In its third academic year, the ConocoPhillips Center for a Sustainable WE2ST (Water-Energy Education, Science and Technology) was formed to promote the sustainability of unconventional energy production and conduct research on both community acceptance of resource development and water resources related to energy production. As water resources can become stressed locally, finding solutions to the diverse and specialized challenges affiliated with competition for water use is crucial. The center was established with a ConocoPhillips leadership investment of $3 million in 2014.
In collaboration with the center, ConocoPhillips recently released a video that provides an in-depth look at the work happening in the area of education and outreach associated with water resources and unconventional energy production. Watch the video here.
After Georgianna Zelenak ’13 graduated high school, she participated in a trip with SEA Semester, a non-profit educational institution focused on environmental studies and the world’s oceans. During the program Zelenak assisted with oceanographic research while learning to sail a tall ship. Little did she know that she would come full circle and get a dream job with the same organization years later; she recently took a job as SEA’s science operations coordinator.
Zelenak is no stranger to working in places that many might not think of. After she graduated from Mines with a bachelor’s degree in geophysical engineering, she did a stint studying plate tectonics in New Mexico and then worked in Hawaii installing sensors to study active volcanoes. “I was getting a lot of experience in magnetotellurics, which is a geophysical method that measures electromagnetic fields and how they change as they propagate into the earth. This method tells us about the conductivity underground, which can help us distinguish between different rock materials and temperatures. It’s a very powerful tool. It was great getting experience with those instruments and having fun out in the field,” she said.
She went to grad school at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and because of her experience in Hawaii, Zelenak was able to work with her advisor to do a project on an active volcano in Alaska. So away they headed to Umnak Island, part of the Aleutian Islands Chain, where they studied Okmok Volcano, an active volcano that had suddenly erupted, without warning, in 2008. Zelenak and her team were going to map where the magma beneath the volcano was pooling in order to better understand the nature of future eruptions.
The region where they were working had just one resident living there year around; they bunked on a former World War II base that was turned into a cattle ranch. They accessed the volcano by helicopter and Zelenak tried to explain how stark the landscape was. “It was out of this world. You’re out on this ranch, rolling green hills, really lush grass. When you get closer to the volcano suddenly it’s barren, lava rock, snow on the side, and you come over the flank of the volcano and see this six mile wide hole in the ground.”
They were dropped into the mouth of the volcano from the helicopter. The team was tasked with putting sensors into the caldera (a feature formed by the collapse of a volcano into itself, making a special form of a volcanic crater). For the next one and a half years of her studies for a master’s degree, Zelenak studied the data that came directly from those sensors.
The skill set she built doing this field work, her involvement in science education (she helped create an exhibit at an aquarium to get diverse students interested in ocean research) and her background on research cruises at Scripps led her to a job with SEA Semester as their science operations coordinator, a position she has held since January 2017.
“My role is in support of the ship and the chief scientists,” Zelenak said. “There are huge amounts to deal with, like making sure everything’s up and running, making sure we have research permits. SEA as a whole has a huge variety of research projects. We do everything from climate science to marine geology, studying coral reefs, and we have a strong program looking at plastics in the ocean.”
As she starts her new job she knows that her time at Mines contributed greatly, especially the basic engineering background she got while she was a student. “I was a geophysics student, I wasn’t mechanical or electrical. But having that EPICS class where you learned some of the basic drafting, soldering, and fundamental engineering skills has served me really well. I know I can open up an instrument in the field and get a basic understanding of what is wrong.”
Anica Wong, Communications Specialist, Colorado School of Mines Foundation | 303-273-3904 | firstname.lastname@example.org
|Denise Dihle '93 started her own engineering firm, 360 Engineering, which was recognized as the Women-Owned Small Business of the Year by the Department of Energy in 2016.
[Photo by Anica Wong]
From the moment she stepped onto the Mines campus, Denise Dihle ’93 felt at home nestled against the mountains in the small community of Golden, Colorado. She always knew she wanted to be an engineer and felt that Mines was the right size with the right attitude. “Everybody was in the same boat, and sometimes it was sinking, and sometimes it wasn’t,” she said.
