Published: Jan. 18, 2013
ChBE Balsells Graduate Fellows

The result of a unique partnership between CU alum Pete Balsells, the University of Colorado Boulder, and the government of Catalonia, Spain, the Balsells Graduate Fellowship Program brings outstanding students from Catalonia to Boulder to pursue master’s and doctoral degrees.  This program funds the students’ education and has enriched both our department and the college community. 

The Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering (ChBE) is fortunate to currently host three Balsells Fellows, all of whom hail from near Barcelona. Josep Casamada Ribot is studying plasmonic biosensing under the direction of Prashant Nagpal and Anushree Chatterjee; Núria Codina Castillo is studying bioactive sutures for preventing fibrosis in injured skeletal muscle tissue under the direction of Joel Kaar; and Marc Vera Canudas is studying microfabrication and nanofabrication under the direction of Mark Stoykovich. 

>> Read profiles of Balsells Fellows on the Balsells program web site.

Here’s a bit of what these three outstanding students had to say about their experiences at CU.

How is academic life at CU and in Catalonia different?

Núria: One big difference is the level of involvement with the university.  In Catalonia, going to school is more like a job, whereas here students stay on campus more and are definitely more involved in university activities.

Marc: People here are proud of the university, wearing CU clothing and supporting sports teams. In Catalonia, the top-tier athletes do not play in college but rather go straight to professional teams, so college sports are much less competitive. 

N: Another big difference here is student-faculty interactions. At CU people ask questions in class; this is not done in Catalonia.

M: It did take time to get used to students asking the professor to explain confusing concepts in class. In general, the relationship here between professor and student is a bit more personal.

Josep: We have not used clickers before; I felt like I was on a TV game show when I used one for the first time here. We also do not have TA’s in Spain, and are not encouraged to go to professor’s office hours. Finally, in Catalonia, almost all of a course’s grade rests on the final exam; perhaps there will be one project or a short midterm, but not weekly homework. Here there is a more continuous workload, with homework every week and long midterms.

M: Yes, the final is often worth around 80 percent of the final grade in Catalonia.

N: So while we have less pressure at the end of the semester here, it also means there is more work for the class.

What do you like most about ChBE?

N: The department is very organized; Dom (ChBE’s graduate advisor) has been an invaluable help with everything.  I also like that we are given the opportunities to meet multiple professors before picking an advisor.

M: Yes, and I like the enthusiasm of the professors; they explain their expectations and show a lot of passion for what they do.

J: The department has opportunities in many different areas, from more classical chemical engineering to bio to energy.  There are also many multidisciplinary interactions, which I greatly enjoy.

M: Because of this I feel like I like I am linked to others and from that I gain a broader understanding.

N: I like that I didn’t have to do research the first semester and so could focus on my classes.

M: The seminars have also been great means to learn about other research areas.

What do you miss about Catalonia, besides friends and family?

M: I like to cycle and miss the beautiful scenic vineyards of Catalonia.  Additionally, even though I did not visit it every day, I liked being close to the beach. 

N: Right now I miss the warmer weather, my mom’s cooking, and the fashions.

J: I miss espresso coffee, Serrano ham, and cheap inter-Europe flights.

What activities do you like to do here in CO?

J: I love traveling; last fall, we visited the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Canyon Lands, Arches, and Lake Powell.

N: Yes, and on the next trip we will visit Las Vegas. I like swing and salsa dancing and want to learn how to ski.

M: My friends have shown me many wonderful cycling loops around Boulder.  I also enjoy snowboarding and snowshoeing.

J: I just bought skis and got to use them for the first time this weekend at Eldora.

What do you plan to do after graduate school?

J: Working in industry or a national lab are both appealing.

M: I would like to work in industry and eventually go back to Europe.

N: I am open to all possibilities, but eventually I would like to work back in Spain.

What is the #1 thing you will take away from this program besides an advanced degree?

J: The experience of living and working in a new and different place.

M: Knowledge of American culture and our department’s enthusiasm for research.

N: New friendships with my fellow students and professors.