During the 2018 academic year, University of Pittsburgh students and alumni earned more than 150 national and international awards. It’s a record of achievement that Pitt hopes to top this year, and Sangya Gyawali (A&S ’16) is doing her part after earning Pitt’s first Schwarzman scholarship this past December.
Awarded to 147 students last year, the scholarship finances a master’s degree at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China.
Gyawali studied anthropology and economics in Pitt’s Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. As a freshman and a founder of the student service organization Pittsburgh Hope Initiative, she arranged for the delivery of 2,000 children’s books to Uganda.
Today, she works at BNY Mellon as a lead analyst and is a cofounder of social tech startup BeamData. Gyawali will leave for China in a few months to earn a master’s degree in global affairs. But, before she departs, Gyawali spoke with Chancellor Patrick Gallagher.
Gallagher: How did you become interested in attending Pitt?
Gyawali: I was drawn to Pitt because of its location within Pittsburgh—a range of institutions seemed to make up the larger campus ecosystem. The central location of the campus is a great enrichment to the University’s academic experience.
Gallagher: How did your studies prepare you for the Schwarzman scholarship?
Gyawali: A combination of “do-it-yourself” and a spirit of experimentation are at the core of my education philosophy. At Pitt, I not only wanted to learn about theories in the classroom—but also it was important to widen the depth and breadth through which I understood the world.
I used travel and field projects to curate a unique learning experience. Anthropology classes gave me tools for understanding human behaviors and motivations. Classes in economics were a great complement as they allowed me to understand forces that shape business and politics. I took classes across academic disciplines; Pitt is unique in the options it provides students. It was a blend of curiosity and a cross-disciplinary background that prepared me for the scholarship.
Gallagher: That’s great. It sounds like you embraced the University’s commitment to learning that takes place both inside and outside the classroom. What experience at Pitt was critical to what you are doing today?
Gyawali: My work in Uganda was pivotal in allowing me to activate an all-too-common interest in tackling real-world challenges into impact at the local level. This was the beginning of my work in community and economic development—an interest that has evolved and matured since.
Gallagher: You’ve had a wide-ranging academic experience. What do you most look forward to at Tsinghua University?
Gyawali: I’m excited to be in a country unlike my own—it presents opportunities to experience a diversity of language, culture, and rhythm to society that is often left undiscovered from a distance. I look forward to learning and collaborating in a new space and am eager to understand how progress is being defined, and re-defined, in China at all levels.
Gallagher: What one piece of advice would you give to Pitt students?
Gyawali: Be an active curator of your education. No model fits everyone the same way, so design away!
Opening image: Sangya Gyawali
This story appeared in the Spring 2019 edition of Pitt Magazine.