Twenty-three years after graduating, Dihle still lives in Golden, running her own engineering firm just a short walk from the Mines campus. She is the founder, owner and president of 360 Engineering, a mechanical consulting engineering firm specializing in heating, ventilation, air conditioning and plumbing for commercial, government and educational buildings.
Yet, Dihle didn’t break into entrepreneurship right after graduating from Mines. With a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, she worked in the construction industry for a few years before moving to a mechanical contracting firm. She then had the opportunity a couple of years later to work for a consulting engineering firm, where she eventually became a partner.
But after several years, Dihle decided to take a risk and start her own engineering firm. She wanted to “explain highly complicated things in its simplest format to allow owners to make risk decisions based on finances and not need to understand the world of engineering that we deal with.” She spends her days managing a staff of eight and catering to her clients’ needs. And, it turns out, the education she received at Mines proved to be an asset when starting her own business 14 years ago.
Starting from the ground up was challenging when Dihle first became her own boss. “It takes a lot of phone calls,” she said. “It takes a lot of sitting down at meetings, taking [clients] to coffee, going to lunch, all just to get your foot in the door.” In addition to the endless relationship-building meetings, Dihle had to learn how to run a company. “There was a lot of learning that had to happen along the way of how to operate a business and making sure you put the right professional people in place to help you,” she said.
Mines played an integral role in preparing Dihle to be a business owner. “Mines teaches us how to solve problems,” she said. “[Mines] does really well at making us think really broadly about what a problem is, what the problem statement should be and then how to step through it using your resources.”
After years of hard work, Dihle received an email in early March 2016 announcing that 360 Engineering was being recognized as the Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year by the Department of Energy for providing exceptional performance directly contributing to the accomplishment of core DOE mission objectives. Anyone within the Department of Energy may nominate “any business that is woman-owned and providing catering services, representative. services or equipment to the DOE,” Dihle explained. “I had no idea we would go that far, and after I got over the initial shock, I called my marketing coordinator and said, ‘Read this email; we’ve got some work to do now.’”
Dihle’s goal for 360 Engineering now is to expand, preferably with Mines graduates. “We joke that we just tell kids to roll down the hill,” she said, referring to the fact that her office is in Mines’ backyard.
But the DOE award is not the only recognition Dihle has received recently. On September 15, 2016, 360 Engineering was recognized by the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce as its Small Business of the Year. The Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce recognizes and honors women in business who significantly contribute to their communities. “It’s quite amazing to be singled out here in Colorado with all these great businesses,” she said.
Dihle gives a lot of credit to Mines for her persistence and dedication, saying that her alma mater has taught her to keep trying. “You have to keep trying to figure out the problem from a different angle, a different direction, a different approach,” she said. “You really just have to keep with it.”
Reprinted from the winter 2017 issue of Mines Magazine, the Colorado School of Mines Alumni Magazine
Story by Leah Pinkus
|Professor Emertius John Warme reminisces on past expeditions during his keynote speech.|
“Planning for the WarmeFest was a complete surprise to me, and was set up before I was told," said Warme. "The committee who put it together kept it a secret from me for three and a half months while they set it up, attending to every detail with cooperation from the Alumni Association, Foundation, college and department.”
|Shayma Amin '00 is working to bolster Kuwait's oil production and reserves on an international scale, fulfilling a dream she had as a child of working in petroleum.
(Photo courtesy of Shayma Amin)
As the Persian Gulf War drew to a close in February 1991, Kuwait experienced one of the country’s worst environmental and economic disasters as Iraqi forces set fire to more than 600 Kuwaiti oil wells, which burned for more than eight months. Crude oil spewed across the desert and into the Persian Gulf, a mark of the devastating environmental consequences of war.
The drama and tragedy of such an event certainly leaves an impression, especially on a ten-year-old. Shayma Amin ’00 was living outside of Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War, but when she was finally allowed to return to her hometown after the country’s liberation, she recalls looking down at the destruction from the airplane window. “From above, we thought it was a lake, but it turned out to be oil spilled all over my country—flaming fires and barely any sunshine for months on end,” she said. “I remember sitting next to my mom and telling her, ‘I am going to one day get into the oil field. I am going to help my country.’”
