The world's a classroom

Rowan hosts state finals of National Geographic Bee.

So you know, of course, that Rotorua, a city famous for its geothermal pools and Maori culture, draws tourists to New Zealand.

And you know that Jeddah, the port for the holy city of Mecca, is on the Red Sea.

Further, you're absolutely certain that Montenegro, Macedonia and Croatia are all located on or within the Balkan Peninsula.

You didn't know these things?

Then you must not have been among the winners April 9 when Rowan University hosted the N.J. finals of the National Geographic Bee.

The nationwide contest, sponsored by the National Geographic Society, Google Earth and Plum Creek Timber Company, tests students from 4th to 8th grades and culminates May 25-26 at the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Assistant professor of geography Zachary Moore, who was instrumental in bringing the state finals to Rowan, said the breadth of questions students must answer tests not only their knowledge of places but how people, cultures, the environment and technology all intersect.

"They're very bright and very prepared," Professor Moore said. "The students competing here today represent the upper echelon of the American educational system."

He said the finals, held in Tohill Theater in Bunce Hall, touched on a wide array of topics above and beyond what many people consider basic geography - the rote memorization of countries and capitals. They involved questions about human and physical geography, land use and the evolution of the planet, even the interpretation of satellite imagery.

"Geography is not about memorizing states and capitals," Moore said. "We're studying climate change, land use, smart growth and resource management."

The National Geographic Society has committed to keeping the state finals at Rowan for at least the next two years, Moore said, and that's good news not just for young competitors from around the state but for the dozens of Rowan students who helped organize and run it.

Some 35 Rowan students, many of them geography or education majors, took part in the tightly controlled event with such duties as timing contestants (who must respond within 15 seconds), serving as ushers and keeping test rooms secure.

"Taking part in events like this helps students build organizational skills," Moore said. "It's the type of experience that will help no matter what career they choose."

Rebecca Crawford, 18, a freshman education major from Woodbridge, said she volunteered for the experience of the event but also to interact with bright young minds.

"It's inspiring to see just how driven these children are," she said.