Skyridge geography bee champion hopes for shot at $50,000 scholarship

Ishan Mehta, 13, is waiting to hear if he has qualified for the state competition

When Ishan Mehta thinks about geography, the first things that usually comes to mind are the monuments and buildings in a certain area.

The 13-year-old, an eighth grade student at Skyridge Middle School, considers the Space Needle when he thinks of Washington’s geography, and recalls the Art Deco “Christ the Redeemer” statue when he summons Brazil’s geographical landmarks.

But while the structures may hook him in, Ishan has a special talent for remembering geographical locations.

On Jan. 14, the eighth-grader won his school’s competition for the National Geographic Bee. Now, he hopes to compete at the state level and, eventually at the national level for a chance to win a $50,000 college scholarship.

“My family travels and I’ve been to the UK, but I was too young to remember it,” Ishan said during a recent interview at his Camas middle school. “I have been to India several times.”

The son of Chinar and Shwetal Mehta, Ishan and his younger brother, Ayah, 7, moved with their parents from their home in New York to Camas about four years ago.

Since then, Ishan has become involved with his school band, in which he plays the clarinet, and has advanced with his tennis skills. When he found out about his school’s participation in the geography bee, sponsored by National Geographic, Ishan started researching geography on his own time.

“I read every night and use things like Seterra (an online geography game),” Ishan said.

Skyridge Principal Clint Williams has been facilitating his school’s geography team for the past 10 years, and said the Skyridge students always impress him with their knowledge of geographical places and trivia.

The school has classroom-level competitions and then about 40 people advance to a second round, where the top 10 scorers will emerge to compete in front of their entire school in the Skyridge Auditorium.

Ishan was this year’s school champion. He will find out in early March is he has qualified for the state competition.

“We’ve had Skyridge kids go to state every year in the past 10 years. And, three or four years ago, the Skyridge student came in third at state,” Williams said, turning to Ishan and joking: “No pressure, Ishan.”

If he were to win at the state level, Ishan would compete on the national stage in Washington, D.C., a place he’s never visited but that might impress him with its array of monuments and historic buildings.

While he waits to see what his fate is concerning the state geography bee, Ishan will continue to pursue his other passions, including tennis and playing the clarinet.

For anyone out there who is interested in learning more about the world’s geography, Ishan has some advice.

“Start with what you know,” he said. “Start with Washington and then the Northwest, then the U.S. and then the world. And find something that interests you. Mine is monuments, but it could be anything.”

Once you have something that hooks you in, Ishan said he likes to explore a variety of geography educational tools.

“I use online games, but also like books and atlases,” he said. “Don’t rely on just one thing.”

The state competition will be held on March 29. The National Geographic Society will provide an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C., for state winners to participate in the national geography bee May 19 through May 22.

The first-place national champion will receive a $50,000 college scholarship, a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society, a subscription to National Geographic magazine, and a trip to the Galapagos Islands, courtesy of Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic.

To learn more and test your own geography knowledge, visit nationalgeographic.com/geobee.