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Concord High student from Nepal wins Gates Foundation scholarship

Last modified: 6/10/2013 10:27:02 AM
Ganesh Sharma, a 19-year-old Concord High School student from Nepal, has big plans for his future, including working with hypersonic jet engines and joining with humanitarian organizations to help better prepare students from the Indian subcontinent for careers in engineering and math.

The Gates Foundation has brought him one step closer to those goals. Earlier this month, he was named a Gates Millennium Scholar, giving him the necessary funds to attend any college of his choice. In the fall, he will be enrolled at the University of Vermont in Burlington as a mechanical engineering major.

“When I got this scholarship I was shocked, and I almost cried because that was the biggest achievement of my life and this Concord community,” he said. “I’m really proud of myself and my family because my family made me able to achieve such (a) big, big scholarship.”

The scholarship is awarded to 1,000 students out of an applicant pool of 54,000, and it is meant to reduce financial barriers and increase diversity in fields such as engineering, public health and computer science. It covers the difference between cost of attendance and estimated family contribution, and renewal each year is dependent on meeting academic standards. Graduate school funding also is possible for students pursuing engineering and several other fields. Sharma had to write eight essays and get two letters of recommendation. Winning the scholarship shows his parents they made the right choice in coming to America, he said, and his success shows other refugee students that anything is possible.

“Some of my elderly people say that I am the icon of inspiration for other Nepali kids, so I really feel proud of being that,” he said.

Sharma’s family moved to Concord in 2009 from Nepal, where they were living as refugees from their native Bhutan. The language barrier was his biggest struggle when he arrived in Concord, but through socializing, watching movies and reading books and magazines he has become fluent in English. As a high school senior, he is enrolled in advanced placement physics and calculus.

Beyond the language barrier, the American education system is very different than the one in Nepal, he said. Here, better resources and technology mean students can actually put lessons into practice, whereas everything is more theoretical in Nepal, he said.

He chose UVM because it has a strong engineering program, and he has family members in Burlington. After completing his bachelor’s degree, Sharma hopes to also get a master’s. His dream job? Commercializing hypersonic jet engines, which have the ability to travel up to seven times faster than the speed of sound. Right now they are primarily used for military or laboratory work, he said, and he’d like to work on making them available for commercial use. That could help make the world smaller because people would be able to travel across the globe at faster speeds, he said.

It’s an ambitious goal for a high school senior, but Sharma’s big dreams are a source of inspiration for all students at Concord High School. His oldest brother, Ghana, teaches math at Concord High for students with English as a second language. When Ghana drops by to see his parents, Sharma is usually working hard on school work or doing something else productive, and his hard work has paid off.

“The day that I saw that letter of congratulations from Gates Millennium, the next day I went to school and in my class, ESL mathematics, I advised all the kids that you have to work hard, you have to do something to get something,” he said.

Bhagirath Khatiwada, an outgoing board member of the Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire, has known Sharma for about six or seven years. He also says Sharma is a model for other children and teens in the Bhutanese and Nepali communities, and this scholarship is further proof. He is active in the community and is always willing to help others, Khatiwada said.

“He’s an inspiration,” Khatiwada said. “He has become an icon for our community, and we are very proud of him. He is our hero.”

Beyond the classroom, Sharma is active in Be the Change, a club at the high school that promotes diversity. The group organizes weekly lunches and other events where students can come together and share their different experiences. At one of the club’s youth leadership summits, Sharma and his friends led a breakout session on all of the different cultures that Concord High students can experience just by talking with each other, said Anna-Marie DiPasquale, the club’s adviser. Sharma has done a great job of immersing himself in American culture while staying true to and spreading awareness about his Nepali roots, she said.

“He believes in learning other cultures, and he’s leading by example,” said DiPasquale, who also wrote one of Sharma’s recommendations for the scholarship.

In the future, he hopes to return to Nepal and other countries in the Indian subcontinent to promote and increase access to engineering, math and technology education. While living in Nepal, “every day was a challenge,” he said. At schools in Nepal, there is no access to computers or even graphing calculators, he said, and he would like to work with global organizations to help bring those resources to his home country.

Sharma said winning the Gates scholarship isn’t something he accomplished on his own, but rather with the help of his family and teachers. He is the youngest of five sons, and both of his parents said they are so happy and proud that he has received this golden opportunity. Ghana, his oldest brother, has urged Sharma not to forget just how much he’s been given.

“This is the greatest opportunity,” Ghana said. “Luckily in the spirit of his hard work and his dedication he got this, but he should take care of that. I advise him not to misuse that, use it properly and do something more.”

For his part, Sharma said he understands the magnitude of the scholarship he has received, and it is a beginning step along the path to his goal of making the world a better place.

“Some people say that this is my greatest achievement, and I think it is yet, but this is not the best I can do,” he said. “There are so many things around the world that (are) taking global attention, so I would love to be a part of the team that will resolve them.”

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)


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