On April 10, Mercedes Balcells-Camps, research scientist with the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science at MIT, spoke at the La Caixa Fellowships award ceremony in Barcelona, where the king and queen of Spain were among the audience of political heads and awardees. Sponsored by the La Caixa Banking Foundation, the La Caixa Fellowships are granted each year to Spanish students pursuing master and PhD studies. Balcells-Camps, a La Caixa fellow in 1996, impressed upon attendees the impact the fellowship had on her career, especially in her research work and in the creation of the MIT-Spain Program.

“Today it is just the ending of a phase and the beginning of a new one as La Caixa Fellows abroad. I assure you the La Caixa scholarship will mark your lives as it marked mine and so many other scholars,” Balcells-Camps, MIT-Spain co-director, said. “My parents, my education, and La Caixa scholarship have been my base, my pillars throughout my career as a researcher.”

Balcells-Camps received her La Caixa scholarship to study in Germany, where she earned her PhD in macromolecular chemistry from RWTH Aachen University. Thereafter, at MIT Balcells-Camps pursued biomedical engineering research at the Harvard-MIT Biomedical Engineering Center, co-created the MIT-Spain Program and founded Regenear, a company that seeks to develop tissue-engineered cartilage to repair genetic facial malformations or accidental injuries.

“Your motivation will make you one day connect the dots of all experiences and think of ways to give back to society,” Balcells-Camps explained to the 120 La Caixa 2015 awardees. “I connected the dots the first day I discovered there wasn’t an international exchange program with Spain at MIT.” Within six months, Balcells-Camps had fundraised, researched, and created a network large enough to launch the Spain program at MIT. “I always say that despite living in Boston, I’ve never been gone,” she said. “I hope you, wherever life brings you, you never leave Spain.”

The MIT-Spain Program matches 50 students each year with all-expense-paid internship, research, and teaching opportunities in Spain. Projects are designed to align the skills and interests of the student with the needs of the host. To prepare for their experiences abroad, all MIT-Spain students complete coursework in Spain’s languages, culture, history, and politics. Students also participate in a series of prep and training modules covering topics such as cross-cultural communication; current events, technology, and innovation in Spain; navigating the workplace; logistics; and safety. The MIT-Spain Program is part of the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI), MIT’s flagship international education program.