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Doorway to Nepal

The story of one of UW’s strategic international partnerships began with a knock at the door

Volume 13, Number 3 | May 2012

By Steve Kiggins
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Years later, Pete Stahl’s memory is fuzzy. He racks his brain, trying to conjure up at least a few particulars, but he finally gives up.

He can’t call to mind what he was doing at his desk, though he guesses he was working on a manuscript. Morning or afternoon, he can’t remember. He doesn’t even recall the month.

All Stahl does remember about that day in 2004 is that opportunity came knocking at his door.

“I was an associate professor, maybe even an assistant professor, and some guy from Nepal shows up in my office,” Stahl says. “I get to know this guy and the more I get to know him, the more connections I realize he has with the academics in Nepal.

This chance encounter between Stahl and Mohan Dangi, who, himself, can’t recall the details—he doesn’t remember where he heard Stahl’s name or why he happened to be in Laramie that day— turned out to be the springboard for what has become one of the University of Wyoming’s most vibrant international partnerships.

As part of its ongoing efforts to raise global awareness—among students, faculty, staff and residents of Wyoming —UW has formed deep and broadranging relationships with 11 universities in seven countries that complement the university’s educational mission.

“Our international bilateral relationships are an essential component for sustainable internationalization,” says Anne Alexander, director of UW International Programs, housed in the heart of campus at the Cheney International Center. “When we have a relationship that has active exchanges of students, scholarly collaboration, collaborative internships and opportunities for service learning focused on UW’s academic strengths, we are able to create long-term partnerships that advance the frontiers of knowledge and provide vast opportunities for international access.”

The list of UW’s Strategic International Partners includes two universities in Shanghai, China—the most populated city in the world’s most populated country—as well as schools in Australia, France, Germany, Guatemala and Russia.

Collaboration in the Himalayas

The university’s relationship with Tribhuvan University, the national school of Nepal, and, later, Kathmandu University, also located in the country’s largest city, may not exist if Dangi hadn’t rapped on Stahl’s door eight years ago.

“I had forgotten about that until now,” says Dangi, an assistant professor of environmental systems and policy in the Department of Geography at Fresno (Calif.) State University. “I was just walking by and I stopped and introduced myself.”

Though Dangi didn’t attend UW— his wife, Sadikshya, earned her Ph.D. in microbial ecology, with Stahl as her mentor, and his brother, Kiran, also is a graduate—he says he envisioned a relationship between UW and the Nepali universities, particularly given the topographic and environmental similarities between Wyoming and his home country.

Just months after Dangi and Stahl met for the first time, Tribhuvan sent a delegation to UW to formalize a partnership between the two universities, setting the stage for multiple research collaborations in the Himalayas, which boast the world’s highest mountain peaks, and other places in what Dangi calls “the living laboratory that is the country of Nepal.”

Recently, Stahl and Dangi have focused their collaborative efforts in the Annapurna Conservation Area, where they are working to determine how human activities, primarily tourism, are impacting the function and sustainability of the ecosystem across Nepal’s largest protected area.

Despite the opposition of some citizens who want to preserve the country’s natural beauty and environmental quality, Nepal is working to build roads in the Annapurna range of the Himalayas to promote tourism.

“They want to maintain their ecosystems and natural beauty in the face of development, much like we do in Wyoming, and that’s not an easy thing to do,” says Stahl, a professor of soil ecology in the UW Department of Ecosystem Science and Management.

“This is a place where if you go there, you’re walking. There are no roads, only trails,” he says. “In places, they’re trying to put in roads, but it’s so darn steep. They put in a road and, by the end of the winter, it’s all washed out. You can hardly walk on some of these roads, much less drive them.”

Through their research, which Dangi says “has reached the highest level of government” in his native country, he hopes to provide answers to questions that could help determine the future of tourism in the Annapurna Conservation Area.

“The roads have invited a lot of destruction,” says Dangi, who began his college years at Central Wyoming College in Riverton after coming to the United States in 1994. He went on to earn his B.S. (chemical engineering) and M.S. (environmental science and engineering) from the Colorado School of Mines and his Ph.D. (geography and environmental engineering) from Johns Hopkins University. “Have our people really benefitted from it? Have there been economic benefits? That’s still questionable.”

