By Peter Galuszka

At Richmond’s Hotel Jefferson, 10 teams of earnest-looking high school students, some in shirt sleeves, pore over notepads as they consider the questions put to them on a big screen, Jeopardy-style, in the Grand Ballroom.

“What percentage of oil used by the United States actually comes from these Persian Gulf countries?” Other questions ask what the problems are in pushing from STEM (Science, Technology Engineering and Math) courses in school and what types of nuclear weapons did the Soviet Union place in Cuba in 1962 and what impact would they have on the U.S. and where?

It’s is the third  session of Academic WorldQuest held by some 40 World Affairs clubs around the country. Winning teams move on to the national contest at Washington’s Georgetown University on April 27. Participants have a chance to compete for college scholarships and iPads and meet with embassy officials from other countries.

This event was sponsored by the World Affairs Council of Greater Richmond (full disclosure, I have been a member for about 10 years) and is repeated by some of the 40 similar, non-profit World Affairs groups across the country. Another session was held by a club in Hampton Roads and their winning team is on its way to nationals in DC as well.

The competitions are a way to keep high school kids on their toes when it comes to understanding global politics, economics and cultures — incredibly important areas that they will face as they begin their careers. It’s tougher than ever for them to keep up thanks to spending cuts in education. The media isn’t helping as it chops away at foreign news bureaus due to costs.

High schools set up teams, pay their entry fee and bone up for three months on materials sent by the World Affairs Councils. These aren’t exactly Dick and Jane tomes. They are copies of actual testimony regarding world issues from the United Nations, Congressional committees, the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and various government agencies and independent think tanks.

The most recent contest drew teams from Collegiate School, the Douglas Freeman High School, Meadowbrook, Manchester,  Hermitage and Henrico High Schools along with the Maggie Walker Governor’s School. A series of questions are posed before the teams for about one minute. Maggie Walker won in a tiebreaker against Henrico.

Funding came from Richmond-based packaging giant MeadWestvaco and Henrico-based Data Concepts. With all the gloomy talk about sequestration and other budget cutting, it’s good to see that someone’s doing something to keep young people aware of the larger world.

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