Westwood teen advances to state geography bee

A seventh-grader at Westwood Middle School took top honors at the school’s annual geographic bee.

Mohamed Sharif, 13, of Blaine, is among 100 Minnesota semifinalists who will compete this weekend in the 2013 Minnesota National Geographic Bee. Photo by Elyse Kaner

Mohamed Sharif, 13, of Blaine, is among 100 Minnesota semifinalists who will compete this weekend in the 2013 Minnesota National Geographic Bee. Photo by Elyse Kaner

Mohamed Sharif, 13, of Blaine, nailed the victory when he answered a question about a mosque located in Istanbul, Turkey.

“I had a lot of joy and disbelief at the same time,” Mohamed said about his win.

The preliminary competition of 27 students – sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders – was narrowed to 10 finalists in a January competition.

Two finalists remained in a championship round, Mohamed and the last year’s school geographic bee winner, Akhil Chandra. A set of three questions yielded a tie. Mohamed answered the tie-breaking question, “The Suleymaniye Mosque, built to honor the 16th century Ottoman ruler, can be seen in what city?,” to win the contest.

This was Mohamed’s first foray into a knowledge competition. He decided to compete just for fun.

“Now I want to go all the way to nationals,” he said about the contest, which puts him among 100 Minnesota finalists who this weekend will compete in the 2013 Minnesota National Geographic Bee.

To compete in Westwood’s contest, students were required to take a qualifying test.

To prepare for the bee, Mohamed read a world fact book provided by the National Geographic Bee. He also studied maps – honing in on cities, countries, mountain ranges, facts and such – on and off for about two hours a day from mid-November to January when the school finals were held.

“Mohamed was relaxed and confident during the entire bee,” said Marianne Paulos, District 16’s gifted and talented coordinator. “He loves learning.”

Mohamed’s plans were to study for the state competition in the same vein as the school contest for which he was awarded a medal.

Mohamed’s favorite classes in school are social studies and science.

Away from school, Mohamed enjoys watching TV action shows and playing basketball.

His advice for students thinking about entering a knowledge competition?

“Anything is possible,” he said. “You just have to believe in yourself.”

The state Geographic Bee is April 5 in St. Cloud. The top contestant wins a trip to Washington D.C. and a chance to compete in the National Geographic Bee, which will be held May 20-22.

The first-place winner receives a $25,000 college scholarship and a trip to the Galapagos Islands, affording him or her an opportunity to continue geographical studies with wildlife and landscape of the islands.

The National Geographic Bee is sponsored by the National Geographic Society.

Elyse Kaner is at elyse.kaner@ecm-inc.com

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