Temple ruins in KathmanduTemple ruins in Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage site, on April 26, 2015, captured by Upadhyay a day after the earthquake.

Rendezvous with an earthquake

Science and service went hand in hand in Nepal when Bhaskar Upadhyay returned to his home country for sabbatical research

Bhaskar Upadhyay didn’t plan to visit Nepal the same day an earthquake arrived. But on April 25, 2015, he landed in Kathmandu as a 7.8 magnitude quake tore apart the ancient capital and took the lives of an estimated 9,000 people at an already turbulent time.

Upadhyay was on his way to spend three weeks doing research in a rural area far from Kathmandu. But he found himself caught in the capital for 12 days, aiding individuals impacted by trauma and loss, often seeking food and shelter. By the time he arrived at his research site, he had only three days to connect with his research partners before heading back to Minnesota.

Learning about the local environment, plants, and food in a second-grade classroom in Bardiya, Nepal.
Learning about the local environment, plants, and food in a second-grade classroom in Bardiya, Nepal.

This spring he returned to complete his research project and take stock of the quake’s impact. As it turns out, his project is even more timely, and Upadhyay is the ideal person to carry it out. Science education is his area of expertise, STEM more generally—the integration of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in the classroom. And Nepal is his home country. His sabbatical research—in collaboration with Valentine Cadieux from sociology and supported by a U of M Global Spotlight grant—aimed to investigate science education in indigenous and rural communities in the context of food security and local actions.

“Nepal faces enormous challenges to food security,” he says, “and then on top of that an earthquake!”

Local produce at a vegetable market in Nepalgunj six months earlier, while planning the project.
Local produce at a market in Nepalgunj

Upadhyay is known for his success in creating positive learning environments for science and math, such as urban gardens. At the STEM Education Center, his areas of expertise include equity, social justice, urban teacher education, and the sociology and anthropology of STEM education.

This time, he spent only three days in Kathmandu and 15 days in the village of Thakurdwara, Bardiya. He conducted interviews and was invited by high school principal Dinesh Gautam to lead a full-day STEM professional development workshop for 26 teachers from eight schools across Bardiya.

Principal Dinesh Gautam and Bhaskar Upadhyay
Principal Dinesh Gautam and Bhaskar Upadhyay

“We really look at this question, ‘What does STEM education mean in a village without electricity or resources?’” he explains.

Physical damage in the village was minimal, but everyone is connected to someone in Kathmandu and to the many sacred and significant places destroyed. Upadhyay has spent time listening to parents, children, and teachers talk about the earthquake’s devastating toll on the culture as a whole. Experiencing the earthquake and its aftermath in his home country has given him insights on his teaching and research and the very issues he cares about most deeply.

“It changed my life,” he says.

Learn more about Bhaskar Upadhyay in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction.

Story by Gayla Marty | Photos by Bhaskar Upadhyay | Fall 2016