Haitian engineering grad helps builds bridges (literally) and overcomes nature’s snowy struggles

When civil engineering master’s graduate Bedel Desruisseaux, ’19, arrived at Wayne State University in the winter of 2014, it was cold. Glacially cold to locals and bone chilling for someone from Haiti who had never set foot in snow.

“It was not easy,” says Desruisseaux. “It was the first time I left my country, and I went from 88-degree days to 28-degree days. I had to get winter clothes, wear snowshoes and learn how to walk in the snow for the first time.”

Bedel was part of the U.S. Department of State’s Global Undergraduate Exchange Program (Global UGRAD), administered by World Learning. It provides international students with the opportunity to spend a semester studying in the United States to gain academic and professional skills while promoting mutual understanding between their country and the U.S. He was one of only seven students from Haiti selected for the 2014 program.

Adjusting to low temps was not the only adaptation Desruisseaux had to make. He says he had to adjust to more reliable technology and a more advanced civil engineering program than in his home country.

                                               Bedel Desruisseaux

“It was a big change, but I learned how to adapt to a different environment,” Desruisseaux says. “I got to meet so many different people from different cultures and background, try new foods and work with different kinds of people.”

Despite these challenges, Desruisseaux says he was able to overcome them with the help of students, faculty and the Office of International Students and Scholars. “Wayne State is fantastic and welcoming to international students, with wonderful teachers and students, especially in the civil engineering department,” he says. “The OISS office was extremely helpful, if I had any questions or needed anything, they were right there to help.”

Desruisseaux did not intend to get into civil engineering. His original goal was to become an architect, however, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti destroyed the nation’s capital and the university buildings during his first semester of college study in architecture. That forced him to go back to the south of Haiti, where he had lived during his childhood, and to enroll at the American University of the Caribbean which did not have architecture. For him, civil engineering was the next best thing available.

A decade later, Desruisseaux has graduated with his master’s in civil engineering and is now looking for a Ph.D. opportunity. “Civil engineering was something I did because of nature not because I wanted to,” he says. “I didn’t think I could be a civil engineer, but now I can’t imagine doing anything else better. I finished top of my class and now have my master’s in it, and I’m working in the field. I like the work I’m doing. I’d say it was a good switch.”

Although there are many differences between his home country and the U.S., Bedel says the U.S.  met his expectations. “It is a big country with a lot of opportunities which are not available in my country. The fundamentals or daily needs are affordable for hard working people. The U.S. is also a country where everyone can choose whatever they want to do. The success of an individual is more likely related to his or her personal choice in life. I like the U.S. environment and I hope to have a similar environment in Haiti too in the years to come. 

“UGRAD was a very exciting experience, and opened a lot of doors for me, such as being able to come back and study for my master’s. I kept in touch with my teachers from my undergraduate study, and one of them was looking for a master’s student in 2018, so I was lucky enough to be selected for that. I returned to WSU for my master’s, again during the wintertime.” Desruisseaux graduated from WSU with a 4.0.

Now working for Canadian construction firm Aecon Group, Desruisseaux is helping build the Gordie Howe International Bridge, connecting the U.S. and Canada, which he says is fitting for an international student. Desruisseaux scored the job after a recruiter saw his resume, which the Wayne State Career Services office had helped him prepare.

“In 2018, they showed us a presentation for the Gordie Howe International bridge, and then in May 2019 after graduating I found myself working on this bridge,” Desruisseaux says. “I didn’t think that when I was watching that presentation that I would have any role in this project. It’s amazing how this program put me on a path that has given me so many good opportunities for my work and studies. It was like a key that opened all the doors in my life.”

Now looking to get his Ph.D. in civil engineering, Desruisseaux is hoping he’ll be able to return to WSU yet again. “My fondest experience from studying at WSU was the source of knowledge that I can drink from,” he says. “I had new as well as experienced professionals to teach me and learn from. My learning experience was great because of WSU students, professors and staff. They create an outstanding learning environment for each student.”

By Jacob Stocking, OIP Communications Associate.

The Office of International Programs leads Wayne State’s global engagement by creating opportunities that foster international education and research, facilitate the exchange of individuals and ideas that promote global competencies and citizenship, and provide resources that support the expansion of the university’s global agenda. Follow us @WayneOIP.

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