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National Geographic Board Chair Grosvenor visits Elon

Gilbert Grosvenor, chairman of the National Geographic Society Board of Trustees, was a guest speaker on the Elon University campus Jan. 9.

In the 1950s, Grosvenor joined the staff of the National Geographic Society, the largest nonprofit scientific and educational organization of its kind, as a picture editor. He served as editor of National Geographic magazine from 1970 to 1980, and has served as president of the National Geographic Society. His son, Graham, is a sophomore at Elon.

Grosvenor led an afternoon question-answer session in Whitley Auditorium at which he addressed a variety of issues brought to the floor by Elon students.

Many Elon students say they dream of someday writing and taking photographs for National Geographic. Grosvenor said the work is not easy. Assignments require weeks of planning, including writing a detailed outline of story and photographic objectives. Travel to exotic locales can be difficult and dangerous. A photographer may take as many as 35,000 images on any one assignment, but see only 20 used. Every fact in a story gets checked by three different sources.

Grosvenor said the familiar yellow-framed magazine, with a circulation of more than 10 million, will continue to be the Society's prime product. But he said rising paper and postage costs may eventually make the print version of the magazine thinner. Readers who want more information will be able to use the Internet to find supplementary materials and dozens of photos that don't appear in the printed edition. He said he believes the magazine should never be an Internet-only product. "I hope we never replace the printed page," he proclaimed.

He pointed out the fact that readers in this high-tech, computerized, digitized age still like one of Geographic's oldest features. "Maps are the most popular thing we publish," he said. He brought maps of Afghanistan and the Middle East to Elon to distribute to those who attended his evening speech and multimedia presentation at McCrary Theatre.

His lecture was titled "The Role of Geography in Global Citizenship." He covered many important points, but the prime focus of the talk was the influx of Hispanic immigrants in the United States. Since 1990, legal Hispanic immigration into the United States has grown by 58 percent, there are more than 35 million legal Hispanics living here and many millions more who are undocumented residents. "I feel the U.S. is not preparing itself to assimilate this Hispanic influx," said Grosvenor. "We have to convince ourselves that this influx of immigrants is as profound as it is, and secondly, we must begin to work now to prepare for it." He said education is a key and added that Hispanics should be required to learn basic English, "because being able to speak the language is absolutely vital to success."

Grosvenor has been a staunch advocate of geographic education and its importance in the nation's schools. In 1975, he created National Geographic World, a monthly magazine for children. In 1985, he launched an effort to improve geography instruction nationwide with the Society's Geography Education Outreach division. In the past 16 years, more than $110 million has been invested in that effort. During his tenure as president, Grosvenor broadened the Society's reach, launching the annual National Geography Bee, the National Geographic Traveler magazine, and the National Geographic Explorer television program. A network of alliances was established in each state to encourage all school districts to restore geography to their curricula so students could better understand their world. Finally, the National Geographic Society Education Foundation was created to support teacher training, curriculum reform and innovative instruction.

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Last Modified:  9/22/02
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