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The annual Mingma Norbu Sherpa Community Engagement Fellowship provides $2,500 to graduate and professional students to support field study and engaged research in environmental areas at field sites. 

The fellowship is named for the late Mingma Norbu Sherpa, a pioneering conservationist in the Himalaya who served as an official with the World Wildlife Fund. A protégé of Sir Edmund Hillary, Mr. Sherpa believed that “saving nature need not take place at the expense of the people,” and as example of that, he developed an 800-square-mile conservation area surrounding the 28,169 foot tall Kangchenjunga (behind Everest and K2 in height). He and 23 others died in a 2006 helicopter crash just after they left a ceremony giving control of the area to the local residents. Carolina alumni Donald and Karen Wagoner, both Carolina M.B.A.s in the class of 1977, created this fellowship in his memory.


Starting in 2022, eligible applicants must be:

  • graduate or professional students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,
  • continuing their studies at UNC-Chapel Hill in the semester following their fellowship.

Application Guidelines

Recipients of the 2022 Mingma Norbu Sherpa Community Engagement Fellowship will be part of the larger 2022 Community Engagement Fellowship cohort and participate in cohort sessions. Interested students should apply through the Community Engagement Fellowship application process, indicating within their application the environmental focus of their proposal and their interest in being considered for the Sherpa Community Engagement Fellowship.

Applications open in November and close in February. Apply online through the CCPS Application and Nomination Portal.

2021 Sherpa Recipient

Hania Zanib, a graduate student in environmental sciences and engineering, received the 2021 Mingma Norbu Sherpa Fellowship for her project: Improving Well-Water Quality and Public Health Outcomes Through Community Work in Rural NC. An estimate of 2.4 million people in North Carolina use well water as their primary water source. This population is at risk for exposure to microbial contamination through contact and consumption of their water. This is because, unlike public water systems, private wells are not regulated under the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act set forth by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Groundwater can become contaminated by natural and anthropogenic activities, such as flooding, agricultural and urban runoff, decomposing waste, leaks in sewage systems, etc. These events can introduce enteric viruses and potentially pathogenic bacterial organisms into the ground water supply, which can cause significant health effects. Furthermore, flooding events, to which Eastern North Carolina is particularly susceptible, breach ground water supply, increasing the risk of introducing microbial contaminants. The presence of indicator viruses in private wells in Eastern North Carolina has already been established. However, few studies have investigated the prevalence of pathogenic viruses in breached wells. Hence, an investigation into detection of enteric viruses in the groundwater supply is extremely relevant and will establish remediation considerations for consumers and ultimately minimize the risk of negative health outcomes. This study will recruit owners of private wells in Robeson and Bladen Counties in eastern North Carolina, and well water from these sites will be sampled and analyzed for viral contaminants. Findings from this study will provide valuable data and evidence-based recommendations to identify and address the vulnerability of private water systems to extreme and adverse weather events.

2020 Sherpa Recipient

Prabisha Shrestha, a doctoral student studying geography, received the 2020 Mingma Norbu Sherpa Fellowship for her proposed research project: Exploring Potential Impacts of Women’s Leadership in Conservation Outcomes in Nepal. Shrestha identified recent re-focusing towards female leadership in the organizational structure of the long-standing Community Forestry (CF) conservation program in Nepal. However, Shrestha noticed little academic research in place to measure the outcomes of inclusive leadership in conservation efforts. Shrestha hopes to use qualitative and quantitative research to assess women’s leadership, forest resource conservation and social welfare in Nepali communities interacting with CF programs with and without female representation. Shrestha hopes her work will help measure and support systems that promote social and environmental justice.