National Geographic Explorers traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia, from February 28 through March 2 to participate in the National Geographic On Campus event held in partnership with the University of Virginia (UVA). The On Campus initiative gives college students the chance to connect with National Geographic, encourages students to realize the impact they can have on the world, and provides them with the tools to enact real change.
On Thursday, February 28, the event kicked off with National Geographic Live at the Paramount Theater featuring acclaimed National Geographic photographer Jodi Cobb. She shared a retrospective of her decades-long career from young photojournalist to internationally renowned photographer. Cobb is known for breaking barriers—she was National Geographic magazine’s first female photographer and the first woman to be named White House Photographer of the Year.
The next day, students filled UVA’s Old Cabell Hall for a daylong event where National Geographic Explorers—photographers, scientists, storytellers, and educators—joined UVA scholars on stage for inspiring talks and compelling panels about the critical challenges facing our planet and steps we need to take to ensure its resilience. The keynote was delivered by award-winning National Geographic photographer Michael “Nick” Nichols, who shared photography’s power to influence conservation efforts. Throughout his career he’s found that photography is most effective when its storytelling capacity is combined with a scientist’s work.
The two dynamic panels that followed addressed the global water crisis and the creation of resilient cities for the 21st century. A highlight was National Geographic Explorer and storyteller Lillygol Sedaghat, who spoke about her innovative use of multimedia to transform people’s perception of trash from something disposable to something valuable. She is an active spokesperson for National Geographic’s global Planet or Plastic? campaign, which endeavors to tackle the world’s plastic waste crisis by encouraging the reduction of single-use plastics.
The afternoon continued with two more panels discussing what is necessary to create resilient communities in the era of climate change, environmental hazards, and oppression. National Geographic Explorers Victoria Herrmann (left picture, right), Jennifer Kingsley (right picture, far left), and Losang Rabgey (right picture, second from the right) spoke about lessons they’ve learned from small, enduring cultures around the world—from those in the Arctic to Tibet—on how they remain resilient in our rapidly changing world.
The final panel was a candid discussion between Susan Goldberg, editorial director of National Geographic Partners and editor in chief ofNational Geographicmagazine, and John Edwin Mason, professor of history at UVA. They addressed how photographs both reflect and reinforce larger cultural narratives about race and how it is necessary to transform approaches to photography and storytelling to accurately convey the diverse world in which we live.
The following day consisted of interactive workshops where students gained real-world skills in photography, writing, conservation, storytelling, and more. The students had the opportunity to, for example, learn the process of developing a visual narrative with Greg Kahn, documentary fine art photographer; gain skills for creating successful VR stories and immersive experiences with Mona Kasra, assistant professor of digital media design at UVA; and learn the ethics of storytelling with Lillygol Sedaghat, who taught students that stories have power and that they need to realize their responsibility as gatekeepers of narratives.
The National Geographic On Campus initiative not only connects students with impactful explorers but also encourages them to join in our efforts by offering UVA undergraduates and graduates three $5,000 scholarships in the fields of storytelling, community resilience, and environmental resilience. These students bring a fresh perspective and ingenuity toward protecting the natural world and its communities. And this program shows that through innovation and collaboration we can develop solutions for a more sustainable future to achieve our ultimate goal of a planet in balance. To learn more about the program please visit https://www.nationalgeographic.org/on-campus/.