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U.S.-Russia exchange forges bond between student teams

Three Russian team members talk with one American team member about the car.

SPbSTU team members, from left to right, Evgenii Zakhlebaer, Seva Kuzminykh and Vasiliy Dorofeev talk with Mizzou FSAE team member Chris Head after the car unveiling.

After playing host to nine MU engineering students last March, five Russian students and two advisers from Saint Petersburg State Polytechnic University (SPbSTU) traveled to the U.S. in May as part of an exchange program designed to foster collaboration between U.S. and Russian programs with common interests.

The Russian students exchange with Mizzou allowed the engineering students to trade knowledge and expertise on design and construction of an SAE Formula car. Beginning last fall, students on the MU SAE Formula car team, Mizzou Racing, connected with students from SPbSTU through video and teleconferencing to share tips and knowledge about the Formula car design and build process. Mizzou Eco-racing members, MU Engineering’s alternative energy vehicle team, got involved to share their know-how on competitions and team organization.

The U.S. Department of State’s U.S.-Russia Peer-to-Peer Dialogue Program provides grants of up to $100,000 grants for peer-to-peer collaboration and exchange on a common project. Vlad Likholetov, the college’s International Technology Commercialization Institute Director and project principal investigator, initiated the Mizzou-SPbSTU project, “Engineering Student Exchange: Teams-based Collaborative for Innovative Design” to fund an idea developed from the college’s memorandum of understanding (MOU) with SPbSTU.

Mizzou Formula car in the foreground with team in background.

Mizzou FSAE team members (in black shirts) unveil their new racecar at an event preceding the team’s competition in Brooklyn, Mich. Russian students from SPbSTU (in white T-shirts) accompanied the Mizzou team at the unveiling and competition.

“It started with the MOU in 2013, and through the MOU, I was introduced to one of the deans at that school,” Likholetov said. He added SPbSTU was very interested in many of the programs Mizzou Engineering had, one of which was student collaboration and competition teams.

The formula car team at SPbSTU formed last year and includes team advisers Evgenii Zakhlebaer and Sam Avetisyan and team members Roman Vinokurov, Seva Kuzminykh, Lia Parsenadze, Vasiliy Dorofeev and Nikita Lipatov.

The two sets of students finally met face-to-face in late March when nine MU students, accompanied by Likholetov and then-team adviser Marty Walker, traveled to SPbSTU to help the Russian team with its car.

It was unique opportunity for all.

“It’s very cool the students from the engineering teams are so open-minded and can communicate their experience,” said Nikita Lipatov, team designer and a junior studying industrial design. “We can just ask the questions we want. All the people are very open-minded and very hospitable.”

SPbSTU students arrived in the U.S. just in time to join Mizzou Racing members as they unveiled their new car in mid-May. Several members of the SPbSTU constituency also traveled with Mizzou Racing to the team’s FSAE competition in Brooklyn, Mich., where the team placed 29th overall.

Vasiliy Dorofeev is a rising senior studying engineering economics and the SPbSTU team’s business manager. He said while his team’s car was mostly built by the time he traveled to the U.S., the team had no experience when it came to competitions.

“We learned a lot about organizing the work in the team,” he said. “We now know more about how the competition is organized, how the team works and how to transport the car.”

When they returned to Columbia, Russian students focused on taking in as much of the U.S. college-town culture as they could before returning home.

“It was my dream to visit America, but I couldn’t imagine it would be so great,” said engineering economics major Seva Kuzminykh, who is the team’s head of logistics, PR and marketing, as well as one of the drivers. “The people make the difference. People here are so polite and so cheerful.”

The team from SPbSTU planned to compete in a racing competition, Formula Student Russia 2015, in Moscow, however the competition was cancelled in mid-June, with plans to reorganize for 2016. In the meantime, the Russian team is exploring the possibility of also building a fuel-efficient car, using knowledge gained from talking with members of Mizzou Eco-racing.

Likholetov said he has just submitted proposals to continue the program. He is applying for a $50,000 U.S.-Russia peer-to-peer continuation grant, which he hopes will allow another exchange program with U.S. and Russian students.

“We’re planning another round of exchange, but in a closer, collaborative fashion,” he said. “Our plan is for them to come to our race, again, and for us to go to their race in Germany.”

Editor’s note: Mizzou Racing also participated in the 2015 FSAE competition in Lincoln, Neb., in June where they placed fifth overall. They also placed third in presentation and sixth in endurance. For a full list of results, click here.