Study abroad becomes stepping stone to international career

November 15, 2010 •

CU engineering student Nick Bertrand spent two of his first four years of college studying in China—and then he went back again for a summer research internship.

“I love living in China – I love the food and the different style of entertainment there. And I was interested in the research from an academic perspective,” he said.

When he was a fifth-year senior double-majoring in electrical and computer engineering and applied math, Bertrand was selected as the 2010 Study Abroad Student of the Year.

“I believe he is an excellent CU Study Abroad Ambassador who will use his engineering and Chinese language and cultural skills to make the world a better place,” wrote Sherry Snyder, director of international engineering programs, who helped to set up his international placement.

A native of Colorado Springs, Bertrand first enrolled at CU-Boulder in the fall of 2006. After his freshman year, he was awarded the prestigious Boren Scholarship to study at Peking University (PKU) in Beijing. He lived with a host family there and focused on intensive language study as part of a Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) program.

The following year, Bertrand open-enrolled in the engineering curriculum at PKU to get a deeper understanding of Chinese language and culture within a technical environment. Essentially, he said he took the same science and math courses he had already taken at CU-Boulder, but this time in Chinese. He also participated in a research team comprised of graduate students, which held weekly meetings in Mandarin, and co-authored a paper on WSDL files for public Web services.

“I want to use Chinese as an international engineer,” Bertrand explained, adding that his ultimate goal is to work for an American engineering company in China.

“A lot of setbacks can come from language and cultural barriers. I think I can help bridge that gap and still have a technically oriented job,” he said.

Bertrand already has Chinese work experience. While at PKU, he was recommended to work in CIEE’s international student office, helping other foreign students attending the university. “I got experience with how the Chinese student employees did things, and I did a lot of English translation for them.”

In the summer of 2010, after completing his junior year at CU-Boulder, he had the opportunity to return to China as a participant in the International Research and Education in Engineering (IREE) program administered by Purdue University.

With a referral from Michael Lightner, chair of the CU-Boulder Department of Electrical, Computer, and Energy Engineering, Bertrand was selected for an internship at the Research Center for Green Building and New Energy at Tonji University in Shanghai, where he helped to design and implement software for the school’s energy management system.

“I really saw how software development is done in China,” Bertrand said, explaining that he had weekly meetings with industry representatives who were contracted to do the work, under the direction of Professor Hon Wei Tan.

Tan was so impressed with Bertrand that he asked him to come and live with his family.

Bertrand keeps in touch with the Tans as well as a professor at PKU and his host family in Beijing. Among his fondest memories of China are going out for meals with family and friends, and playing “KTV” or Chinese karaoke.

Although he expects it will take him two more years to graduate, in part due to his acceptance into CU-Boulder’s concurrent BS/MS program in applied math, he’ll have two bachelor’s degrees, a master’s degree, and an International Engineering Certificate when he’s finished.

He’ll also stand out as having perhaps the most in-depth study abroad experience of any CU engineering student to date.

He already translated his resume into Chinese.

For more information about international programs and opportunities for CU engineering students, visit