The idea of the vertical university is actually quite simple. It is to create a sort of “living classroom” in the form of an 25,000 foot continuous vertical forest corridor stretching from Koshi Tappu (220 feet), Nepal’s largest aquatic bird sanctuary, to Mt. Kanchenjunga (28,169 feet), the world’s third tallest peak, as a vessel to teach and conserve the 6,600 flowering plant species, 800 bird species and 180 mammals that are found in eastern Nepal. In a mountainous country like Nepal, where there is exceptional biological, climatic, and cultural diversity from the tropical plains to the alpine Himalayas, conventional education paradigms where students sit in a stationary classroom, divorced from their surroundings, make little sense.

The “professors” of the vertical university may not have a Ph.D. and in fact may never have set foot in school, but as indigenous farmers, they possess intricate, intergenerational knowledge about local fauna and flora which is critical for Nepal’s youth to attain. The vertical university will deepen place-based skills in sustainable technology, craft, and medicinal plants, and seeks to conserve and activate local knowledge while also creating sustainable livelihood opportunities. It does this through establishing “learning grounds,” which are micro-conservation hubs — the “classrooms” of the university throughout different locations across the landscape.

“Our hope is that one day, a Nepali student could walk from Koshi Tappu to Kanchenjunga, across 118 different forest types, and learn from local farmers about the deep physical and biological diversity of the landscape through place-based education.”