One standout Margaret Green Jr. High student will be putting his factual knowledge of the globe to the test beginning May 20.
Eighth-grader Jun Chen, 14, who won the Mississippi Geography Bee on April 5, now has the distinct honor of competing against the nation's top geography scholars at the National Geographic Bee in Washington, D.C.
Students from all 50 states, plus those representing U.S. territories, Department of Defense schools, and Washington D.C. will go head-to-head in the prestigious competition.
"I'm a little nervous but I'm also excited," said the soft-spoken Chen. "I'm looking forward to experiencing Washington, D.C. for the first time."
While he's yet to visit the nation's capital, the young leader gained numerous geography lessons from the places he's lived in his life, including China, New York, San Francisco, Louisiana and now, small-town Cleveland, Miss.
"I don’t know about winning but my goal is to be in the Top 10," said Chen.
Chen's American History teacher, Pat Kirkpatrick, longtime school coordinator for the geography bee, said he's a humble champion that should perform well against America's brightest students.
"Jun is very modest and I think he has a great shot at the Top 10," said Kirkpatrick, who will also attend the contest with Chen. "He knows a lot of geography and I know he'd love to win a big check."
The overall champion will win the top prize of a $25,000 college scholarship and lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society.
Second- and third-place finishers will be awarded college scholarships of $15,000 and $10,000.
Students making the Top 10 will walk away with $500.
Additionally, the national winner will travel (along with one parent or guardian), all expenses paid, to the Galápagos to experience geography firsthand through up-close encounters with the wildlife and landscape of the islands.
So how did Chen get the chance to compete for these life-changing prizes? The answer — hours and hours of reading and studying.
"He's worked very hard reading all kinds of books, atlases and resources I've saved up through the years," said Kirkpatrick. "I'm constantly feeding him information. He's been preparing for a long time."
Kirkpatrick is clearly prepping the competitors well, as this is the second state champ in a row from Margaret Green. Josh Waldbieser, an eighth-grader last year, attended the national competition in 2012.
"It's pretty awesome that we've had a state champion three out of the last four years," she said. "And we've had the winner four of the last 25 years."
Kirkpatrick added the success is not the work of any one teacher, but a collective effort of a staff with a deep knowledge base.
"All of this goes to show how important teaching Social Studies is," said Kirkpatrick. "You can't teach history without teaching geography."
This year also marks a special anniversary for the national competition, now celebrating it's 25th year.
The final round of the contest will be held at The National Theatre in D.C., moderated by "Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek, and for the first and only time, tickets to the finals are on sale to the public.
Chen, who amazingly says algebra is his best subject, remains quietly focused on the opening round of the challenge.
"I'm going to keep reading — about countries, history, culture, landforms, festivals, languages and political and physical geographies," said Chen. "I'm really hoping to do well. It's going to be exciting."
"Considering the millions of students across the country who get a chance at this, we're very proud Jun is already one of the top 53," said Kirkpatrick. "It's going to be an awesome experience for him."
Joining the duo in Washington, D.C. will be Chen's mother, thanks to a corporate sponsorship from Plum Creek Timber Company, Inc. The company has been supporting transportation costs for competitors and their families for years.