Nihal Shavdia

Young man smiles at camera and points to a beaded bracelet on his wrist. Behind him are trees, mountains and the ocean.
Receiving a scholarship helped Nihal create a positivity power reserve that helped him in tougher moments.

A student’s journey from power outages to studying renewable energy

Kenyan-born Nihal Shavdia studied for his high school finals under the lights of the local gas station. Power at his home was unreliable, and during outages he would take his books there rather than struggle by candlelight.

That experience was one of the drivers behind Nihal’s decision to pursue a degree in engineering. His long-term dream is to help increase access to reliable power in Kenya (and Africa more widely) through renewable energy. Another driver was his high school physics teacher, who nurtured his aptitude for science and directed it towards engineering.

Moving to Canada to study engineering

Based on his success in those finals, Nihal received a full scholarship to come to Canada to attend the University of Victoria. He initially found it difficult to live away from home, having never left Kenya before. He had to get used to a different culture, food, people and weather.

“At first I was overwhelmed and got homesick quite a lot,” says Nihal. “But I made good friends and joined several student clubs.” Some clubs, such as UVic Aero, gave him a chance to meet other engineering students. Others, like the African and Caribbean Students’ Association, softened the feelings of culture shock. It also helped that his older sister, Saloni, was already studying at UVic, and his eldest sister, Zilna, was in Ontario at the time.

Receiving a donor-funded scholarship boosted Nihal’s motivation

In 2020, Nihal received the Bez Tabarrok Scholarship in Mechanical Engineering, awarded to third or fourth year engineering students. The award was created by alumnus Marinos Stylianou (BEng ’93) as a way to honour the strong legacy of Dr. Tabarrok. Collectively remembered as a prominent scholar, and the founding chair of mechanical engineering at UVic, Dr. Tabarrok was also a significant teacher and mentor to students.

Knowing that you can get these kinds of scholarships to help you out in times when you really need it makes you have a more positive outlook on life. It keeps you motivated when you’re in your lows.” - Nihal Shavdia

Nihal would draw on that positivity reserve a lot during the next year as COVID-19 restrictions forced him to study from his bedroom.

A family business opportunity could be a way to give back

As Nihal progresses through his courses and mandatory co-op placements, he’s seeking ways to specialize his skill-set and reach his long-terms goals to improve access to renewable power in Kenya.

“It’s surprising how many people still don’t have access to reliable electricity,” he says. Nihal hopes to establish a company with his sisters to capitalize on the opportunity. For example, through better solar power infrastructure in villages. In many ways it’s a smart business idea, but it’s also the family’s way of trying to give back to their community for the opportunities they’ve had. Looking forward, Nihal hopes his career will lead to fewer kids needing to study for exams under the lights of their local gas station.