Phillip Meng, 15, of Vancouver, Wash., a junior at Union High School, founded a nonprofit organization that develops curricula and programs to improve geographic education for students throughout the U.S. and in more than 25 nations around the world. When Phillip was in kindergarten, he was asked whether he wanted a party for his birthday or to go on a hike. He chose the hike, calling it “among the best choices I ever made” because it led to a series of trips that sparked his love of geography and his participation in the National Geographic Bee. When he realized just how little the average student, even those in developed countries, knows about geography, Phillip wanted to do something to change that. “Cultural, ethnic, and ideological divides threaten to tear entire societies apart,” he said. “Geography is essential to bringing fractured societies together through cultural understanding and global perspectives.”
So six years ago he started the “International Association of Young Geographers (IAYG)” to educate students around the world about their world. Initially, Phillip wrote a blog and developed a resource platform on social media where students could access geographic information. Later, he built a website and began attracting volunteers, including geography experts, professors and educators. Over time, as the organization expanded, his team developed programs including lectures, seminars, workshops, conferences, a world geography competition for students and educational curricula. His organization has also partnered with institutions and governments to disseminate and implement these programs. Today, Phillip leads a team of over 5,000 volunteers that serves more than 50,000 students and teachers on six continents.