Meet the 2017 Can Geo Challenge National Finalists

Twenty students from across Canada will also get to meet Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques, who will be hosting the final competition
  • May 16, 2017
  • 1,682 words
  • 7 minutes
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While the school year may be winding down, some students are ramping up their studies. After all, the Canadian Geographic Challenge is less than a month away. 

Designed to test Canada’s brightest young minds on all things geography, the Canadian Geographic Challenge will bring a group of 20 students together from all over the country to compete for the title of National Champion in Ottawa, from June 3 to 5. These geography whizzes, ranging from Grade 7 to 10, will be faced with a variety of trivia and multiple-choice questions, as well as video questions from guest star geographers and explorers.

To add to the excitement, The Royal Canadian Geographical Society is thrilled to announce that Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques will be hosting the final competition. The next Canadian astronaut scheduled to go to space, he will give a short presentation about his training to audience members and then guide the top five finalists through the final round of their competition to name a national champion. David is scheduled to blast off on a Soyuz rocket from Kazhakstan in November 2018 for a six-month mission aboard the International Space Station.

In the lead up to the competition, students were asked to share a little about themselves, their hobbies and interests, their role models, and what they want to be when they grow up. From artists and musicians to athletes and chefs, aspiring activists and architects to robotics engineers and climate change researchers — these students come from all backgrounds and have big dreams.

The 2017 finalists

Aaron Abraham, Grade 10, Webber Academy, Calgary, AB

Aaron loves to read and is interested in social studies because it allows him to explore different cultures. He’s a member of his school’s debate team, the Calgary Mayor’s Youth Council, and participates in various science and technology clubs. Aaron dreams of pursuing a career in international law, working with the United Nations, or becoming a diplomat.

Catie Austin, Grade 9, Assumption College School, Brantford, ON

Catie balances her passion for the arts with her love of science. She practices the piano, plays brass in her school band, enjoys visual art, and performs in school plays. When it comes to geography, Catie is most interested in the human aspects — the study of political situations and the economies of different countries. She hopes to someday work either in the sciences or arts.

Christopher Blakesley, Grade 7, Christ the King Elementary School, Whitehorse, YT

Christopher is a hockey fan through and through — he plays hockey, writes hockey stats and watches the pros on TV. As a sports enthusiast, Christopher also plays on his school’s basketball and volleyball teams. He has been a competitive swimmer for seven years and his role model is Michael Phelps. Christopher dreams of becoming a general manager or a coach for a professional sports team.

AJ Cava, Grade 10, St. Marguerite d’Youvill Secondary School, Brampton, ON

AJ enjoys music — he plays in his school’s concert band and performs in the choir. He is also a member of his school’s LGBT organization and anime club. AJ’s career interests vary from computer software development to psychology and social work. He admires the work of environmentalists in helping to preserve the planet and aspires to do the same.

William Chapman, Grade 8, Goulbourn Middle School, Stittsville, ON

William’s role model is the famous explorer David Thompson, who mapped much of western Canada. William himself is a bit of an explorer and is passionate about sailing. His favourite subjects in school are history, French and of course, geography. He hopes to put his interest in maps and languages to good use by becoming either a geographer or a linguist.

James Cogswell, Grade 10, Bernice MacNaughton High School, Moncton, NB

James is interested in the natural world and all the processes behind it. He enjoys going on hikes in the area around his hometown, particularly at Fundy National Park, and discovering geocaches, having found almost 650 so far. James grew up watching aviation shows and is a member of his local Air Cadets squadron. He wants to become either a pilot or an air traffic controller.

Thomas Emmanuel Côté, Sécondaire 4, Collège Saint-Paul, Longueuil, QC

Thomas fills his days with music — he plays bass guitar, writes and composes his own songs, and is a member of several music groups, including his school’s house band. He is also a member of his school’s “Génies en herbe” team, political committee, student council, and debate team. Thomas is interested in journalism and wants to become a foreign correspondent, combining his love for politics and travel.

Joakim de Hoog, Grade 9, Lisgar Collegiate Institute, Ottawa, ON

Joakim participates in cross-country skiing, and in the summer, enjoys biking and exploring his hometown. He loves to read and watch YouTube videos, especially about scientific, philosophical and political topics. Joakim’s role model is Stephen Dubner, co-author of “Freakonomics”, who he admires for being unafraid to discuss controversial topics. Joakim is interested in becoming a linguist, a lawyer, or studying behavioural economics.

