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UW Strengthens Connections with Nepal

October 30, 2013

When their bus stopped at the road’s end, Frank Galey and Pete Stahl from the University of Wyoming knew the hardest part of their trip was still ahead of them.

Although the locals had told them it would be a “short journey” to their destination, they knew differently. The pair and their companions would have to trek 30 miles through Nepal’s historic Ghandruk village, through mountainous terrain and scenic valleys, to get to Annapurna Base Camp in the majestic Himalayas.

It was the second trip to Nepal for Galey, UW College of Agriculture and Natural Resources dean, and the fourth trip there for Stahl, a professor of soil ecology and director of the Wyoming Restoration and Reclamation Center. Even though he’s been there before, Stahl says he is still invigorated by the environment and stimulated by the region’s rich cultural offerings.

Stahl conducts research to find ways to reduce Nepal’s poor environmental quality, a major issue in the largest city, Kathmandu. Stahl says there is no city-wide garbage collection system, and trash frequently is dumped into rivers. He adds that air quality is very poor in Kathmandu, where there are no emission control standards for the large numbers of cars, trucks and motorcycles in the valley of more than 2.5 million residents.

Their visit to Nepal is among an increasing number of activities stemming from a 2004 memorandum of understanding (MOU) between UW and Tribhuvan University, the national university of Nepal and one of the world’s largest, with enrollment approaching 150,000 students.

The person most responsible for the MOU is Mohan Dangi who, when he met Stahl in 2004, was working to build curriculum in Nepal through projects supported by the Department of Energy and U.S. Agency for International Development. As a student at Central Wyoming College in Riverton, Dangi says he recognized that Nepal and Wyoming had a lot in common.

“I felt that Wyoming could contribute to the research and development needs Nepal is facing, and at the same time, people in Wyoming would have the opportunity to study in the high Himalayas,” says Dangi, now a Fresno State University Department of Geography assistant professor. “I had recognized the potential the state of Wyoming has and that the people of Wyoming are very friendly, much like people of Nepal. As much as I have learned from Wyoming -- its scenic beauty, landscape and people -- I have always wanted to share with the people of Wyoming the magical beauty of Nepal and the array of possibilities in research and academic endeavors.”

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

Students from Nepal donned fake beards and acted like old men during a Celebrate Nepal performance at the University of Wyoming. This semester, 45 students from Nepal are enrolled at UW, the fourth highest international student enrollment behind China, India and Saudi Arabia. (Basant Giri Photo)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,” Stahl says.

Taking advantage of Dangi’s connections with Tribhuvan, and with support from now retired UW International Programs Director Lew Bagby, along with Stahl and other UW faculty members, the two universities signed the MOU, which essentially laid the groundwork for research collaboration and student and faculty exchange opportunities.

As word about the MOU spread, including an announcement in the country’s national newspaper, an increasing number of Nepalese students became interested in what Wyoming had to offer. Enrollment gradually increased and, this semester, 45 students from Nepal are enrolled at UW, the fourth highest international student enrollment behind China, India and Saudi Arabia.

Upendra Bom, a UW Department of Geography graduate student, says Nepalese students are attracted to UW for a number of reasons, including the strong reputation of its faculty and academic offerings. He says the faculty supports the Nepalese students’ educational goals.

“Coming to a small town, rather than a large city, gives our students a better learning opportunity, and the living accommodations are better,” Bom says. “We can walk to class, and there aren’t as many distractions as in larger cities.”

Bom has played a key role in helping Wyoming understand his country’s culture and traditions. He is active in the Friends of Nepal, a student group that sponsors two major festivals to promote cultural awareness -- New Year’s in April and Dashain, the country’s largest festival, in October.

"ASUW student government has invested in safeguarding the culture of students from different countries. For example, Friends of Nepal almost every year receives funding to offer cultural programs,” Bom says. “This unique feature of UW makes students feel like they are home."

Additionally, Bom helped to facilitate a faculty-led student study abroad trip to Nepal last summer. Dangi led the students while they were in Nepal. Those making the trip were Catherine Jane Angwin and Timothy Barrett, Powell; Austin Gager, Sedalia, Colo.; Hannah Gunderman, Laramie; Avery A. Nelson, Jackson; Siena Richard, Moose; and Brenda Vance, Torrington.

UW’s involvement with Nepal goes beyond the exchanges and environmental research. For example, the UW College of Education has established a partnership with the teacher education program at Kathmandu University in mathematics and science education.

Additionally, early childhood faculty members Nikki Baldwin and Samara Madrid have established a supervised internship in an early childhood education experience at the Bridgewater School, a private, English-speaking school in Nepal. The three-week experience begins next summer, the first international early childhood experience ever offered through the UW College of Education.

A team of Tribhuvan University administrators recently visited UW to renew the MOU and discuss future collaborative programs. Stahl says more UW faculty members are now interested in cooperating with their counterparts in Nepal, and efforts are being made to establish meaningful study abroad opportunities there. Among other planned exchanges are a student service trip from UW to Nepal through the university’s Alternative Spring Break program; and a working group is being established to plan and coordinate projects with colleagues in Nepal via Skype or videoconferencing.

University of Wyoming students trek through the Himalayas of Nepal during a faculty-led study abroad program last summer. From left are Hannah Carilyn Gunderman, Laramie; Siena B. Richard, Moose; Avery A. Nelson, Jackson; and Catherine-Jane Angwin, Powell. (Timothy Barrett Photo)

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