Student raised on Nepali farm sets sights on NASA


By Suha Yacoob, news correspondent

Second-year chemical engineering student Shiv Kumar Thakur arrived in the United States three years ago, penniless and a stranger to the language and culture. Now, as a Northeastern student on a scholarship, he works 34 hours a week outside of class while working toward his degree.

Born and raised in Nepal, he won a lottery visa and traveled alone to the U.S. at 19 years old.

“There was no electricity where I lived in Nepal so we used coal and started fires to cook. My father was a farmer, so I had to wake up early in the morning and help him on the farm,” Thakur said. “After that, I helped my mother fetch water from the well. Then I would go to school and come home to study under the moonlight past midnight.”

Upon arriving in Massachusetts, he stayed at the home of a distant family friend while looking for a job. Although Thakur’s language barrier compounded his struggle to find employment, he eventually found work as a cashier at local gas station.  

“I thought I was never going to find a job or end up going to college. I kept trying and my host family kept helping,” Thakur said. “It was hard. But in the beginning, everything is hard.”

His employer helped him open a bank account and enroll in Bristol Community College in Fall River, Massachusetts, where he continued to develop his English while taking college-level science and mathematics courses.

During his time at Bristol, Thakur earned several academic distinctions including participation in the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and the college’s Commonwealth Honors program. Thakur also served as a student senator, a student ambassador and as the vice president of both the Multicultural Club and the Asian Student Association.

Now at Northeastern, he is maintaining his 3.94 transfer GPA.

“Shiv is determined when it comes to his academics and extremely compassionate,” said Jose Morales, Thakur’s friend. “Shiv is always offering help to his classmates and his desire to help people doesn’t end with academics.”

Third-year mechanical engineering and computer science double major Thien An Trinh met Thakur at a meeting for Student Pathways Opening World Energy Resources, or S-POWER, a scholarship program for underrepresented minority students. She later discovered they had a class together and they became friends.

Since I was struggling in the subject, I asked him to study with me and he immediately said yes,” Trinh said. “We’ve been studying for quizzes together since then.”

As the oldest son of three, Thakur strives to improve his family’s financial conditions. He works 34 hours on Saturdays and Sundays and sending all his earnings back home.

“I didn’t even know wifi existed,” Thakur said. “Walking into America was like walking into a completely different planet.”

Now pursuing a degree in chemical engineering, Thakur aspires to work for NASA after graduating.

“I want to design a prototype for processing the Martian atmosphere: focus on sending pure hydrogen to Mars ahead of any astronauts and use it in combination with the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” Thakur said. “This will in turn make water drinkable, oxygen which we can breathe, and methane for cooking food.  I would love to see the world working together to make life better.”