U-M biology student and nature filmmaker wins $50K National Geographic Channel exploration contest

October 1, 2014
Contact: Jim Erickson ericksn@umich.edu

Charlie Engelman. Image credit: Charlie EnglemanCharlie Engelman. Image credit: Charlie EnglemanANN ARBOR—University of Michigan senior and nature filmmaker Charlie Engelman beat out more than 700 competitors to win the National Geographic Channel’s Expedition Granted contest.

Engelman will receive $50,000 to fund an expedition to forests across the United States. He plans to climb California redwoods and fly over forests in a paramotor (a motorized, steerable paraglider) while filming it all to create 20 to 30 short, science-based online videos. He will also be featured in an on-air promotion on the National Geographic Channel.

“This is absolutely amazing. The support I received from my family, friends, neighbors, classmates and professors was just incredible. Thanks to the voters and National Geographic, I can now produce the nature series of my dreams,” said Engelman, 21, an ecology and evolutionary biology major with a minor in museum studies.

“The ultimate point of all this is that people will watch these videos because they’re fun. And if there’s educational content paired with it, then viewers are going to learn something in the process,” said Engelman, who grew up in Northfield, Ill.

Charlie Engelman’s winning entry

Launched in June, Expedition Granted received more than 700 entries via Web videos that outlined proposed exploration projects in science, technology, conservation, adventure, arts and other topics. Ten finalists were selected by the National Geographic Channel on Sept. 16, based on the projects’ originality, ability to make an impact on the local and/or global community, and viability.

Once the finalists were named, the public was invited to vote online for the winning proposal through Sept. 29. The winner was announced Tuesday. Engelman’s winning proposal is called “Get pumped about nature!” and received the most votes among nearly 400,000 votes cast, according to the National Geographic Channel.

“At National Geographic Channel, we believe in pushing boundaries and forging new paths and were thrilled to receive such a wide and innovative variety of video entries,” said Courteney Monroe, chief executive officer of the National Geographic Channel. “After three months of submissions, adviser input and community voting, we are honored to name the 2014 Expedition Granted Explorer.”

Other Expedition Granted finalists included proposals to study megafloods and melting ice in Bhutan, to surf at some of the world’s most famous coral reefs, to map the interior plumbing of a volcano with the help of a wall-climbing robot, and to save rhinos from extinction by ending poaching.

“This is a marvelous achievement, won against very stiff competition,” said Diarmaid Ó Foighil, chair of the U-M Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Charlie Engelman. Image credit: Charlie EngelmanCharlie Engelman. Image credit: Charlie EngelmanEngelman began filming short nature videos with an iPhone in summer 2013. He continued to make videos when he returned to U-M that fall because he enjoyed the researching, shooting and editing so much. That led him to pitch the idea of creating an EEB honors thesis focused on a series of short nature videos, and his faculty advisers encouraged him to pursue it, he said.

Engelman posts his videos on a YouTube channel called WorldByCharlie. The online series he’s producing for his thesis is called “Nature time with Charlie” and includes short videos on topics as diverse as green frogs, slime molds, local birding and flesh-eating beetles. He’ll address various aspects of evolution and natural selection, along with a host of other topics, in the upcoming forest videos.

“Many science educators and communicators are hesitant to pair up education with entertainment, because they think it might be a cheap way to get people to learn about things,” Engelman said. “But I’m trying to take another route and really capitalize on the entertainment value of an educational video and really bring it home to the public.”

Engelman will finish his U-M classwork at the end of the fall semester. He’ll then spend some time planning the expedition before hitting the road in late spring or early summer of next year. He has a list of about 60 potential U.S. forest sites that needs to be whittled down to something manageable.

Engelman said he’ll maintain a video blog during the forest trips and use Twitter and Facebook to share his experiences, as well. In late summer or early fall 2015, he’ll begin posting 20 to 30 finished videos to YouTube, he said.

“This could never have happened without the help I received from so many people,” he said. “So many people want me to succeed and to achieve my goals. That gives me so much confidence and so much drive to go out and do this.”

The goal of the Expedition Granted program, according to the National Geographic Channel, is to democratize the concept of exploration to show that in the 21st century, explorers can come from all backgrounds and disciplines and that anyone with curiosity and passion can be an explorer.

The National Geographic Channel’s nationwide Expedition Granted contest was developed in partnership with the National Geographic Society, 21st Century Fox and sponsors Jeep brand and Dos Equis.


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