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CEE alumnus receives International Achievement Award

10/14/2020 3:43:29 PM

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Illinois International Programs has announced the recipients of the 2020 International Achievement Awards. The International Achievement Awards recognize outstanding alumni, faculty, and students whose exceptional work, service, and/or scholarship has made a significant, global impact. Recent CEE at Illinois alumnus Sital Uprety (MS 16, PhD 20) received the Illinois International Graduate Achievement Award.

From the Illinois International Programs announcement:

Born and raised in Kathmandu, Nepal, Uprety was always cognizant about water and sanitation issues in his surroundings and had first-hand opportunities to experience and learn about public health issues, water supply and sanitation in his home country. Soon after he completed high school, Uprety moved to Columbia, Mo., to pursue a bachelor's degree in civil and environmental engineering. He participated in water-related research throughout this time and spent a summer in Texas A&M University researching improving wastewater efficiency. 

Uprety started his graduate program at CEE at Illinois in 2014. Soon after he joined the program, Nepal was struck by a devastating earthquake. Uprety, along with his colleagues, organized a benefit concert featuring young and local bluegrass/folk musicians and raised close to $5,000. Combined with other fundraising events, he was able to raise close to $11,000. The funds were used in part to buy filtering units and distribute them to vulnerable families in Nepal. Such water filtering units are vital in preventing diarrheal diseases in families living in temporary housings, often in unsanitary conditions. The rest of the raised funds were used to start an initiative, Supporting Educational and Environmental Development in School with a local non-profit, Environment and Public Health Organization. For his research, Uprety continued to work on the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WaSH) issues in Nepal, focusing on understanding how newly introduced adaptation, response and relief may prevent the spread of waterborne pathogens under stress caused by natural disasters, including earthquakes.

In addition to his efforts with earthquake relief and related research, Uprety was also been involved in mentoring undergraduate students and exposing them to international research. He led four two-month-long research trips to Nepal, consisting of undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds, and engaged them in research projects in a complex environment with limited resources. Under his mentorship, students were responsible for collecting and processing water/sanitation samples, testing for different water quality parameters on-site, and DNA/RNA extraction of collected samples. Some students were also conducting surveys and focus group discussions with study participants. Many of the undergraduate students who participated in a trip expressed how it changed the way they look at things. During these trips, Uprety also hired local students with similar majors to pair up with the CEE students for field visits and lab research. This provided a valuable opportunity for local students to participate in international research and learn about the sector's latest methodologies, which are often not taught in Nepal.

Motivated by his field trips, Uprety and a colleague designed and received funding for a graduate seminar (CEE 598 DEV) Interdisciplinary Training for Engineers and Scientists: Bridging the Gap for Sustainable International Development Projects. The seminar trained graduate students on community assessment methods and appropriate technology selection, implementation practices, and management and development of long-term monitoring tools for evaluation and project sustainability. This course motivated graduate students to take initiatives in transitional research. He invited several national and international experts with different backgrounds to share their experiences and insights into their work, and to answer students' queries.

Uprety has been recognized with several prestigious fellowships, including National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, Japan Society for Promotion of Sciences Fellowship, and several travel fellowships. Uprety, who earned his doctorate in August 2020, recently started a new position at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Sciences and Technology (Eawag) as an Eawag Postdoctoral Fellow in Zurich, Switzerland. During this 2-year long fellowship, he will be working with Sanitation, Water, and Solid Waste for Development in studying the association of human behavioral response and water microbiome in flood-prone regions of Nepal.

The 2020 award recipients will share their experiences and perspectives in a virtual panel over Zoom on October 21, 2020 at 10:00am. The panel is free and open to the public; registration is required. Register at https://go.illinois.edu/awards-panel-rsvp.

Read the original announcement, including information about the other award winners, here.