I have a B.S. in Mining Engineering from Colorado School of Mines (CSM). After working several years, I returned to CSM to pursue a M.S. in Environmental Sciences and Engineering and graduated 10 years after my B.S. When I arrived at college in the late 1970’s I did not have to declare what specific engineering I wanted to pursue until my sophomore year. After talking to my advisor and taking a couple of introductory classes, I decided to pursue mining engineering. Initially I had considered geology but found that mining seemed more interesting, especially with learning about underground operations. I was also influenced by my parents and an uncle – and also my college advisor who let me know that there were very few women in mining and there was a need to have more.
While I was in college, I did not participate in very many activities. I was a member of Alpha Tau Omega – a service fraternity on campus, and I briefly participated in some sorority activities and the women’s soccer club. I also attended the Society of Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration Engineers annual meeting when I was a senior. I believe that SWE was on campus when I was in college. I do regret that I did not find time to participate in SWE or other campus activities. Participation would have helped me with “socialization” beyond the classroom. I encourage all young engineers to be involved with some activity that takes them outside of their homework, regular friends, and area of comfort. We can learn more when we step outside of our normal comfort zone.
I had several experiences with the industry while I was in school for mining engineering. When I was a junior, there was a female professor, Dr. Betty Willard, who was beginning the environmental science and engineering program at CSM. She hosted a 2-week field trip throughout southwestern U.S. touring mine sites, reclamation sites, and other industrial locations. This experience was invaluable. Dr. Willard spent time in Washington, D.C. as an environmental advisor to the Nixon administration, she had a Ph.D. in botany, and had advised the mining industry extensively on reclamation. She was a wonderful person to learn from and she inspired me to move towards pursuing the environmental work necessary for mining operations. After both my sophomore and junior years I had internships at active mine operations. One was in New Mexico at an underground uranium mine and the other was in Washington at a surface uranium mine. Women were new to the mining industry, but the people I worked with wanted me to learn as much as I could. These internships gave me a view of what actually goes on at an operation and the many different skills that are needed at an operation.
I am currently an independent consultant and semi-retired. In the last few years during COVID, I have mostly volunteered with two organizations, WOMEN IN MINING (WIM), and the Colorado Trail Foundation. Currently I spend quite a bit of time with WIM Denver and WIM USA. My activities range from chairing the Denver Scholarship committee to chairing the USA membership committee. I participate with team members in activities that help start new chapters, onboard corporate members, provide overall updates on membership growth, and help with programming. This volunteer role has been extremely rewarding in that I can give back to those in the mining industry.
Most of the companies I have worked for have been consulting companies where we provided expert services to the mining industry. Some of my work focused on the environmental side of projects, helping clean up abandoned sites, and working with state and federal agencies. Other projects included working on multi-disciplinary teams that evaluated new mining projects, opening up projects that had closed, with consideration of new technology. In a typical work day, depending on whether I was at a field site, or in the office, I may interact with anyone from the field crews/drillers, to health and safety managers, to Project Managers, Program Managers, to the General Manager. Many times I was an interface between the regulatory personnel on behalf of the site, as well as the internal and external legal team on regulatory matters.
One of my favorite projects was my work over several years in Northern Idaho that transferred a 72-mile abandoned railroad to a recreational trail. The railroad was under obligation to be responsible for environmental damages from mining waste. I was part of the team that negotiated a cleanup process to take care of the environmental issues, and was fortunate to work with the state park agency, the local residents, and the parties legal representatives. Again, experience with a multidisciplinary team was very beneficial to my career. This experience taught me the many perspectives that the public may have on a project and how to gain their trust. This “rails-to-trails” project is now the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes.
My favorite part of being a Mining Engineer was the opportunity to be able to do work outside of the office environment. I was fortunate to be able to have many field assignments in various locations, and had the opportunity to travel throughout the western U.S., and to Australia.
Mining is not only about moving some rock and dirt. An operation offers huge opportunities including the exploration activities that may be ongoing at the property; the processing of the materials at the mill, or perhaps a smelter; management of tailings; water treatment; reclamation activities; and all of the other support activities at a site including maintenance of all equipment, permitting, health and safety. All of these activities require many different types of engineers – not only mining engineers. Each property is its own business and requires professionals and tradespeople of many types. A great environment to learn in and provide a foundation for a rewarding career.
If I have any advice for someone looking to pursue engineering is to please be open to the many opportunities the mining industry can offer. Mining engineers can work in many facets of the industry. Take advantage of opportunities that professional organizations can offer, such as SWE, Women In Mining, and STEM related groups. Many organizations offer volunteer activities that can provide insights into the many facets of the industry. Follow these groups on LinkedIn, if possible. Learn as much as you can and always ask questions.
If Mining Engineering ends up not being your choice and you select another type of engineering, most disciplines of engineering are needed in the mining industry. These disciplines include metallurgy, geology, chemical engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, computer science, and more. The mining industry welcomes individuals from many types of backgrounds.
Please explore all possibilities. Believe in yourself. Volunteer for something you love. Find a mentor that you trust. Be aware and observant of your surroundings. Ask questions.
Whether you choose mining engineering, the mining industry, or engineering, there are plenty of unlimited opportunities for all. My experience will not be what yours will be. Our world is advancing and with the demand for so many materials for the high tech industry – think batteries, cell phones, electric cars, and more – we need highly trained professionals. Mining, very similar to agriculture, will always exist, as we need a huge supply of commodities as technology advances in our world.