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Grad Uses Engineering Skills in Nation Building

February 21, 2012

Starting his three-and-a-half hour walk down the mountain before dawn, Nima Tshering was terrified of running into a Himalayan black bear in the dark jungle. But the eight year old did not let fear stop him from making the seven-hour round trip six days a week for five years. His desire to see what existed on the other side of the mountains surrounding his village, his illiterate parents’ unwavering support, and the free education provided by Bhutan led Tshering to excel in his studies.

 “Bhutan’s free education has made all the difference. It has been my road to success, my guiding light to pursue my dreams, and my communication line to share my dreams beyond boundaries,” said the personable and humble Tshering of his home nation, nestled between India and China. “All too often people give up in the face of adversNima Tsheringity and hardship.”

Tshering (BSEE ’02) talked about his journey to KU and beyond during the inaugural EECS new student seminar this fall. EECS Professor and Associate Chair for Undergraduate Studies David Petr  led the one-hour weekly discussion that aims to link students with resources and more quickly integrate them into the Department. Tshering was among the invited alumni asked to share their experiences with the class and show the wide range of career paths for EECS graduates.   

“Nima was an obvious choice as guest speaker for our week on unusual careers; his close association with the royal family of Bhutan, his strategic government positions, and his graduate study focused on management and public administration certainly make him one of EECS’s most unusual graduates,” Dr. Petr said.

“My EECS experience has turned my fear into hope, my self-doubt into confidence. It gave me the hard KU engineering skills with soft humility of Kansas” Tshering said. “When it comes to a career, I would like current EECS students to realize that it is not what you do, but how you think about what you do, that changes the world.”

After primary school, Tshering applied to boarding school for junior high. Free of the seven-hour commute, Tshering flourished in junior high and high school. He continued his studies at Sherubtse College, the nation’s premiere college, where he set a record for the highest score on a national examination. Still, Tshering dreamed of studying abroad and applied for a Fulbright Scholarship, which he received in 1997. With a list of preapproved American universities in hand, Tshering pulled out a map of the United States. He liked that KU was in the middle, or at the heart, of America and decided he would become a Jayhawk.

The 21-year-old felt as if he had been dropped off on another planet when he first arrived in Kansas. Experiencing radically different food and culture and being the only student at KU from Bhutan made the transition difficult. While he learned English in high school, slang and idioms greatly complicated everyday conversations. But Tshering did what he always did--he studied and opened himself to opportunities. He became an active member of the International Student Association (ISA) and remembers fondly an ISA-sponsored trip to the Grand Canyon that included American and international students. He also credits his host family, the Chitwoods, with helping him succeed at KU. During his four years at KU, Tshering received numerous accolades and scholarships, including induction into the Golden Key International Honor Society, National Scholars Honor Society, and Eta Kappa Nu.

“KU not only honored my success but also supported my struggle,” said Tshering. “For example, although I was the only student from Bhutan, KU gave me full support in my struggle to put the best exhibition during KU World Expo for international students. My booth was judged the best and even made it to my country’s national newspaper as ‘One Man Show in Kansas.’ I was highly motivated by KU to learn to turn obstacles into opportunities in life.” 

After graduation, Tshering joined Bhutan’s Department of Information Technology and began building the nation’s fledging IT infrastructure. Internet and cell phone service would be incredible advancements for a country that is still trying to extend roads and electricity to its rural villages, Tshering said. While KU had given him the engineering skills to succeed, he needed management training for the massive undertaking and enrolled in a graduate engineering management program at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. For his graduate project, Tshering developed the strategic plan for Tarayana Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps poor Bhutanese in rural villages. He completed his graduate degree in 2005 and spent the next three years walking to more than 300 remote villages in Bhutan to talk to his fellow citizens about the King’s unique welfare policy called Kidu, serving the poorest of the poor at their doorsteps.

His work with the Tarayana Foundation and the King’s Office of People’s Welfare and Wellbeing led him to the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He is learning how to develop business approaches and public policies that will help the one-quarter of Bhutanese living in poverty, less than $1 a day.  Tshering, who is expected to graduate this summer with a master’s in public administration in international development, will return to public service and nation building under the direction of the King of Bhutan.  

“I shall humbly aspire to change life one person at a time, one community at a time, for a happy, just, and shared world,” said Tshering.

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