In a ceremony on Sept. 8, in Kathmandu, Nepal, the family of Shikha Silwal, assistant professor of economics at Washington and Lee University, received a Nepalese education medal on her behalf.
The Vidya Bhushan medals have been conferred annually, beginning in the 1960s, to highlight the importance of education in Nepal. Silwal received an "A" class medal, the highest level, for achieving her doctorate. Other awards were given to top students for achieving master's and undergraduate degrees. President Dr. Ram Baran Yadav conferred the medals on Nepal's National Education Day and called on those attaining degrees to use their skills in nation building.
Silwal stressed that the award is purely for achievement in higher education and "not that I achieved something extraordinary other than finishing my Ph.D."
Yet, Silwal said, in a country where 6 million people are illiterate and 8 percent of children are not receiving an education, the awards are a good way for the government to promote higher education. "It does give an incentive and the announcement is publicized in the newspapers, and it used to be shown on television," she said. Nepal is among the poorest countries in the world, with a gross domestic product per capita of $1,300 in 2012. Few people have the opportunity to pursue a Ph.D.
"Here in the United States, I am surrounded by people with Ph.D.s, so in that sense it's not a great honor. But when I was in Nepal this summer, using facilities at Kathmandu University, I realized that people with master's degrees were teaching master's-level classes. Even at the university level, there were very few Ph.D.s, so in that sense it was a great honor."
Silwal pointed out that women in Nepal don’t usually receive the opportunities she did — coming from a middle-class family, attending private school and then studying in the United States. "So if I look at it from the perspective of the country as a whole, receiving this medal is both humbling and also an honor," she said.
Silwal joined the Washington and Lee faculty in 2012. She received her B.A. in economics and mathematics from Simpson College and her Ph.D. in economics from the University of Pittsburgh. She focuses her research on political economy, conflict studies, development economics and labor economics.