The University of Maryland’s Department of Geographical Sciences (GEOG) hosted its second Recognition Banquet for Exceptional Geographical Sciences High School Students at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 18 in the Adele H. Stamp Student Union’s Colony Ballroom.
The banquet celebrated the achievements of a remarkable group of more than 50 high school sophomores, juniors and seniors whose teachers nominated them for their outstanding academic and/or extracurricular achievement in geographical sciences or related disciplines. It also introduced high schoolers to UMD’s nationally ranked GEOG program.
“We seek to recognize and engage the next generation of students to examine and address humanity’s most pressing issues and Grand Challenges,” George Hurtt, GEOG associate chair and director of the Global Ecology Lab at UMD said, noting the importance of geographers’ role in understanding and mitigating climate change, tracking deforestation and biodiversity loss, addressing food security, combating natural disasters and other issues.“Our goal is to build strong connections with local high schools to recruit future geographers at UMD GEOG.”
GEOG reached out to 56 high schools, including 26 public schools in Prince George’s County, 25 public schools in Montgomery County, and five local private schools. Students, parents and teachers from 25 schools attended the banquet, along with GEOG faculty and students.
In the bustling ballroom, about 200 guests brimmed with excitement and pride. For students, the award has given them confidence in their ability to make a positive difference in the world.
"I feel great and surprised that I am even capable," said Cristian Romero, a freshman at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School. As a straight-A student, Romero is interested in climate change and disease outbreaks. He earned a scholarship to attend his school and hopes to support his family in the future.
Brenda Medrano, his mother, was overjoyed by her son's achievement: "My generation and my son's generation are the first ones in my family to accomplish something," said Medrano. Her parents are immigrants from El Salvador.
Karen Valdez, an English Language Learner and a student at the International High School at Langley Park, was also proud of the GEOG recognition. “I owe a lot to my teacher who made sure we understood the subjects,” said Valdez. As an immigrant from Guatemala, Valdez dreams of returning to her home country and using her knowledge of geographical sciences there.
During the banquet, the high school students also learned about innovative ways modern geographers apply their skills. Jenson Castillo, an undergraduate student, shared his excitement about how geographers can use programming languages and remote sensing to achieve various goals. For one of his class projects, he created a map that tracked UFO sightings from 1910 to 2020.
Camille Hoffman Delett, a GEOG alumna, talked about how her interest in climate change and wildlife led her to study geography. She emphasized the importance of looking at environmental issues from a spatial perspective, which is a key aspect of geographical sciences.
"My generation and my son's generation are the first ones in my family to accomplish something."
The 2023 banquet is the second installment of this unique campus event, which Hurtt felt inspired to create last year when his son participated in a similar initiative from the math department at Brigham Young University.
Last year's banquet recognized outstanding students in 14 public high schools in Prince George’s County, and two public high schools in Montgomery County. 2022 banquet awardees returned to campus in the fall for a full day of activities—including a humanitarian mapping activity, an introductory course on natural disaster and more—and 2023 awardees will be invited to similar special events and experiential learning opportunities during the fall 2023 semester.
“I gained valuable insights through this program,” said 2022 awardee Anniee Fang, a senior at Poolesville High School who did an internship with the Campus Forest Carbon Project last summer. “I am deeply intrigued by anything and everything nature and want to learn more about environmental research.”
“In a time of global environmental challenges, the GEOG Department hopes engagement programs like this will inform and inspire the next generation to learn about new technologies and career paths that will help solve the challenges humanity and the planet face today,” said Tatiana Loboda, GEOG chair.
To learn more about this outreach program, visit here.
Top image: Hurtt poses with Malika Shukla and Jonah Richmond, both students from Wheaton High School.
All photos by Sasha Mikus