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Training wheels come off for Virginia Tech program in Nepal


   

A. L. "Tom" Hammett in an institute graduate’s greenhouse of medicinal plants. A. L. "Tom" Hammett (right) stands in an institute graduate’s greenhouse of medicinal plants. Photo courtesy of A. L. "Tom" Hammett.

BLACKSBURG, Va., Sept. 24, 2012 – A five-year Virginia Tech-managed project in Nepal is coming to a close at the end of September 2012.

Since 2007, the university has partnered with Yale University and Principia College to establish the Memorial Center of Excellence in Teaching and Learning at the Institute of Forestry in Pokhara, Nepal. The center commemorates the lives and contributions of 24 natural resource conservationists killed in a helicopter crash in the Himalayas in 2006.

The project, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development through its Higher Education in Development initiative and managed by Tech’s Office of International Research, Education, and Development, held a workshop in Kathmandu, Nepal, on Sept. 19, to celebrate its transition.

A. L. “Tom” Hammett, professor of sustainability, innovation, and design in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, has served in the role of partnership director in the project since its beginning. “The workshop is a way for us to share the lessons learned from the project and give faculty who have trained at the center an opportunity to present their research,” says Hammett, who has worked in Nepal since 1974.  

Since the project’s inception, Hammett has travelled between Virginia Tech and the center to conduct workshops on improving administration, establishing research collaborations, resource planning, and proposal writing; improve the library’s holdings; and accompany Virginia Tech faculty from across disciplines to work with their counterparts at the institute.

“The center has made great strides toward sustainability,” says Michael Bertelsen, interim executive director of the office. “The institute now has the resources and solid connections to educate the country’s next generation of forestry professionals.” 

Nepal, a country about the size of Tennessee with a population of 28 million, has forests that harbor unique biodiversity and play a vital role in the economy of rural communities. The country’s layout, with the world’s highest mountains on its Chinese border and lowlands 125 miles south on its Indian border, holds an unparalleled combination of topographical, environmental, and ecological concerns in a very small space. The country’s community forestry system — wherein communities make decisions on how to best use the surrounding forests — makes it fertile ground for discussions about sustainability, population growth, and best practices for forest management.

The Office of International Research, Education, and Development is part of Outreach and International Affairs at Virginia Tech, which links the university to the private sector, government agencies, non-government organizations, individuals, and communities in Virginia, the nation, and the world.

Written by Melissa Smith.