UA Mining Engineering Students Ready to Get Real

From figuring out how to efficiently pull basalt out of a caldera on Oahu to making plans for putting a strip mine back to the way it was, UA mining and geological engineering interns are setting themselves up for success.

Read about the internship experiences of these UA mining and geological engineering students:

Jamie Mills has made quite an impression on managers at a small aggregate mining company that pulls basalt for concrete out of volcanic calderas on the Hawaiian Islands of Oahu and Maui. She spent last summer in Oahu redesigning haul roads, analyzing fuel costs, assessing alternative energy options, and recommending new technology for mine planning. The senior is headed back this summer to help integrate hundreds of thousands of dollars in new cost-saving technology, and lay a solid foundation for her career in engineering management.

Jamie’s story.

Peter and Paul Mather are brothers following their passions and pursuing their mining engineering degrees. One is oriented to business; the other to research. Both are driven in their dedication to mining sustainability. Together, they are firing on all eight, all the time.

Paul is an 18-year-old senior who graduated from high school early and is on course to complete his bachelor’s degree in three years. He is focusing his studies on the metallurgical engineering side of mining. But he hasn’t been old enough to work as an engineering intern. So he has spent his summers with UA Engineering faculty members developing new methods of recovering metals from ore. Now that he is “of age,” he’ll be spending this summer with the process development group at Freeport-McMoRan’s Technology Center in Tucson, Arizona.

Peter is busy becoming a master at merging his interests in computer software and business. Last summer, he was the lone intern at Stantec Consulting’s mining headquarters in Phoenix. He finished an underground mine methods tradeoff study in less than a month, as opposed to the expected three months. Then he moved on to a more ambitious project modeling stopes, underground areas from which ore is excavated, to assess how long ore would last at certain production rates. This summer, with an internship at Freeport-McMoRan’s long-range planning office in Oro Valley, Arizona, the 19-year-old junior is turning his attention to open pit mine design.

Peter and Paul’s story.

Danielle Taran has done two internships with Luminant that have taken her halfway across Texas -- from the Big Brown mine, an hour and a half south of Dallas in a town with maybe two sit-down restaurants, to the Three Oaks mine, about 40 minutes from the state capitol of Austin. Her internship experiences have taken her through the life of a mine -- from pre-stripping land for coal mining to reclaiming land after it was mined. This summer, the senior returns to round out her Luminant internship experience with a nearly $4,000-a-month job in mining operations at the Kosse mine just South of Waco in central Texas. A job offer at the end of her stint is expected.

Danielle’s story.
   
Ashlyn Hooten started interning at the Freeport-McMoRan Inc. Sierrita mine the summer following her freshman year and just returned from her third summer working at the open pit copper mine near Tucson, Arizona. Fresh off a semester of study abroad in Western Australia, Hooten, a UA Engineering Ambassador and member of the women’s mine rescue team, is now debating whether to accept an appealing job offer from Freeport-McMoRan or return to "the middle of nowhere" in Western Australia on a one-year work visa for what could prove to be the adventure of a lifetime.

Ashlyn’s story.

Damian Watson had a hard time settling on his engineering major, until he discovered he could combine his love of math and rocks, merge his passion for computers with mining. Now, working summers and some during the school year for a faculty-founded data warehousing company, the UA mining engineering junior helps mines improve efficiency and safety by collecting, organizing and analyzing operations data and identifying areas where the mines can improve performance. This summer, Watson ventured from his work in Tucson to spend time with clients in British Columbia and Mexico.

Damian’s story.

Editor’s note: This series of stories, profiling mining and geological engineering interns, is a part of the New Face of Mining celebration, in which the University of Arizona is commemorating the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Arizona School of Mines.

UA mining engineering students are gearing up to get real. As finals wrap, many will turn their attention to jobs and internships. For seniors graduating, internships likely helped them get that $65,000 job they are walking into. For those not yet graduating, internships will play a huge role in defining who they are, inside and outside the classroom.

Every UA mining engineering student does at least one internship, and many have completed two or three internships before they graduate. The interns’ projects are usually in line with what they are learning in their courses, but the jobs go beyond what can be taught in the classroom. Interns work on real projects that have real value for mining companies, sometimes even resulting in multimillion-dollar proposals.

At Stantec Consulting in Phoenix last summer, Peter Mather modeled a mine’s stopes, or underground rooms from which ore is excavated, to help validate that the mine had 10-plus years of resource left, then he presented results of the multimillion-dollar project to the firm’s client. This summer in Hawaii, Jamie Mills will help integrate new technology that she proposed to the president of an aggregate mining company last summer. And, Danielle Taran, who worked on a $32 million reclamation project for Luminant, is seeing strip-mined land in Texas put back to its original contour, just the way she planned.

“My job, taking into consideration the cost of everything,” said Taran, “was to figure out how to fill up the open space, where to get the dirt, and what equipment would be best to use.”

Like a lode running rich with minerals, certain sentiments run through the veins of all UA mining and geological engineering students. They feel fortunate to have found something they love to do; they are dedicated to their practice and to environmentally sustainable mining methods; and they appreciate having invaluable opportunities to be well prepared for the work world.

“I was working with senior engineers and professional geologists with 30 years of experience,” said Mather of his consulting job with Stantec, a position typically reserved for more seasoned engineers.

Mining engineering students also have no doubt that they will land good jobs doing what they love. They are entering an industry in which a large percentage of the engineering workforce is nearing retirement.

“More than half of our workforce has been here for 25 years or more, and many of our senior engineering positions require 10 to 15 years of experience,” said Cydney Walling, talent acquisition manager for Luminant, a subsidiary of Future Energy Holdings. Luminant, a Texas power generation company, hires about 60 interns each summer from five universities and pays them between $3,000 and $3,900 a month plus a $1,000 bonus for return interns and relocation assistance if needed.

“It is important to hire people early in their careers, train and develop them, and give them opportunities to grow into leadership roles,” she said.

Jennifer Durrer, a staffing analyst at Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, echoed the industry’s need to invest in a future workforce ready to fill the knowledge gap.

“We want to develop students so when they graduate they have a vast skill set; they are knowledgeable, and they have some practical experience within their degree field,” she said.

The investment pays off, for the students and the company. In a recent group of UA senior mining interns at Freeport-McMoRan, all six had job offers. Freeport-McMoRan employs upwards of 230 interns from universities throughout North America-- about a quarter of whom are drawn predominantly from UA mining, metallurgy and geology -- at 15 sites throughout the Southwest.

While mining companies are filling their pipelines with much-needed engineering recruits, students are gaining a frame of reference for what they are learning in the classroom and solidifying career plans.

“Internships help us filter out and focus on what we want to do,” said Mather, a junior with a passion for software and design who already has senior-level management in his sights.

Companies adopt students for a summer, or two or three, nurture them, then deliver the students back to the University more mature in their approach to learning and more ready for the work world, said Mary Poulton, head of mining and geological engineering and director of the UA Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources.

“Students come back from their first internship at the end of the summer so much more intellectually mature,” she said. “And from the companies’ perspective, internship programs help them build a workforce of capable young engineers who can take on more responsibility because they have had that period of work.”