Jake Douglas, Grade 9, St.Peter Catholic Secondary School, Peterborough, ON

Jake is an enthusiastic athlete, participating in track and field, hockey, cross-country running, cross-country skiing, soccer and ultimate frisbee. His role model is P.K. Subban, whom he admires as an athlete and philanthropist. Jake has travelled to the Maritimes several times and wants to become either a marine biologist or a diving instructor. He’s interested in studying oceans and lakes or researching the impacts of climate change.

Evan Fingerhut, Grade 9, Caledonia Junior High School, Dartmouth, NS

Evan loves to travel and has been to several countries around the world, even having lived in Japan when he was very young. He enjoys learning about different cultures and people. Evan plays trombone in the school band and is on the soccer team. He’s interested in math and science, and hopes to pursue a career in engineering or medicine.

Michael Girum, Grade 9, Balmoral School, Calgary, AB

Michael is an avid soccer fan and plays on his school team. He also enjoys football, hockey, basketball and does track and field. Michael is on his school’s debate team and is interested in social studies, intending to one day become a lawyer or go into politics. Participating in the Can Geo Challenge will make for good practise as Michael hopes to one day compete on Jeopardy.

Kaylin Harder, Grade 8, East Three Secondary School, Inuvik, NT

Kaylin is an artist and loves to draw, paint and sew. Aside from visual arts, her favourite subjects in school are English and French. She has travelled all around Canada and likes geography because she gets to learn about different places. When she grows up, Kaylin wants to be either an architect or an artist.

Sara Hickes, Grade 7, École des Trois-Soleils, Iqaluit, NU

Sara loves to cook and dreams of opening a restaurant someday. Her favourite subjects at school are English and physical education. Sara is a dancer and enjoys swimming. She admires Malala Yousafzai as a role model because she fights for the rights of girls to receive an education.

Aakash Munipalle, Grade 8, Homelands Senior Public School, Mississauga, ON

Aakash is passionate about science and draws inspiration from great minds like Carl Sagan, Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Brian Cox. He likes to watch BBC and National Geographic documentaries, and his favourite subjects at school are history, geography and science. Beyond the classroom, Aakash plays in the school band and participates in Model UN. Aakash wants to work in the field of physics, astrophysics or biology.

Holden O’Donnell, Grade 10, Fredericton High School, Fredericton, NB

Holden’s favourite subjects in school are English and history. He enjoys learning about different cultures and is a member of his school’s Model UN team. Holden likes to write in his spare time and is interested in becoming a writer, journalist, lawyer or politician. Holden’s role model is his great-grandmother because of her dedication to her family and community.

Rhyanne Pauls, Grade 10, Niverville Collegiate, Niverville, MB

Rhyanne’s favourite subject at school is English and she enjoys reading and making art in her spare time. She loves to play basketball and hockey, and has travelled to British Columbia several times for snowboarding. She enjoys learning about the different and sometimes unexpected ways that geography can be used to explain the world.

Qi Jia (Jerry) Sun, Grade 9, Burnaby Mountain Secondary School, Burnaby, BC

Jerry wants to work in engineering, whether as a robotics programmer/engineer or as a computer scientist. His favourite school subjects are math, science and computer science, and he also participates in various math competitions. Jerry has travelled extensively throughout North America and the Caribbean islands and finds that geography helps him to better appreciate the places he visits.

Philip Vargas, Grade 9, Notre Dame Regional Secondary School, Vancouver, BC

Philip loves the performing arts — he does ballroom dancing and musical theatre. He enjoys learning about the world and has liked geography since he was three years old, learning about flags. Philip looks up to his uncle, who is an engineer, and has his own dreams of building things. He wants to become an architect and design skyscrapers.

Ben Woodward, Grade 10, London Central Secondary School, London, ON

Ben doesn’t know exactly what he wants to do when he grows up, except that it will involve geography. Geography and history are his favourite subjects, and he participates in his school’s geography club, the Envirothon and Reach for the Top. In his spare time, he likes to play squash and tennis.

Jessie Zixuan Zhang, Grade 9, White Oaks Secondary School, Oakville, ON

Jessie is an activist. Inspired by Johan Cruyff, a Dutch former athlete, Jessie volunteers her time to help children with disabilities play sports. She is an executive at her local Kiwanis KEY Club and participates in the WE activism club. Jessi sits on her school’s athletic council and, in her free time, coaches the local youth soccer team. She believes in “learning by teaching” and hopes to become an educator, activist, or researcher.


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