Sharmila Sunwar finds power in education at NDSU
When Sharmila Sunwar earned her doctorate in environment and conservation sciences May 14, it was a remarkable milestone for both her and her tribe in Nepal. She became the first woman from the Sunuwar tribe in Nepal to earn a doctoral degree.
Sunwar has had to overcome several hurdles to reach this point. Of the 30 million people in Nepal, 100,000 are Sunuwar. In Sunwar’s culture, not many people go to school beyond 10th grade. Most young men join the Indian and British army, and young women are encouraged to marry. Sunwar convinced her parents to let her continue to pursue an education.
“After I went to get my master’s degree, they stopped asking me to get married,” Sunwar said. Her parents thought she had become too educated to find a husband. Sunwar didn’t want to be wholly dependent on a husband as other women she’s known.
“To empower a woman, I think that education is most important,” she said.
Sunwar did meet her future husband as an undergrad. She followed her husband, Sanjaya Gyawali, in spring 2006 to NDSU. He graduated in plant pathology. Sunwar began her studies in fall 2006.
Her research examined how plants take multiple elements from soils from different habitats and how plant composition can predict what elements are in the ecosystem. Her dissertation was titled, “Multi-elements composition of Triglochin maritima from contrasting habitats including hot springs and metal enriched areas.”
Sunwar is proud of her educational accomplishments, and has managed to convince her younger brother to keep learning. He’s currently working toward a master’s in business studies. After graduation, Sunwar joined her husband in Canada, where he is working on a post-doctorate. She hopes to return home to Nepal in the future.