BYU places third in Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers National Academic Olympiad

A team of BYU engineers placed third at the National Academic Olympiad Friday, Nov. 7, an event that was part of the national conference of the Society of Professional Hispanic Engineers (SHPE) in Detroit. The 2014 competition was sponsored by America’s Navy. 

The competition pits three-person teams of Hispanic engineering students against one another, testing them in all aspects of physics, engineering, and mathematics. The BYU team members were David Sifuentes, Hipόlito Vélez and Derek Sanchez, with Jenny Schmutz as an alternate. 

In three rounds of increasing difficulty, the team answered engineering questions in a competitive Jeopardy! style format in front of hundreds of students from universities across the United States. This high-pressure format emphasized both accuracy and speed as they answered their questions, but more importantly it required a high level of team work, according to Derek Sanchez, a mechanical engineering major.

“The contest really pulled us together as a team,” said Sanchez. “We’re three different people with different knowledge bases and we work together to solve problems. We would often come to a problem that only one of us could solve and we really relied on that person.”

At the end of the competition the team placed third in the nation, the highest placement that the BYU SHPE chapter has achieved since its founding in 1998. The national SHPE organization was founded in Los Angeles in 1974 by a group of engineers working for that city. Their mission is to change lives by empowering the Hispanic community to realize their greatest potential to impact the world through STEM awareness, access, support, and development. 

BYU finished strong in this competition by having both a breadth and depth of knowledge on their team, as well as a strong compassion unique among competitive students. Before the start of the 90-minute written exam, another team did not have a calculator. The BYU students lent one of their calculators to the other team so they could have a fair chance to perform well during the challenging exam.

All of the BYU team members come from a variety of locations and majors. David Sifuentes is a senior in chemical engineering from Seattle with roots in Mexico. Hipόlito Vélez is a senior from Kennewick, Wash., who is half Ecuadorian and half Puerto Rican. Derek Sanchez, a sophomore in mechanical engineering, comes from Plainsboro, N.J. and is half Ecuadorian and half Venezuelan. Jenny Schmutz is a senior in Technology and Engineering Education from New Mexico with roots in Mexico.

BYU SHPE chapter advisor Brian Mazzeo praised the students by saying, “These students represent only the best of technical excellence in engineering.”

Additional information regarding the SHPE conference and competition, as well as information regarding the BYU National Academic Olympiad team can be found on their website

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