Big Cats, College Mascots, and Iowa Schools

Celebrate Big Cat Week with National Geographic beginning November 28th!

Written by guest bloggers Dr. Alex Oberle and Mollie Ullestad representing the Geographic Alliance of Iowa (GAI), a National Geographic supported organization that works to advance geography education in Iowa.

In between the high fives, pawshakes, furry hugs, and other mascot antics, I’m trying to remember exactly why I dragged our Undergraduate and Administrative Assistants out to take pictures with a 6’5″ feline wearing a 3XL Nat Geo “Big Cats Initiative” t-shirt.

In the moment, I was starstruck and blithely entertained by the photo op with TC (“The Cat”) our panther mascot at the University of Northern Iowa. Of course, there are the little reasons for the photo op: one of our middle school teachers thought that Big Cats would be of interest to grade 7-8 students and—to be honest—it was a long semester and an even longer Iowa winter and I thought it might be kind of fun to run with this and see if our mascot would actually wear the shirt and generate a little geography publicity.

UNI’s TC supports National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative

UNI’s TC supports National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative. Photograph courtesy Alex Oberle

But then there is the big REASON for this, the only REASON for this—the plight of big cats. And since big cats are part of our collective popular culture and something we can all relate to, let’s actually provide a way to act on this!

Let’s do Simba proud by telling students about the needless killing of lions. (In Kenya alone 100 of the country’s 2,000 lions are killed every year.1) Let’s rally for Bagheera. (In five months in 2010 more than 160 leopards in India were killed for their pelts.2) Let’s imagine for a moment that Tony really doesn’t have a sugar-coated view of the world (sophisticated poaching of tigers rakes in $20 billion per year3) and that Chester has more to worry about than orange fingers and where he might have left his sunglasses (cheetahs are now extinct in more than 20 countries.4)

Let’s use a goofy stunt with TC Panther to encourage Truman the Tiger, Willie the Wildcat, and Cosmo the Cougar to help draw attention to the cause. And, most importantly, let’s not give in to the idea that just because Iowa is thousands of cornfields away from Africa or India that we can’t have a positive impact.

Creating a positive impact is exactly what the Geographic Alliance of Iowa wants to instill into the minds of students across Iowa via participation in the Big Cats Initiative (BCI). Our goal is to have Iowa schools, the GAI, UNI, and National Geographic make connections with each other and spread awareness about the plight of the dwindling big cat populations across the globe. This will not be just another service initiative to drag students through, but a fun and interactive way for students to learn and experience a real problem in the world today.

So how do we plan to do this? We’ve teamed up with two great Iowa schools: Anamosa Middle School in Anamosa and South Hamilton Elementary in Jewell. Anamosa geography students will participate in the BCI’s “Build a Boma” fundraiser as part of their learning about the project. South Hamilton’s 5th graders will learn about the BCI along with classroom units about environmental conservation and wildlife. In May, the students will make a trip to the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska, and see the big cats they researched and learned about. We also hope to have TC and maybe even a National Geographic Explorer visit the 5th graders to get them even more excited and interested in Big Cats. Stay tuned to see how the BCI and these Iowa schools can make a difference!

UNI’s TC mascot poses with Mollie Ullestad (L) GAI Undergraduate Research Assistant, Alex Oberle (C) GAI Coordinator, and Ann Crawford (R) GAI Administrative Assistant

UNI’s TC mascot poses with Mollie Ullestad (L) GAI Undergraduate Research Assistant, Alex Oberle (C) GAI Coordinator, and Ann Crawford (R) GAI Administrative Assistant. Photograph courtesy Alex Oberle


Guest bloggers Dr. Alex Oberle and Mollie Ullestad represent the Geographic Alliance of Iowa (GAI), a National Geographic supported organization that works to advance geography education in Iowa. Alex is an Associate Professor of Geography at the University of Northern Iowa and the Coordinator for the GAI. Mollie is a Geography Education student at the University of Northern Iowa and the Undergraduate Research Assistant for the GAI. 

Sources:
1 Panthera “State of the Lion”
2 Panthera “Leopards”
3 National Tigers For Tigers Coalition “Our Mascot Is in Trouble”
4 Cheetah Conservation Fund “Race for Survival”


 TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT
Bring Big Cats to your Classroom with National Geographic

Education Collection: Explore videos, activities, and big cat explorer profiles

School Program: Big Cats Sister Schools

NG Channel: Big Cats Highlights

How is your classroom supporting Big Cats? #BigCatsWeek

Google Hangout! NG Explorers Answer Big Cats Questions December 3rd, 1 p.m. EST (6 p.m. UTC)

2 responses to “Big Cats, College Mascots, and Iowa Schools

  1. Pingback: Educator Spotlight: Get Your Students Outside! | Nat Geo Education Blog·

  2. Pingback: Adidas Aims to Help Schools Change Native American Mascots | Nat Geo Education Blog·

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