Islander Engineering Trio Fares Well at International Olympiad in Peru

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Solving an engineering problem during an exam on campus at the Island University is one thing. Solving that same problem in a room filled with teams of international students at an international academic competition more than 3,000 miles from Texas is something else entirely.

In late October, three engineering undergraduate students led by Dr. Petru Simionescu, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi associate professor of mechanical engineering, flew to Lima, Peru, to compete in the Fourth Students International Olympiad on Mechanism and Machine Science.

The Island University team consisted of Samuel Guevara, Peruvian international student Nohelia Jimenez Valenzuela and Spencer Swenson. The team, which was the only North American squad in the competition, placed ninth out of 13 teams, besting universities from Germany, Russia and Peru. Travel support for the A&M-Corpus Christi team was provided by Parents Council and the Department of Engineering, Simionescu said.

To earn a spot on our team, students had to pass a qualifying exam, Simionescu said, adding the students attended several prep sessions prior to the trip.

At the Oct. 24-26 Olympiad, teams completed two exams, which consisted of five tasks written in English that had to be solved without books or notes. However, team members could use a nonprogrammable calculator, according to Olympiad exam rules.

The competition, which is organized by the International Federation for the Promotion of Mechanism and Machine Science (IFToMM), also included four university teams from China – including the first-place team from Shanghai Jiao Tong University – as well as two public university teams from Spain, a technical university team from Moscow and the host university – Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru.

Swenson, who scored the highest of the three Islander students, said there were 44 students who competed in the Olympiad. Students were given an hour to solve each problem.

“The exam covered specific engineering problems asking for different parameters about moving linkages and gears. I was surprised that our group was the only team from North America,” Swenson said, noting he placed No. 18.

For Valenzuela, participating in this year’s Olympiad in Peru was also an opportunity to go home, if just for a few days. Valenzuela was the sole Spanish speaker on the Island University team, which made her indispensable during conversations with Spanish speakers along the way. A Lima native, Valenzuela’s firsthand knowledge of the densely populated city meant she was automatically tapped to serve as a tour guide for the team as well.

Valenzuela, who is set to graduate next spring as a mechanical engineering and applied math double major, said she started taking classes at the Island University in 2015 after completing the English as a Second language International program.       

For Swenson, the trip was an action-packed immersion into a new vibrant culture amid the hustle and bustle of a busy, populous national capital in South America.    

“I never stopped looking around because the people, food, driving styles, language and architecture fascinated me,” Swenson said. “In Lima, being alone in a quiet place was impossible in a city of 10 million people.”

While the Olympiad also included lecture presentations, Valenzuela said competing against other mechanical engineering students from around the world was without a doubt the highlight of the experience.

“You have to be good at math and physics but also know your theory of mechanisms. You also have to draw; you have to use old-school tools like a ruler and compass to solve problems,” she said. “Being the only team from North America was a huge responsibility for us. The experience was a tremendous opportunity to push ourselves beyond our coursework.”