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Youth environmental challenges tackles real-world problems

Posted on Monday, March 18th, 2019
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UNI NEWS SERVICES – About 170 middle schoolers will gather at the University of Northern Iowa campus this month to participate in the college’s first-ever GeoChallenge, a competition sponsored by National Geographic that asks students to create real-world solutions to tackle real-world environmental challenges.

2017 Nat Geo Bee


UNI is one of 16 sites in the country that will host the challenge. It will take place on March 29 and will join the GeoBee, which UNI has hosted for several years, to create a full day of educational activities called GeoFest.

“The GeoChallenge is fun, and it is also ‘college and career ready’ fun,” said Alex Oberle, interim department head for the Department of Geography. “What the students learn and develop through the GeoChallenge are the skills, abilities and habits of mind that are both needed for college and valued by employers.”

This year, the theme of the GeoChallenge is Tackling Plastic, which invites students to investigate the urgent issue of plastic pollution in waterways and the ocean. Teams of students will use skills such as teamwork, research, innovation, critical thinking and persuasive communication to address the challenge. The students will create maps, models and videos as they develop their solutions to the issue.

“This is the middle school version of the same process undergraduates in our UNI Department of Geography undertake to complete class projects and undergraduate research,” Oberle, a 2018 National Geographic Society Education Fellow said.   

The GeoChallenge provides a direct pathway for these students to continue their motivation and inspiration as future UNI students, Oberle said. The finalists in both competitions will receive $200 scholarships if they choose to attend UNI.

“Sustainability is one of the values in our strategic plan, and Iowa students ‘tackling plastic’ embodies UNI’s commitment to achieving sustainability,” Oberle said.