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Mexican mathematics students have joined their counterparts in engineering to win some international recognition: students in both fields came home recently with medals. Four young women have just returned from the 2016 European Girls’ Mathematical Olympiad, held in Busteni, Romania, where they won two medals in a seven-day competition that brought together 145 students from 39 countries.

Olga Medrano Martín del Campo, 17, won a gold medal, Mexico’s first since it began participating in the event two years ago. Alka Earathu, also 17, won silver.
The competition is a relatively new one. Founded in 2012 by British mathematics professor Geoff Smith, it was intended to encourage more girls to participate in international math competitions, where the proportion of girls is very low.

At the International Math Olympiad, for example, only one in 10 contestants is female. Last year’s winner was Team USA; it had no female participants. The European Girls’ Olympiad is catching on: it grew this year to 39 teams from last year’s 30.

In robotics, meanwhile, which is also dominated by males, the Veracruz technology institute TecNM team once again had an outstanding performance, bringing home five medals after competing in the 2016 RoboGames, considered the Olympics of robotics by experts in the field.

Two gold, one silver and two bronze medals were the reward for the efforts of the engineering students, but on this occasion their counterparts from the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN) bested them, earning a total of 13 medals: four gold, seven silver and two bronze.

The wins will allow the IPN team to participate in the All Japan Robot-Sumo Tournament next December, another world-class robotics competition.

The RoboGames (formerly Robolympics) took place in San Francisco, California, bringing together contestants from over 35 countries.

The route to success has not been easy for the IPN students: the robotic creations are built and funded completely by the students, a condition that “does influence the outcome when competing with other schools because we’re not only facing their capabilities, but also their money,” said one.

On average, the IPN students invest 2,000 pesos (US $115) in each robot, while in some competitions the average is 100 times more at 200,000 pesos. The students are content to participate in the league that’s within their means, even if the more expensive meets are considered more prestigious.

“We do this because we like to do it, because we’re passionate, and I think that’s why we keep going . . . we usually only receive the personal satisfaction of doing what we like,” said a team member.

Another student remarked on future opportunities for them in Mexico. They are nil, he said: “Art, science and technology don’t receive any support from the government, we have to look for it abroad.

In robotics, too, there are few females. One IPN student recalled that engineeering studies used to be restricted to males. There are still few females in the classrooms but that is slowly changing, he said.

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