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ASU honors graduate wants to use data and education to empower communities


Pratik Nyaupane

Photo courtesy of Pratik Nyaupane

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May 12, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Pratik Nyaupane sees a nexus among soccer, spirituality and business, with fan fervor and the complexity of worker’s rights coming into play.

This week, Nyaupane received a bachelor’s degree in informatics from the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, a minor in political science, and with honors from Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University.

He entered ASU as a New American University Scholar and was on the Dean’s List every semester since his sophomore year. He graduated summa cum laude and was named the Outstanding Graduate in his degree program.

Nyaupane focused on soccer pilgrims and migrant workers’ rights in undergraduate sports-related research projects.

“One of my most exciting moments (at ASU) was when I took a Global Intensive Experience program and we studied sports, politics and culture in Catalonia,” he said.

In Spain, Nyaupane worked with his professor, Jeff Kassing, on researching the behavior of so-called soccer pilgrims from the United States who travel internationally to matches, immersing themselves in the sport in a way that is akin to spiritual believers participating in a ritual.

Nyaupane and Kassing co-authored an article titled “I Just Couldn’t Believe I Was There: An Exploration of Soccer Pilgrimage” in the International Journal of Sport Communication.

The article pointed out that the pilgrims “socially constructed the social atmosphere, the sacred nature and the authenticating capacity of soccer pilgrimages.”

While soccer pilgrims are the very visible face of soccer fandom, migrant workers are the hidden face of struggle associated the sport.

Nyaupane got to see this side of soccer when he conducted his honors thesis research on human rights abuses of migrant workers in Qatar in preparation of 2022 FIFA World Cup. He studied the exploitation of Nepalese migrants, who, along with workers from Bangladesh and India, are refurbishing the Khalifa Stadium and surrounding sports facilities. These workers are subjected to unsafe working conditions, forced labor and substandard housing.

We caught up with Nyaupane to get his thoughts about his undergraduate experience at ASU and his future plans.    

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: My passion lies in advocating for social justice and equality in marginalized communities, and I wanted to be able to do that with an informatics degree. When I met Dr. Kirk Jalbert, he introduced me to the world of civic informatics and using technical knowledge as a tool for justice. I work as a research fellow at the Civic Science for Environmental Futures Collaborative, headed by Dr. Jalbert, where we study environmental justice movements and how technology and data empower communities to mobilize and organize in order to protect the environment.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I didn’t really know what to expect coming into ASU. Many students start off their undergraduate degrees knowing they want to be a doctor or lawyer or work for some dream company. I have been fortunate enough to be a part of several research projects, including conducting my own research as a Barrett honors student. I also completed my thesis on the ongoing human rights crisis affecting migrant workers in Qatar in preparation of 2022 FIFA World Cup. Through Barrett funding and resources, I went to Nepal to conduct field work and talk to migrant workers and government officials to collect data for my study. My research experiences at ASU really opened my eyes to the world of research and how important it is to ask difficult questions and then to work to solve them in hopes of finding answers and sharing your discoveries.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I grew up in the Valley and regularly attended ASU football games with my family. My father is an ASU professor, and my mom is an ASU alum. I always knew that I wanted to be a Sun Devil, and I’m so glad I did!

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: I am so glad that I got to work with many smart and scholarly faculty members as an undergraduate student. I can’t name a single professor because all of the professors I did research with have taught me so much and I appreciate their lessons in research, hard work and dedication to contributing knowledge to society. Dr. Kirk Jalbert, Dr. Jeffrey Kassing, Dr. David Siroky, Dr. Pauline Cheong, Dr. Uttaran Dutta and Dr. Gyan Nyaupane have all had a significant impact on me and my passion for research.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Take classes in areas outside of your discipline. If you are a science major, take a policy course. If you are a business major, take an art class. If you are a political science major, take a computer science class. It is so important that we share knowledge and learn from each other. ASU offers thousands of interesting and fun courses, so take advantage of them!

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: One of the coolest places to be is near the Memorial Union. There are always so many interesting and amazing clubs and organizations that table in that area. I was a part of NextGen America at ASU and Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA) just because I went up to the tables and asked about them. It is a great way to get involved and meet people with similar interests.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation I will be pursuing grad school. Specifically, I hope to be doing research and studying technology and social impact. I plan to enroll in a graduate program in the near future, and I am very excited to continue learning and growing as an individual!

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I believe education is the single most important resource that we can invest in for our communities. Unfortunately, many marginalized communities have been intentionally stripped of funding and resources to inhibit their liberation. Technology is such a powerful tool, and we must use it to empower communities rather than perpetuate the digital divide and the big data divide. I would invest in interdisciplinary education to empower and connect people all around the world.

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