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Columbia Business Monthly

National Geographic Society Announces Spring 2020 Young Explorers

Jul 16, 2020 11:55AM ● By David Dykes

The National Geographic Society has announced the spring 2020 Young Explorer grantees, and the group includes two South Carolinians. 

The 22 young people, between the ages of 16 and 26, represent six countries and are engaged in impact-driven efforts ranging from scientific innovation and conservation, to education, civic engagement, storytelling and more—all developing solutions to pressing problems within their communities.

"At the National Geographic Society, we believe young leaders are in a category all their own. They are #GenGeo—a global community of young people with empathy, tenacity, unbridled passion and an insatiable drive to seek solutions to build a sustainable future and thriving planet," says Vicki Phillips, the society's executive vice president and chief education officer.

"They see profound possibilities to make a difference in the world and they make a choice to do something about it with confidence, courage and conviction."

Seven of the Young Explorers are leveraging their efforts to respond to the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

For instance, Katie Stagliano of Summerville, S.C., who founded Katie's Krops, provides meals to South Carolina families struggling economically during the pandemic, while Chris Suggs, who founded Kinston Teens, organized a drive-through crisis relief giveaway that served 4,000 North Carolina families food, cleaning supplies, and other essential items.

Young Explorers are nominated and later selected by the National Geographic Society through a competitive, multi-tiered application process. In addition to funding, Young Explorers receive skill building, leadership development training, and networking opportunities to connect and collaborate with their peers. 

The spring 2020 Young Explorers are:

  • Aldrin Aujero, 19, of the Philippines, who founded EarthSAVERs, which conducts service initiatives to underserved public schools in metro Manila
  • Neil Deshmukh, 18, of the United States (Pennsylvania), who founded PlantumAI, which uses artificial Intelligence technology to promote crop health
  • Thanasi Dilos, 17, of the United States (New York), who co-founded Civics Unplugged, which provides micro-grants and training for youth-led civic projects
  • Lauren Gibson, 25, of the United States (Indiana), who founded Carmel Green Teen Micro-Grant Program to provide mentorship and funding for youth seeking to plan and carry out their own environmental projects
  • Liza Goldberg, 18, of the United States (Maryland), who works with NASA and Google Earth on research to curb climate change
  • Zoë Jenkins, 16, of the United States (Kentucky), who launched the Get Schooled podcast focusing on problems and solutions in education
  • Merrit Jones, 22, of the United States (West Columbia, S.C.), who is the president of Student Voice, a coalition of youth-led organizations 




  • Peyton Klein, 18, of the United States (Pennsylvania), who founded the Global Minds Initiative, which seeks to combat discrimination and promote inclusion in schools
  • Pothunuri Laya, 19, of India, who has developed several environment-preserving inventions, and is studying the viability of converting locusts, which threaten food security in vulnerable parts of the world, as a food source.
  • Ashley Lin, 17, of United States (Washington), who founded Project Exchange to promote cross-cultural learning experiences for high school and college students
  • Tiassa Samayin Mutunkei, 19, of Kenya, who founded Teens4Wildlife to help African youth discover the value of Africa's wildlife and take action to protect it
  • Joe Nail, 24, of the United States (North Carolina), who co-founded Lead For America, which provides recent college graduates with fellowships in local government
  • Shelby O'Neil, 19, of the United States (California), who created Jr. Ocean Guardians to host beach clean-ups and reduce plastics use
  • Kevin Patel, 19, of the United States (California), who founded One Up Action, which empowers marginalized communities to fight climate change
  • Shriya Rai, 22, of India, who founded Sashakt Bharat to provide a platform for India's youth to start their own environmental initiatives and positively shape their communities\
  • Baylee Ritter, 23, of the United States (Illinois), who founded RISE UP, a youth-led webinar series that connects, inspires, and empowers young people around the globe through peer-to-peer training, networking, and skill-building 
  • Kartik Sawhney, 26, of India, who co-founded I-Stem, an organization that gives blind math and science students technical training, mentorship, and hands-on opportunities
  • Katie Stagliano, 21, of the United States (West Columbia, S.C.), who founded Katie's Krops, which empowers youth to start and donate the harvest from community gardens to help feed people in need
  • Chris Suggs, 20, of the United States (North Carolina), who founded Kinston Teens to focus on youth engagement and rural development
  • Richard Turere, 19, of Kenya, who invented Lion Lights to protect crops from local predators
  • Diana Griselle Zendejo Valle, 24, of Mexico, who takes photographs of how humans establish a relationship with nature and how they use nature photography as an education tool 
  • Celestine Wenardy, 17, of Indonesia, who is Editor-in-Chief of the Young Scientist Journal and has conducted research on affordable methods for non-invasive blood glucose concentration monitoring for diabetics

Over the past two years, the National Geographic Society has collectively awarded more than $280,000 in funding to Young Explorers. 

The Young Explorer grants build on the National Geographic Society's 132-year history of investing in individuals with transformative ideas — innovative scientists, explorers, educators and storytellers. 

"We are immensely proud to support these young people on their journey, to help elevate their voices and accelerate and amplify their work," said Phillips. "At a time when our world is facing significant challenges, these Young Explorers show us that we have many reasons to be hopeful about the future."

To learn more about National Geographic Young Explorers and their inspiring efforts, join the conversation using the hashtag #GenGeo on social media.  

Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in people and transformative ideas, providing more than 14,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. 

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