Alumna Wins Schwarzman Scholarship

Gyawali smiling

When Sangya Gyawali’s (A&S ’16) new student organization hosted its first event in 2012, it was successful beyond her wildest dreams.

The Pittsburgh Hope Initiative’s mission — to improve access to education and health care in rural Uganda and underprivileged communities elsewhere through partnerships with local nonprofits — was met with support in the form of 2,000 children’s books donated from area elementary schools in just one week. Gyawali, a first-year Pitt student and founder of the group, flew to Uganda to deliver them herself.

“I’d never done anything like that,” she said, but “I enjoy challenges. I saw a problem and I knew that I could do something about it, even from a distance, and so I just applied myself.”

It’s the sort of approach that’s led her to a lead analyst position at BNY Mellon since earning a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology and economics at the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences in 2016 — and, most recently, to the 2020 class of Schwarzman scholars.

About the scholarship

Endowed in 2016 by American financier Stephen A. Schwarzman, the Schwarzman Scholars program was created to help future leaders better understand China, its role in global trends and 21st century geopolitical stability.

Scholars earn a degree in global affairs with concentrations in public policy, international relations or economics and business. Courses are taught by professors at Tsinghua as well as by guest lecturers and visiting faculty. World leaders such as Condoleezza Rice, Nicolas Sarkozy and Tony Blair sit on the program’s advisory board.

The 2020 Schwarzman class, announced Dec. 3, includes 147 scholars selected from more than 2,800 applicants. This fourth cohort comprises students from 38 countries and 119 universities, with 40 percent originating from the United States, 20 percent from China and 40 percent from the rest of the world.

They will enroll at Tsinghua University in August 2019.

Inspired by the Rhodes scholarship, the prestigious international graduate fellowship supports up to 200 scholars worldwide each year. Winners are fully funded for a yearlong master’s program in Beijing at Tsinghua University, China’s leading science and technology university.

Gyawali is Pitt’s first Schwarzman scholar.

“I’m still trying to process it all,” she said.

Born in Nepal, Gyawali moved to the U.S. at age 9. Her parents did not speak English at the time, so she began learning how to navigate confusing systems like health insurance and finance to help out.

At Chantilly High School in Virginia, she became involved with an organization working to improve the quality of education in rural Uganda — work that she continued at Pitt. “The enthusiasm, potential and energy in the students here” inspired her to see if she could mobilize the population to fill a need, she said.

“I want to be able to see an impact first-hand and stay connected,” said Gyawali. “That’s I think where my anthropology background comes in.”

Since graduating, Gyawali has co-founded a social tech startup, BeamData, which aims to address social problems by improving data representation of minority and immigrant populations. As a lead analyst at BNY Mellon, she collaboratively leads projects to build more transparent and resilient business systems and technologies.

“No matter where she goes — from the technology scene here in Pittsburgh to health clinics in rural Uganda to her next stop, one of the world’s largest economies — Sangya forges ahead and boldly innovates for the greater good,” said Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher.

In China, Gyawali expects to be surrounded by people who are similarly focused on big issues, she said. The scholars are offered mentorship, networking and internship opportunities. Scholars also learn Mandarin, travel the country and build lasting relationships.  

While in Beijing, she plans to pursue a master’s in global affairs with concentrations in economics and business. She also hopes to continue fieldwork and ultimately build an effective model for financial inclusion, potentially focusing on how people respond to alternative credit lending models.

“Being hands on and on the ground is something I’ve missed in the year since I graduated,” Gyawali said. It’s why she’s especially excited to be a Schwarzman scholar.

“I am very interested in business systems that work effectively to solve real-world problems. China is at the heart of a lot of the conversations going on around that today,” Gyawali said. “The level of growth and innovation that’s going on there … there’s a lot that we can learn from each other.”