Nearly a decade later, Amin was on her way to fulfilling that promise. With a high GPA, she was able to go to college in the United States on a full-ride scholarship. She researched the top universities with petroleum engineering programs, and Mines was high on the list. Combining that with the fact that Amin’s then-husband would be pursuing an MBA at the University of Denver made Mines the ideal place for her to pursue her dream of becoming a petroleum engineer.
She completed her coursework in three and a half years, taking 23 credits each semester, despite being told that it was impossible. She even took extra classes during the summer at University of Colorado and DU in order to graduate on schedule. “I am a very stubborn human being,” she said. “So you tell me I can’t, and it just gives me more ammunition and more of a challenge.”
After graduating, Amin worked for Schlumberger Geoquest for about a year, but it wasn’t the career path she really had in mind. “I wanted to work for an exploration and production company. I wanted to work with companies that had the deals, had the assets, and I wanted more international exposure,” she said. She found a job with Kuwait Foreign Petroleum Exploration Company and has worked there ever since, now serving as a senior international business analyst. “For me, it was a learning curve to work in an international company,” Amin said. “You learn a lot more when it’s a diversified field around the world.” She works with the business development side of the company to increase Kuwait’s oil production and reserves on an international level so that should a disaster ever hit Kuwait’s oil reserves again, it won’t be as economically devastating for the country.
Amin’s work at KUPFEC earned her recognition from Kuwait’s oil minister who nominated her to represent the company at the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ headquarters in Vienna in 2013. She held a post in OPEC for two years as a Kuwaiti diplomat, working as a petroleum industry analyst in the Energy Studies department. “It was amazing being able to present to oil ministers, to actually to get to do your own thing and be a part of the whole publication that OPEC does,” she said. “It was probably the most rewarding experience of my career.”
Despite her success, there is still a lot of work she would like to do. Amin would eventually like to move back to Vienna to work for the OPEC Fund for International Development and perhaps even build her own company one day. “I like out-of-the-box thinking and having that flexibility,” she said. “It is far-fetched, but what is the point in dreaming small?”
Reprinted from the winter 2017 issue of Mines Magazine, the Colorado School of Mines Alumni Magazine.
Story by Ashley Spurgeon
|Mines students saw a period of change 50 years ago as Mines expanded its curriculum in order to build itself into one of the nation's top technological institutions.
[Photo from Prospector 1966]
In the 1960s, the United States was in upheaval. President Kennedy had been assassinated, the Civil Rights Movement was underway and America was embroiled in the Vietnam War. Many higher education institutions were forced to adapt to America’s changing social and political scene and meet the evolving needs of its students. But it wasn’t easy. Although it hadn’t happened at Colorado School of Mines, colleges across the country were seeing declining enrollments in mineral engineering programs.
When Orlo Childs was in his third year as 11th president of the school, enrollment was at its highest to date with 1,544 students, attributed to new degree offerings and an increase in financial aid for students. Yet, Mines was at a crossroads. The school could continue offering professional degrees, which required about 170 credit hours, or it could more closely approximate the BS degree in mining engineering, requiring as few as 130 semester hours at other colleges. Less than a third of the companies that recruited on campus distinguished between the two degrees, according to a 1978 Mines Magazine article about credit changes. Since Mines graduates with the professional degree were offered the same positions and salary packages as their counterparts from other schools who had completed their degrees in far less time, faculty recommended the professional degree be made into a second degree in recognition of the extra work required.
Additionally, an evaluation of the college and its operations suggested Mines could build itself into one of the nation’s leading technological institutions. Changing the degree structure could help the school attract the kinds of students and faculty that would make that happen. In its ninth decade, the college had evolved from its original academic focus on gold and silver assaying to an expanded curriculum suited for modern students. In 1959 the school increased humanities and social sciences course requirements; in 1962 it offered new degrees in chemistry, mathematics and physics.
“For Mines, the 1950s and 1960s were watersheds of curricular development and predictors of new demands and goals to be recognized and molded into reality,” wrote Wilton Eckley in Rocky Mountains to the World a History of the Colorado School of Mines.
