Rik Bhattacharyya (State College Area HS, Centre County) - 2nd Place, Western Youth

About Rik: A rising junior at State College Area High School, Rik is passionate about a variety of fields as he continues his path forward in education while gaining real-life experiences. While Rik is interested in pursuing a career in the life sciences & medicine, he is also deeply interested in politics, demographics, and geography. Apart from entering in the DTL competition, Rik has been a PA semi-finalist for the National Geography Bee and has volunteered for some political groups. Outside school, Rik is a Scout (almost Eagle Scout) and has his own language translation business. He enjoys traveling, volunteering & getting to learn about new people, places, and cultures.  

Judges' Statement

Rik’s map has very solid, across-the-board metrics and handles the Allegheny County puzzle in a creative way.  We were particularly struck by how he connected the interesting personal details of his personal statement with his thinking about his mapping goals.

Personal Statement

From my youth, I've had a keen interest in both people and maps. While people could be so different and complicated, maps seemed so straightforward and indifferent to those that they served.

Throughout my youth, I’ve also moved a lot (among multiple states and three different times in PA) but when I moved back to Pennsylvania in 2017, I saw what gerrymandering could do. That’s ultimately what got me to realize that maps decided how people got their voice. I decided to learn more about redistricting.

My map ultimately tried to help consolidate  similar voices together as my largest priority was communities of interest. I believe that your political party or county’s geographic boundaries shouldn’t be what your connects peoples’ voices. Instead, it should be the comfort food that they share at their table or their loud unison cry of “Here we go, Steelers, here we go!” that shakes up their community. Ultimately, that was my goal.

As a kid who grew up in Southeastern PA, I knew the cultural landscape of Pittsburgh and its suburbs. so I quickly knew where to draw the lines. My biggest challenge though was south central and eastern Pennsylvania. That’s where I had to reach out to numerous friends and acquaintances from York, Lancaster, Montgomery, Berks and Chester counties. From them I tried to find what areas did they identify with. Which schools did their schools play in football? What demographics made them unique?

Ultimately I still think that districts 8, 10 and 11 could have gotten more work. Splitting areas like Mechanicsburg and York was difficult but in order to keep them competitive at an equal population, it needed to be done.

Likewise, large swaths of areas like the ones in district 12 and 7 were hard to work with but had to be used to equalize populations.

Ultimately, the map that I created wasn’t perfect but I believe it represents communities with similar voices. Creating this map took a lot of “networking” when in came to areas.

Connecting Altoona to Johnstown, State College to Bloomsburg, etc. which really got me thinking about each one of these areas all while at home. This challenge ultimately makes you think of maps in terms of people and while my map cannot help every person’s voice be heard, I am confident that it creates communities of similar minded voices.