When 9-year-old Sander Owens saw Alex Trebek hosting the 2012 National Geographic Bee on TV, he knew he had to be a part of it.
“I wanted to compete at something I was good at and I liked. I’m glad there are academic as well as athletic competitions, and I liked knowing there are a lot of other kids who like geography, too,” he said.
After competing with fellow students in a school-level geographic bee at Discovery Charter School in Porter, Owens emerged the winner.
In April, he finished 10th in the state-level National Geographic Bee competition in Indianapolis, being named to the top 1 percent of the nation's fourth- through eighth-graders in terms of geographic literacy.
“I was very happy and proud to make the final round. I had to run around the building a little bit during our break to get calmed down — I had a lot of nervous energy,” he said.
The son of Mike and Sandra Owens, of Valparaiso, Sander has shown an intense interest in maps since he was a toddler.
“I can’t remember why he started to look at maps. I know that an atlas of the world was one of his early favorites,” Sandra Owens said.
As Sander grew, so did his collection of maps.
“I probably have hundreds of maps, since I have several atlases of the world, the country, several states, and lots and lots of city road maps,” he said.
“I like my street guide of the Chicago area-seven county map, which is hundreds of pages long. I study both terrain features as well as street maps of many individual cities and countries.”
“I like thinking about why they are related to each other in the way that they are and also I think about how their political relations change their boundaries,” he added.
Owens hopes to incorporate his love of geography when he is able to pursue one of his three career choices – an aeronautical engineer, chemist, or astronomer.
When not studying maps, he enjoys reading about chemistry, math and airplanes. In addition to attending astronomy lectures at Valparaiso University, he participates in online forums discussing Shakespearean plays.