Surya Upreti and Prem Shrestha standing side by side

UAH alumni Surya Upreti and Prem Shrestha (’18 BSN, NUR), give back and pay it forward by continuing to work in the English for Academic Purposes program.

When Catherine Ryan-Hyde wrote the book, Pay It Forward, in 2000 little did she know the bestseller would still be setting trends nearly 20 years later.

The premise of the book works in reverse: instead of paying someone back for a good deed or a favor, individuals pay it forward by doing good deeds for others.

Surya Upreti and Prem Shrestha (’18 BSN, NUR), best friends from Nepal (South Asia) and recent graduates of The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) College of Nursing are giving back and paying forward by continuing to work in the UAH English for Academic Purposes (EAP) program.

Upreti’s interest in nursing grew while sitting with a sick uncle in the hospital. "He died from cancer, but it really touched me the way the nurses cared for my uncle. In Nepal, males are not allowed to enter the nursing profession. Because I could not pursue my dream in Nepal I came to the USA," Upreti said.

In high school, Shrestha’s dream was to become a doctor. "I changed my career choice to nursing because I like the special attention nurses give to help sick people. The nursing profession suits me better," said Shrestha.

Upreti is a lawful permanent resident of the U.S., and Shrestha is a naturalized citizen.

Dr. Karen Frith, Professor and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs in the UAH College of Nursing (CON) realized approximately 10 percent of the 2015 fall class were international students and they had an English language barrier.

"These highly intelligent students were faced with learning the nursing language in English. While they didn't ask for help and their English language skills were okay, I knew the transition would be difficult," she said.

Frith asked around campus about English language support, and quickly found out that students who needed help had to pay extra for classes.

Fast forward to 2016, when Upreti and Shrestha approached Frith after nursing orientation about English language support. "The students earnestly wanted to do the best they could in our program but were concerned about their ability with English. I knew I had to do more," she said.

Frith contacted Dr. Andrea Word, former director of the university’s Intensive Language and Cultural Program, and the two began to brainstorm ideas about English language support for international students. "We talked with CON Dean Marsha Adams, who was immediately on board with setting up a program for our non-native English speaking students. Dr. Stephanie Ryan Cate Gibson was named instructor of EAP.

"Upreti and Shrestha changed CON through their simple question and desire to be the best nurses they could be," said Frith.

Upreti currently works as an orthopedic nurse at Huntsville Hospital.

Shrestha accepted a nursing position at Erlanger Health System in Chattanooga, TN, and had to end his volunteer work with the program.

"EAP is extremely helpful for students whose native language is not American English," said Upreti. "In Nepal, we speak British English. So, it is very difficult for people to understand us because of the strong accent.

"Dr. Cate Gibson fills the gap between students from diverse educational backgrounds and the U.S. education system," said Upreti. "She works with students individually…that is how great progress is made. At first, it was hard to communicate with my patients and other health care professionals. I am not perfect in my speech right now, but I can say that because of EAP I can confidently communicate professionally and personally," Upreti added.

The program is open to all UAH students who want to benefit from learning exercises such as reading and comprehension retention, speed-reading techniques, and time management skills.

Always seeking to do his best academically, Upreti said the only nursing program he wanted to attend was at UAH. "When I found out that the UAH was the highest ranked nursing program in the area, I had to apply to the best school. Prem and I feel very lucky for the decision we made to attend UAH. We have had nothing but good experiences during this journey," said Upreti.

Upreti and Shrestha said their CON classmates were very supportive, and they were “blessed to have professors like Dr. Elizabeth Barnaby, Dr. Darlene Showalter, Dr. Sharon Coffee, Dr. Cate Gibson, Dr. Rita Ferguson and many more who always encouraged and supported us along the way.”

In addition, Upreti and Shrestha said nursing faculty equipped them with theoretical and clinical knowledge required for successful nursing careers.

"UAH nursing faculty prepared us not only for bedside nursing, but also prepared us with other learning tools such as interpersonal skills like cooperation, group work, punctuality and time management," Upreti said. "The nursing field is not only caring for sick people, it is also about how you work together as a group to accomplish a mutual goal. So, we can proudly say that UAH has provided us with the best clinical and theoretical knowledge in order to succeed in the nursing profession."

This fall, Upreti will start the UAH Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Program.

Shrestha plans to begin graduate school next spring.


Dr. Karen Frith
UAH College of Nursing
Professor and Associate Dean