Nihar Janga is no stranger to success in the Bee world — whether it’s a mastery over world geography or a command on words and their origins. He can thrive and think under pressure, a trait that has helped him win many a competitions. And on May 22, the Texas eighth-grader once again emerged victorious by claiming top honors at the 31st annual National Geographic GeoBee (formerly the National Geographic Bee).
Janga edged past Atreya Mallanna, a 6th-grader at William Diamond Middle School in Lexington, Massachusetts, in the championship round, by correctly answering “Finnmark Palteau” to the question: “More than one-third of Norway’s northernmost county is located on what plateau?”
The GeoBee says that when declared winner, “Janga fell to his knees and pounded the floor in excitement as he joined the ranks of winners of the GeoBee.” In addition to earning the title of National Geographic GeoBee Champion, Janga, who attends the Canyon Ridge Middle School in Austin, Texas, received a $25,000 college scholarship, a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society, and a Lindblad expedition to the Galápagos Islands aboard the National Geographic Endeavour ll.
Last year, Janga made it to the finals of the Geo Bee. In 2016, he co-won the Scripps National Spelling Bee with 13-year-old Jairam Hathwar of Painted Post, New York. USAToday then reported that Janga, Speller 232, “was the only speller to get a perfect score on the preliminary test. That means he not only spelled every word correctly during Rounds 2 and 3, but he also aced the written test that preceded those rounds.” During the spelling bee finals, Janga and Hathwar exhausted 25 championship rounds worth of words. Janga’s winning word was "gesellschaft,” while for Hathwar, it was "Feldenkrais."
Several Indian-American students competed in the GeoBee and were among the top 10 finalists. Each of the top three GeoBee finalists have previously competed in the national competition and advanced to the top ten. As second-place GeoBee winner, Atreya received a $10,000 scholarship. Rishi Kumar, an 8th-grader at Ellicott Mills Middle School, Ellicott City, Maryland, won third place and a $5,000 college scholarship.
CBS reports that Janga, who aspires to be a neurosurgeon when he grows up, is hoping to compete in the International Brain Bee as a high schooler.
As part of National Geographic’s expanded commitment to education, the society also held the first-ever national-level competition of the GeoChallenge in conjunction with the GeoBee. A themed, project-based competition, this year’s GeoChallenge asked student teams to develop innovative solutions to the urgent issue of plastic pollution in our waterways.
The seven other GeoBee semifinalists, who each won $1,000 in cash, were Omkar Gadewar (7th) of Naperville, Illinois; Vaibhav Hariram (6th) of Cary, North Carolina; Jishnu Nayak (6th) of Mountain House, California; Kaylan Patel (7th) of Windermere, Florida; Dylan Rem (8th) of Bronx, New York; Lakshay Avi Sood (8th) of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Aarush Tutiki (5th) of Troy, Michigan.