Kunal Nayyar | University of Portland

Kunal Nayyar

It all began with a college crush and a bright idea. Back when Kunal Nayyar was a University of Portland business major, he’d fallen for a girl in the theater program. So, he hatched a simple plan: Audition for a play, win a role, spend lots of quality rehearsal time with the girl. “The funny thing is,” Nayyar says now, “I fell out of love with her, and fell in love with my one true love—acting.” By that first college theater audition, Nayyar had already shown a penchant for trying new things. At 18, he left his home in New Delhi, India, landing seven thousand miles away in Portland to experience the U.S. for the first time. He relished “creating a family away from family, surrounded by different cultures, ethnicities, and religions, supporting each other as we navigated through college.” Nayyar bonded with professors he remains close to 20 years later. He fondly remembers his job in UP housekeeping, attending international student events, playing intramural sports, and singing at coffee house nights. “The greatest experience I had at UP was my ability to participate in a variety of activities,” he says. “It culminated in a very fulfilling
time at school that I miss to this day.” By the time he earned a UP business degree in 2003, Nayyar was well on his way as an actor. He added a master’s in fine arts from Temple University, and in 2007 landed a starring role in The Big Bang Theory—the number one sitcom on television for much of its 12-year run. Nayyar reflects on playing astrophysicist Rajesh ‘Raj’ Koothrappali in the CBS comedy “with an immense sense of pride, gratitude and humility for what we accomplished, and how lucky we all were to be on that show.”

Post-Big Bang acting life involves various projects, but these days, he says, work takes a backseat and family is his top priority. Nayyar and his wife Neha are committed to using their platform to give back, which includes their generous gift of scholarships for UP students in Performing & Fine Arts, as well as funding guest artists and UP’s annual trip to the American College Theater Festival. He wants to see young actors complete their educations and pursue their dreams, like he did. “I love what I do,” he says. “Regardless of the destination, it is important to love the journey. Love what you do. Let the universe decide the rest.”