The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

Astrophysics senior overcomes obstacles, graduates six years after starting college

Swadheen Swaraj Bhowal plans to pursue higher degree in system engineering
Swadheen+Swaraj+Bhowaj%3B+Pullman+has+been+really+nice+to+me.
COURTESY OF SWADHEEN SWARAJ BHOWAL
Swadheen Swaraj Bhowaj; “Pullman has been really nice to me.”

Swadheen Swaraj Bhowal started his college journey in 2018, coming to WSU from India and entering the United States for the first time in his life. He felt homesick and immediately experienced some culture shock.

The senior astrophysics major looked around his new environment and could not see people like him. He said he knew no more than two other Indians at WSU and felt like there was little representation, especially in undergrad, leading to him missing his culture as well as his family.

Eventually, he said he settled in and got through his first semesters without much of a hiccup.

Then, Bhowal planned to go to Seattle for his spring break in 2020, but the pandemic changed those plans. He said his mother asked him to return to India for his break instead of going to the West Side, which he obliged to.

While back home, a travel ban was enacted that kept him there. He said he tried to do online classes, but the time difference proved to make that too difficult, so he instead took the semester off.

“I was neither focused nor understanding anything,” Bhowal said. “Originally, it was, ‘Yeah, why not take one semester off?’ Then it became two, then three semesters.”

Finally returning to Pullman in the fall 2021 semester, he said he got back to work and felt far more comfortable when back on campus.

Scholarly associate professor Michael Allen, said Bhowal’s optimism and ability to navigate through difficult situations were two traits that guided Bhowal through the early difficulties of shaking off the rust from three semesters off from school.

“He is always happy, always an optimist, always sees [musician and comedian] Eric Idle’s bright side of life,” Allen said. “I think this optimism gave him the energy to push through, to celebrate small achievements as stepping stones to the big achievements.”

Bhowal said his optimism got put to the test in January 2023. On a Friday night, he went out with some friends and after a night out, made a decision that has impacted his life since.

“I made the worst decision ever,” he said. “I got behind the wheel of the car because I thought I was sober enough.”

Turning a corner, he said the car hit a patch of black ice and ended up directly hitting a pole. After hitting his head, he initially walked away from the scene before turning himself in at the police station hours later. There, police arrested him for driving under the influence, hit and run and reckless driving, according to The Daily Evergreen.

“I thought my career, my life, everything is over,” he said. “I was thinking I’d be deported or something. I was a bit scared.”

Pleading guilty to the DUI, he said he spent 24 hours in a jail cell and, from there, vowed to focus on academics with full strength. In January, he reached a full year of sobriety.

While he said he still goes out with friends to enjoy his time at college, he orders mocktails and finds new ways to have fun without becoming intoxicated. Despite the mistakes he has made, his time at WSU has been favorable and he looks forward to graduating as a Coug.

“Pullman has been really nice to me,” Bhowal said. “When I told professors about the DUI, they kind of laughed and joked with him about not applying physics in real life.”

His final hurdle came from his senior project. All physics majors are tasked with a senior thesis or project, something Bhowal had been thinking about for a few months leading up to its creation.

He said his final project was a shoe he built that charged your phone while you walk by capturing the energy produced from each step and channeling it toward charging.

Allen said Bhowal’s application of physics in the project is impressive and that application is thanks to Bhowal’s raw talent and motivation in the field and his efficient learning ability.

Allen said physics is a threshold discipline, with that senior project proving Bhowal was ready for graduation.

“With Swadheen, I knew he had fully crossed the threshold when he designed his own senior project,” Allen said. “The creativity was always there, and I was lucky enough to see it applied in his senior year.”

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About the Contributor
BRANDON WILLMAN, Multimedia editor
Brandon Willman is a junior multimedia journalism student from Vancouver, Washington. He started working as a sportswriter for the Daily Evergreen in Fall 2022 and worked as copy editor in spring 2023. Brandon was elected to be the Editor-in-chief starting in summer 2023 and served in the position from May 2023 to February 2024 before transitioning to the role of multimedia editor. He enjoys watching sports, backpacking, and watching horror movies.