his dad. That is what fires Venkat Ranjan, 13, the winner of the 2018 National Geographic Bee competition.
The other two winners, Anoushka Buddhikot, who came second, and Vishal Sareddy, who was third, are also of South Asian origin.
Ranjan takes the information he gleans quite to heart.
So, despite astronomer and science communicator Neil de Grasse Tyson’s injunction that people get over Pluto’s demotion from a planet in 2006, the news brought tears to Ranjan’s eyes. He was even more upset when he learned that the sun would wink out one day.
His mother noticed early that he had the answers to most of the questions when the family watched the Geography Bee on television. His parents thought he could do be a good fit for the competition.
Ranjan, an eighth-grader at Windemere Ranch Middle School in San Ramon, California, first appeared at the California State Geographic Bee in 2016 when he was in grade 6 and stood third.
The deciding event was on May 23, at the 30th annual National Geographic Bee held at National Geographic headquarters in Washington, DC.
He scribbled Paraguay, the winning answer, to the question “Lebanon has a population most similar to which South American country?” Buddhikot, 13, of Bridgewater, New Jersey, an eighth-grader at Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School, who also got the question, answered Guyana, and so came in second. Vishal Sareddy, 14, of Suwanee, Georgia, an eighth-grader at Riverwatch Middle School, received $10,000 as the third prize.
Ranjan received a $50,000 college scholarship and a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society. He will also travel (along with one parent or guardian), all expenses paid, on an expedition to the Galápagos Islands aboard the National Geographic Endeavour ll. Travel is provided by Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic.
According to Bee officials, almost three million students from 10,000 schools in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, US Atlantic and Pacific territories and Department of Defense Dependents Schools took part in this year’s Bee.
The National Geographic Society developed the National Geographic Bee in 1989 in response to concerns about the lack of knowledge about geography among young people in the United States.
Ranjan told indica, “I have been seriously preparing for this for three years. Every year was a stepping stone but I was always confident I could do well.”
Asked if he expected to win, he responded quickly, “No, because I had very, very strong competition all these years. When I gave the last answer, I was kind of nervous, waiting for the answer.”
He added, “I was just focusing on each question that came and so I stayed calm all the time. And when last questions started getting in, I felt there was a good chance of winning.
He said he found the state competition harder than the national one.
Ranjan said every day he tried to study a little geography while that his parents organized mock competitions for him.
“I used Wikipedia and Google Maps. It [Google Maps] has a lot of information and shows where everything is,” said Ranjan, who says his mother was his mentor.
Ranjan’s mother Chinmayee Raman said with a laugh that, yes, she did help in planning, quizzing him and telling him when to relax. He plays piano but is not much into sports.
“There was never, like, a pressure to ask him to do anything,” Raman said, adding that the state level competition was indeed very tough.
“Everybody prepares and a lot and it goes on a long time. None of the students get out and go for two hours,” she said.
“This year I also prepared him to take a deep breath, stay calm, focus on his question and forget everybody else. ‘Your turn comes, give it your hundred percent and don’t worry about what is happening around.’”
Ranjan hopes to become a research and design engineer at NASA. Earlier this year, he won the Science Bowl. Next year, too, he will be participating in the school science bowl and geography Olympiad.
Ranjan also has a message for those interested in the Geography Bee: “If you need to participate take everything step by step. You cannot put too much into the plate.”
When indica asked Raman, she expressed pride and joy that he persevered, before adding, “I think that is very important and we never forced him to win the national. [We said], Just give your best, and since you know so much, take one question at a time and not to compare [yourself with the other competitors].
“If they start thinking about competing and comparing, then they get nervous.”