There’s really no telling what might turn up in the workshops where College of Engineering students design and build various modes of transport for competitions against other schools. At any given time, you might stub your toe on a concrete canoe or glimpse students working on various kinds of cars, including electric and hydrogen. But this May, on top of all the work creating specialized racing cars, the Mizzou Racing and Mizzou Eco-Racing club have been hosting 10 Russian students looking to grow their own brand-new program.
The visit is part of Peer-to-Peer Dialogue, a program funded by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. The project is called Engineering Student Exchange: Teams-based Collaborative for Innovative Design. Mizzou’s Russian partner is St. Petersburg Polytechnic University. The idea is to show students best practices in innovation, entrepreneurship, technology transfer and commercialization in both countries, says adviser Vlad Likholetov, who directs the college’s International Technology Commercialization Institute.
Mizzou students visited St. Petersburg in January, and the return trip is in full swing. The students competed May 13-16 in the Formula SAE Michigan competition in Detroit, where they finished 29th in a field of 120 registered cars from around the globe. The competition judging categories included four driving events, fuel efficiency, cost report, business presentation and an engineering-design presentation.
Lauren Wertz, president of Mizzou Racing, loves being involved in a program in which students from opposite ends of the world come together over a project they both believe in. Engineering, she says, is an international language.
The Russians are learning not only about the car but also about U.S. higher education, says the team’s adviser, Sam Aveisyan. “This program has a huge value for our students,” says Aveisyan, a doctoral student at St. Petersburg. “We have a lot of theoretical education but no practical courses. Here in the U.S., you can build a car and race it, but this is the first technical project at our university where engineering students can do something with their hands.”
At the race in Michigan, team member Vasiliy Dorofeev observed not only MU’s team but also several others. He walked around the enclosure where all the teams worked on their cars and noticed how they organized themselves in various ways. One month ago, he says, he did not know what such a competition would look like. “But now I have some experience and feel ready to compete in Moscow in September.”
Team member Lia Parsenadze came to Mizzou expecting to learn a lot about the car, competition teams and how to put it all together back home in Russia. She has seen enough to visualize the future for the St. Petersburg team. But she was most surprised by the trip’s cross-cultural aspects, including interacting with people of different nationalities.
Her colleagues picked up that theme as they enjoyed Midwestern hospitality.
For example, Seva Kuzminykh has traveled throughout Europe but says the United States is like “another planet. People are so polite; it’s spectacular to be here. If you walk into breakfast in the morning, people you don’t even know say hello.” Not so, he says, in St. Petersburg, a city of about 5 million.
Dorofeev sums it up for the group: “Visiting here feels like being with good friends; it’s like a big family.”