WASHINGTON — Seventh-grader Nathan Swan of Anchorage admits he loves to stare at maps and atlases. That passion paid off Tuesday as Swan competed in the National Geographic Bee in Washington.
"When he was in kindergarten he just started looking at maps and he would direct me through town," said Jessica Swan, Nathan's mom. "He was my navigator. We were fairly new to Anchorage, I'd get lost and he'd tell me where to go."
Those skills brought Nathan all the way to the nation's capital, where he competed against 54 other students from around the country. The students, ranging from 10 to 14 years old, are vying for the top prize: a $25,000 college scholarship and a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society.
"The kids are amazing," said Mary Lee Elden, director of the National Geographic Bee. "They can answer a number of questions that people have no idea where these places are in the world."
Nathan, who is home schooled, answered eight out of nine questions correctly in the semifinals. Questions ranged from physical geography to world festivals. He earned the top score among his group, a feat even his dad admits he couldn't do.
"I probably knew about 10 answers of the 100," said Brian Swan. "Out of (Nathan's questions), I knew one."
Nathan qualified for the tiebreaker round, where he answered questions in front of a crowd of 500 people.
Yet one question finally stumped him: the name of a peninsula in present-day Turkey that was the site of a hard-fought campaign during World War I. The answer: Gallipoli.
"I got 12th place in the country," Nathan exclaimed after the competition.
Nathan and his family will attend the finals Wednesday, where 10 students will face off and Jeopardy host Alex Trebek will moderate.
Yet Nathan's planning another visit to Washington in the future.
"The American History Museum was under renovation, and that's what I like — history," said Nathan.
Nathan hopes to one day become a professor and said Tuesday's competition was good preparation for his future career.
(The Medill News Service is a Washington program of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.)