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Faces of Geography - Where can geography take you?

Ever wonder what it is like inside an iceberg, to know the answers to more trivia than you can imagine or know exactly how to capture the best photograph? The three geographers highlighted below are using Geography everyday to explore our world. Be inspired by them and click to download your very own trading card!

Alex Trebek

Most of us know Alex Trebek, Honorary President of the RCGS, from the game show Jeopardy!, which he has hosted since 1984. But the Sudbury, Ont., native has hosted and spearheaded efforts to educate young people on geography, politics and other issues since first hosting CBC’s teen quiz show Reach for the Top in 1966.

That was just a few years after he graduated with a BA in philosophy from the University of Ottawa, after which he took a job as a staff announcer for the local CBC. By the 1970s he was hosting U.S. game shows on NBC and CBS, rising to pop-culture icon status on Jeopardy!, which was watched by millions every night across North America. It was early on that he developed special tournaments for teens, college students, celebrities and other age and skill categories.

Besides acting as international spokesperson for World Vision and supporting other world charities, Trebek has regularly travelled to host student geography competitions (the Canadian Geographic Challenge finals and National Geographic Bee) over the last three decades.

“I love working with young people,” he says, “and seeing how bright these young geographers are.” More than once he has told the finalists in the Canadian Geographic Challenge that to understand and react to current events — from elections to environmental disasters to war — we must have a strong grasp of the geography of our country, our continent, our planet: “All events are geographic,” he says. “They affect us directly.”

Trebek was awarded the RCGS’s Gold Medal in 2010 and its Lawrence J. Burpee Medal in 2015 for his dedication to raising geographic literacy and for supporting the Society in its mission to do the same.

Jill Heinerth

One of the world’s most accomplished cave divers, Jill Heinerth has already tallied more than 7,000 dives, many of them the most technically difficult possible. The Mississauga, Ont.-born explorer was the first person to dive into the depths of Antarctic iceberg-cave ecosystems, was on the team that created the first 3D map of an underwater cave system, and has travelled more than three kilometres into a cave on a single dive — farther than any other woman in history. Of her exploration, director James Cameron has said, “More people have been to the moon than to places that Jill Heinerth has explored deep inside our watery planet.”

Heinerth was awarded the inaugural Sir Christopher Ondaatje Medal for Exploration by The Royal Canadian Geographical Society in 2013 in recognition of her contributions to our understanding of Earth’s underwater cave systems and its hidden freshwater. Her “We Are Water” project, which includes a documentary by the same title and free educational resources, works to improve water literacy by highlighting the risks facing freshwater supplies everywhere. “I am swimming in the lifeblood of our planet,” says Heinerth. “I am swimming in your drinking water. We all need to know how we can protect it for future generations.”

Wade Davis

Wade Davis was 20 — a student at Harvard University working toward degrees in anthropology and biology and a PhD in ethnobotany — when he set out on his first research expedition into the Amazon. He would go on to spend three years there, gathering more than 6,000 botanical collections in the South American rainforest and reaches of the Andes, living with 15 different indigenous groups in eight countries to study their traditional uses of medicinal and psychoactive plants.

In the decades since, the Vancouver born, Pointe-Claire, Que.-raised “plant explorer” and ethnographer has carried out fieldwork among several indigenous societies of northern Canada, and has documented folk rituals, the world’s biodiversity crisis and more from Australia and East Africa to Haiti, Mongolia and South Pacific island nations. He has published 17 books and his photographs have appeared in numerous collections and publications.

Davis is Honorary Vice-President of the RCGS (and was awarded its Gold Medal in 2009) and an Explorer-in-Residence for the National Geographic Society. His mission, he says, has always been to tell the stories of the world’s indigenous societies, in such a way that he might “change the way the world views and values culture.”

These interviews give a first-hand look at real-life geography. Discover the wide range of career opportunities that a geographic education can present to you.

Valerie Torontow
Physical Scientist, National Wildlife Research Centre
Jeff Saarela
Research Scientist, Botanist, Canadian Museum of Nature
Norman Vorano
Curator of Contemporary Art, Canadian Museum of Civilization
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