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‘I’ll take geography for $2,000’

A popular television host and the group that fostered Canada’s leadership role in International Polar Year will be honoured this fall with Gold medals from The Royal Canadian Geographical Society, for their significant achievements in geography.

• Alex Trebek needs no introduction to the millions of Jeopardy! fans who have watched him host the quiz show over the past 26 years. But what they may not know about him is his singular dedication to geographic education.

In addition to his busy television career, Trebek has hosted many student geography competitions over the years, including the National Geographic Bee in the United States and the Society’s Geography Challenge in Canada.

While the Geography Challenge is now held online, Trebek has fond memories of hosting the national finals in Ottawa, from 1995 to 2002.

“I love working with young people,” says the native of Sudbury, Ont., “and to see how bright these young geographers are.” He adds that he was pleased that the Canadian team won the National Geographic World Championship last year in Mexico City.

For Trebek, geography is more than just a school subject. Recent events such as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the volcanic eruption in Iceland show that understanding geography is more important than ever before. “These are geographic events,” he says, “and they affect people directly.”

• The fourth International Polar Year (IPY), in 2007- 2008, was the largest-ever scientific program focused on the Arctic and Antarctic. Canada’s participation was extensive: it involved 1,750 researchers, 900 northerners and more than 1,000 students working on 52 research projects throughout the North.

This massive research effort, which brought together the nation’s scientific community, was coordinated by the Canadian International Polar Year National Committee, a body of scientists, academics and government representatives chaired by Ian Church, a retired senior science advisor with the Yukon government. The committee was supported by the Canadian IPY Secretariat, led by David Hik of the University of Alberta.

Canada was an international leader in IPY, advocating research on the human dimension of polar regions, says Church. One of our major contributions was the integration of traditional knowledge with western science. “Traditional knowledge wasn’t part of the scientific culture,” says Church, “but by the end of IPY a lot of scientists from a lot of countries were saying, ‘Wow, we’ve learned a lot!’”

— Amy Smart and Monique Roy-Sole

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