'We lucked out'

The influence of UW’s relationship with Tribhuvan and Kathmandu universities is obvious on the Laramie campus, where the Nepali student population has grown from but eight in the fall of 2006 to 63 last fall. Only China, with 192 students, has a greater international student presence at UW.

The influx helped sprout an active student group, the Friends of Nepal, which regularly holds events to promote Nepali culture and strengthen friendly relations among Nepali and other students, faculty and staff.

“Wyoming is a destination to them,” Dangi says, proudly. “We’ve opened the door between Nepal and the University of Wyoming, and that’s what I wanted to do.”

The rural, scenic setting of the Cowboy State’s lone four-year university makes UW especially appealing to Nepali students, says Dangi, adding that he often drives to the Snowy Range mountains when he visits Laramie to “feel close to home.”

“It’s rural in Nepal, except for a few large cities, just like Wyoming,” says Stahl, who made his third trip this spring to the landlocked South Asian country bordered to the north by China and to the south, east and west by India.

“I think that’s why we just keep seeing more and more students who want to come to school here.”

And, remarkably, it was all started with a knock on a door.

“He was born and raised in Nepal and, somehow, he moves to Riverton, gets a job at Arby’s, gets his associate degree from Central Wyoming College and the next thing you know, he’s standing in my office,” says Stahl. “I don’t know how it all happened, but we lucked out.”

Australia’s influence on Wyoming

The futures of some counties and communities in Wyoming have been affected by the University of Sunshine Coast (USC).

Wait, where?

The University of Wyoming’s longstanding strategic partnership with USC, a school of about 8,000 students located on a vast flora and fauna reserve in southeast Queensland, Australia, has helped shape Scott Lieske. And Lieske’s work with the Wyoming Geographic Information Science Center (WyGISC) plays a role in helping to shape the Cowboy State.

“The skills that I’ve acquired over the years have definitely been influenced and informed by my experiences over there,” says Lieske, a research scientist at WyGISC, an interdisciplinary research institute at the University of Wyoming focused on the development of geospatial information and technologies and their applications in science, education, government and business.

At WyGISC, Lieske uses geographic information systems and other planning support tools to design long-term guidance documents, primarily for land-use planning and economic development, which incorporate the vision of a county or community. His collaborative experiences in Australia have helped him contribute to the development of comprehensive planning documents for Albany County and the cities of Casper and Cheyenne, among other places in the state.

Also, WyGISC has partnered with the UW Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics and the Cooperative Extension Service to create the Geospatial Extension Program, an initiative headed by Lieske that works to promote the use of information and communication technologies for better community development and planning in Wyoming.

“That’s been the evolution of this partnership back here in Wyoming,” says WyGISC Director Jeff Hamerlinck.

In addition, Hamerlinck says WyGISC has followed an Australian approach to community planning meetings that enables participants to “set aside their biases and differences and roll up their sleeves … and just have a really good discussion about where they want to see their community in 10, 15, 20 years.”

In the coming year, WyGISC plans to grow UW’s relationship with USC to include a three-week field course for 15-20 students annually. The course would allow UW students to study natural resource management issues that are similar in Wyoming and southeast Queensland, such as innovative agricultural practices, energy development and ecotourism.

The UW-USC partnership, established in 2002, was borne from the Australian university’s desire to learn from WyGISC’s knowledge and application of geospatial technologies and applications, and its expertise in scenario-based land-use planning.

UW’s Strategic International Partners

The University of Wyoming has broad and deep research and student and faculty exchange ties with 11 international universities:

Australia: University of the Sunshine Coast
China: Shanghai University and Shanghai Normal University
France: Ecole Superieure d’Agriculture-Angers
Germany: Pforzheim University
Guatemala: Universidad del Valle de Guatemala
Nepal: Kathmandu University and Tribhuvan University
Russia: Saratov State University; Saratov Agrarian University; and Saratov Socioeconomic University

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