Edmonton student turns lifelong passion for science into $80K STEM scholarship

Edmonton student Aakankshya Kharel is headed to the University of Alberta in the fall on an $80,000 STEM scholarship.

'I just realized that everything around us is essentially STEM' 

Aakankshya Kharel is a recipient of the 2019 Schulich Leader Scholarships. (Thandiwe Konguavi/CBC )

Aakankshya Kharel grew up doing water testing and other science projects with her grandfather.

This fall, the Edmonton student is headed to the University of Alberta on an $80,000 STEM scholarship. 

"Growing up, my grandpa was always like, 'Oh, I want you to be a scientist someday,'" Kharel said Thursday in an interview on CBC Edmonton's Radio Active. "So I just kind of grew up saying that."

The prestigious Schulich Leader Scholarships are given each year to 50 students in Canada who are enrolled in a STEM — science, technology, engineering or mathematics — undergraduate program. 

Importance of STEM

The importance of STEM is something Kharel learned at an early age. Born in Nepal, Kharel emigrated to Canada with her family when she was 12. 

"My grandpa was actually my first inspiration," said the 17-year-old whose mother was a science teacher in her home country.

Schulich Leader Scholarships recipient Aakankshya Kharel at eight years old with her grandfather Phanindra Kaphle in Nepal. (Submitted by Aakankshya Kharel)

"He would buy me a water testing kit, tell me about the solar panels and how they work and little things like that and so I think it just kind of added up and accumulated over time," said Kharel.

"I just realized that everything around us is essentially STEM and it's always growing and evolving." 

Kharel was also offered a Schulich award from Memorial University of Newfoundland. She decided to accept the scholarship to attend U of A, to stay close to family. 

"I did have a decision to make and at the end, it was my family that kept me here," she said. 

Her grandfather, Phanindra Kaphle, who still lives in Nepal, is thrilled. In a translated video call, Kaphle said he is most proud that his granddaughter is inspiring younger kids to explore science in her own pursuit of the subject, and of the kindness in her leadership.  

One of her initiatives in her final year at Archbishop MacDonald High School was called Read Cycle, providing literacy tools for newcomers and refugees. 

Kharel also has an interest in the arts — she choreographs Nepalese dances for children in Edmonton who are from Nepal and she can also be spotted singing in Nepali at Edmonton Heritage Festival. 

"It's almost like a hobby. I obviously don't have enough time to pursue that as much because I am much more into science now," she said. 

In the fall, Kharel will be studying general sciences with a focus on chemistry. She hopes to research everyday products to make them safer for consumers.  

In addition to tuition, she will use the scholarship money to pursue other development opportunities in science, including lab research application fees. 

"Besides that, I haven't really thought about it," said Kharel, who is still coming to grips with the scholarship. "It's so insane to me."

About the Author

Thandiwe Konguavi


Thandiwe Konguavi is an award-winning journalist, born in Zimbabwe. She is a reporter/editor at CBC Edmonton. Reach her at thandiwe.konguavi@cbc.ca. Follow her on Twitter @cbcthandiwe.