SME President's Page

Marc LeVier

One of the greatest benefits of SME is the contacts and friends that are developed during your career. August delivered the proof to that statement for me during two meetings, the 5th Annual Nevada MPD meeting in Reno, NV and the 2023 Hydrometallurgy Symposium in Phoenix, AZ.

More than 155 people attended the Nevada MPD and I was delighted to see the enthusiasm of the students who made presentations at the conference, and the passion with which they spoke about their summer internships. Lifelong contacts and friends were being created.

I had the honor to introduce the 2023 recipient of the Nevada MPD Lifetime Achievement Award to Dr. James Hendrix. Hendrix was a longtime academic researcher at UNR-Mackay School of Mines, and a professor and dean of the Mackay School. He received the award for his leadership and the many contributions he made, guiding students into the mining industry, thus creating generations of industry leaders.

An example of the lifelong connections was when I met Bradley Wilmot for the first time. He is a UNR metallurgical engineer at Nevada Gold Mines, and I went to school with Bradley’s grandfather, Charles Wilmot, at Michigan Tech. Charles was a very talented engineer and manager of process operations. We worked together at the Exxon Crandon Project in Wisconsin, and I would take Charles and his sons, Paul and John, to their favorite pizza place in the Northwoods. Paul and John both went on to be students of Hendrix at UNR. Bradley is Paul Wilmot’s son, and I was able to meet the third generation of metallurgical engineers in the family. Hendrix made this kind of impact in many lives over the years and made our industry better.

Hendrix was reunited with Mark Anderson, 1992 SME President who took five minutes out of his day to meet with Jim back in 1969 to offer him a summer job, working in the Kennecott McGill process plant, so that a chemical engineer could learn about mineral processing (Hendrix was in his first year as a professor at UNR). Anderson is a Michigan Tech graduate and a friend. We had the chance to share memories from our past and renew our friendship. Remember, he took five minutes to make a difference and 54 years later, there we were celebrating the person he helped.

Along with Drs. Emil and Lilliana Milosavljevic, Hendrix developed the first automated analytical instrument for WAD CN analysis, the PERSTORP. This saved countless work hours in laboratory WAD CN analysis and improved the control of cyanide destruction. This is another contribution to the protection of the environment by UNR-Mackay School of Mines.

From the Nevada MPD, we traveled to the 2023 Hydrometallurgy Symposium held in honor of Dr. Brent Hiskey, Professor Emeritus, University of Arizona. Hiskey served as a metallurgical engineering professor and dean of the School of Engineering. His leadership and fundamental prowess in copper hydrometallurgy is legendary, and many of his former students, such as Dr. Jaeheon Lee, Hydromet 2023 Co-Chair, returned to pay their respects and honor his career. Hiskey has provided numerous students and innovations to the mining industry, and I was honored to have the opportunity to comment on his illustrious career.

These meetings were about two professors and educators who made a difference in the mining industry. Both gentlemen were stalwarts of the mining programs at their schools and defended the mining curricula to ensure the future.

The political landscape at any university regardless of size, in my experience, is only exceeded by the professionals in Washington, D.C. I might even say that D.C. could take lessons from universities. These two educators were able to keep their mining institutions intact because of their persuasion and passion. However, when that one person goes down, who’s the next person up? Do they have the same commitment? Do they share the knowledge and passion of their predecessor? If they do not, then the program will cease to exist.

Today, universities across the country are seeing sharp declines in enrollments. The Colorado School of Mines reported a 35 percent decrease in mining-related enrollments last year. Canada also has reported that between 2016 and 2020, mining enrollments dropped by a third. Universities are looking at budget deficits and making adjustments by eliminating and consolidating departments. However, we know that the “one size fits all” metric used by university administrations to perform due-diligence studies is a flawed metric. In fact, this metric is flawed for science and engineering programs in general, where hands-on laboratories are required to provide the necessary training. This is the training that prepares the graduate for entry into the workplace, where they can make job impacts and have successful careers.

Recently, West Virginia University (WVU) announced cuts to many programs, including the petroleum and mining engineering departments. These departments will be merged and moved outside the Statler School of Engineering. The budgets will be slashed along with faculty reductions. The WVU Provost reported that the mining engineering department was losing more than $1 million per year. Several alumni and members of the mining community have written letters and emails protesting this action and the fallacy of the analysis. In fact, there was a large billboard near campus stating, “Keep Mining Engineering in WVU” and on the first days of the new school year a few of the mining engineering department students staged a “walk out.”

There are efforts afoot to salvage the program at WVU, but we won’t know the outcome for some time. I can also tell you that the news from other universities is not good. Name a school and I can tell you the issue or threat, real or surmised to the programs. Mining programs are easily lost in all the noise. I would bet no one was worried about the mining department when they packed Puskar Stadium to cheer on the Mountaineers versus Penn State. (The right team won, by the way.) This was a night game and the stadium was illuminated by affordable and reliable energy — energy that was produced from coal mines and a result of the efforts of mining engineers, some of whom are no doubt WVU and Penn State alumni.

However, we have discussed the workforce issues and the recruitment needs to replace the boomers. SME has had the Ph.D. Fellowship and Academic Career Development programs in place since 2015 with positive impacts on securing faculty and funding for mining departments. SME has created and funded Jobs of Tomorrow testimonial videos on mining careers and numerous annual scholarships. SME members need to stay in touch with their alma maters and continue to support the mining programs with participation in industrial advisory boards, scholarships, lectures, career discussions and, most importantly, internships.

SME cannot control student career selections upon entering a university, but SME can and does provide a tremendous amount of information to help students explore careers in mining. SME members can also play an important role by being that recruiter, that lecturer, that philanthropist, that icon of what a young person aspires to be like. Be that person that takes the time, five minutes, to make a difference for students, and for the industry. We need more students in mining programs. This can only be achieved through personal contacts and personal efforts by those with the passion and commitment to make a difference. This is your “pay it forward” moment.

The way we educate the public and increase our communication is through our recruitment. The mining industry must continue to grow and achieve mineral independence for our nation.

Keep mining engineering in WVU!