I grew up in a small mining town called Clifton in Arizona. Nearly everyone in my family worked in the nearby Morenci open-pit copper mine, including my grandfather, who was my role model when I was a kid. He had an amazing collection of rocks and minerals from the mine, and this sparked my interest in geology. My twin sister shared similar interests with me, and when it came time for us to head to college, we explored the geology program at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (New Mexico Tech). During our tour of Tech, we met the chair of the Mining Engineering department, who explained that mining engineering would allow us to work with cool geology and also do important design work as engineers. I was hooked that day and graduated from Tech with my bachelor’s degree in Mining Engineering several years later.
“Nearly everyone in my family worked in the nearby Morenci open-pit copper mine, including my grandfather, who was my role model when I was a kid.”
After I graduated, I knew there was so much more to learn so I stayed on at Tech to complete my master’s degree. After college, I worked as a consulting engineer for nine years at Kleinfelder Inc., where I worked on a variety of Mining Engineering and Civil Engineering projects. Consulting gave me the opportunity to encounter complex engineering problems to which I could apply my educational background. I later went on to complete another master’s degree in Civil Engineering to better address some of the civil work I performed at my company.
After my time in consulting, I began work as an engineer for the state government in the New Mexico Abandoned Mine Land Program. Our program’s mission is to safeguard the public from adverse effects associated with historic mining practices. We safeguard and remediate abandoned mines all over the State of New Mexico. My job has a field work component, and a typical field day involves hiking around doing field reconnaissance, observing construction of the projects I’ve designed, and revisiting sites after construction to see how the project performed. My typical office days involve developing design drawings, technical specifications and contract documents to get projects to construction.
I recently worked on a project near Gallup, New Mexico, where a large sinkhole developed in someone’s backyard above abandoned underground coal mine workings. We created a design to safeguard the public from this dangerous abandoned mine problem and prevent it from happening in the future.
I love that my job gives me the opportunity to visit beautiful places around the state, to be out in the field during construction and work on challenging designs to keep people safe from the dangers of abandoned mines. I also love that my work allows me to design solutions that are unique and require out-of-the-box thinking. Many animals, such as bats, use abandoned hard-rock mines as their habitat, and engineering design solutions must take them into account so that they can thrive.
Traditionally, there are not very many women in the field of Mining Engineering, although that is slowly changing. When I first began my career, it was sometimes difficult to be the only woman in the room. I soon learned, however, that my input and educational background was just as valuable as my male colleagues and that I brought a unique perspective to the table. I relied on the support of other women I knew in engineering to build confidence and form a community.
“I relied on the support of other women I knew in engineering to build confidence and form a community.”
So my advice is to form a community with other women in the STEM field as you progress through high school and college and grow in your career. You will be support for each other, advocate for each other and solve technical challenges together. Participating in the local Society of Women Engineers section is a great way to do this in college! During high school, participate in SWENext.