Early in his administration, Childs attempted to rename the college to include the word “university.” He thought having “school” in the name was misleading for an institution that granted doctoral degrees, but he dropped the plan due to vehement opposition. During Childs’ tenure, the school was in a formative stage, so it undertook myriad evaluations. Among them were Alumni Advisory Council reviews in 1962, 1965 and 1968; a 1967 report to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE); an evaluation by the Engineers Council for Professional Development in 1967; and a task force report from a panel of CCHE experts in 1967–68.
“There are obvious conflicts in the various recommendations and actions that have been reviewed,” wrote Geology Professor John D. Haun in the “Future of Colorado School of Mines,” a December 1968 article in Mines Magazine. In describing evaluations concluded in the prior year, which had “come with bewildering frequency,” Haun addressed the difficulty in meeting CCHE’s desire for each state college to have a distinct focus. “There will obviously be some overlap with programs at C.U. and C.S.U., but it [is] not possible to expand and strengthen our various departments and at the same time completely avoid duplication,” Haun wrote.
In an effort to meet changing needs and to attract more students, the Board of Trustees voted on March 29, 1968, to approve the BS in engineering or science, the MS in chemistry, mathematics and physics, the MS in mineral economics and the PhD in engineering and science. In response to alumni concerns about dropping the professional degree in engineering, the board compromised by moving the last year of the professional degree to the master’s level.
Stu Bennett ’66, an undergraduate student during this period of change, recalls students’ concern about the shift in degree offerings. “The traditions of the school were very important to us. The professional degree was a five-year program that covered all aspects of engineering. As a result, Mines students were reputed to be competent in any area of engineering,” he says.
However, the departure from tradition was necessary for the school to remain competitive. “The change made the Mines degree more comparable to those of other engineering institutions, and it brought in quality faculty and research,” Bennett says. “Mines was forced into a culture change, and it has grown from an excellent technical school into a major research and education university that is quantum leaps different and better.”
Childs’ legacy of leadership during a transformational time for the school is perhaps best understood by looking back. In a memorial for Childs published in November 1997 by the Geological Society of America, Robert Weimer and Anton Pegis wrote about his seven years as president of Mines: “His recommended curriculum revisions and new degree programs were instrumental in stabilizing and increasing enrollment at the school.”
Don Van Arnam ’66, who graduated from Mines with a degree in metallurgical engineering, sees the modifications the college made in the late 1960s as part of a long transition that started before his arrival and continues today.
“Mines was originally funded by the legislature of the state of Colorado to provide engineers for the mining belt in the Colorado mountains. While we were at Mines, legislators realized more Mines graduates were going out of state than were staying in state so they reduced their level of support,” Van Arnam says. “Basically, Mines’ customer was changing from industry in the state of Colorado to industry, nationwide and worldwide.”
Van Arnam believes that Mines’ investment in world-renowned faculty and its close connections to industry have helped train graduates to be well-equipped for the workforce.
Today Mines is a highly selective, public research university offering bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in engineering and applied sciences. In 2015–16, through its three colleges and 14 academic departments, Mines’ enrollment totaled 5,924 students, including 4,608 undergraduates and 1,316 graduate students. More than half of the instructional faculty have doctorate or other terminal degrees. In 2015, the school’s research awards amounted to nearly $64 million and were split about equally between federal and non-federal sources. According to the college’s 2016–17 research magazine, Mines is “internationally recognized for its education and research programs focusing on stewardship of the Earth and its resources, developing advanced materials and applications, addressing the Earth’s energy challenges and fostering environmentally sound and sustainable solutions for the world’s greatest challenges.”
The strong enrollment figures, distinguished faculty and quality research are key indicators that the changes the university made decades ago have led to its current status as one of the leading technological institutions in the United States. Mines continually undergoes periods of change and rises to the challenges it faces, but the school always remains true to its roots.
|Members from the Class of 1966 reminisced on old times during Homecoming 2016 for thier 50th class reunion.
[Photo by Thomas Copper]
Reprinted from the winter 2017 issue of Mines Magazine, the Colorado School of Mines Alumni Magazine.
Story by Brenda Gillen
|Jarrod Gogolski, a graduate chemistry student, works on a project in the radiochemistry lab.
(Photo by Leah Pinkus)
You could call them the neglected stepchildren of the periodic table.
Stretching across the bottom of the table, the 15 actinides are among the heaviest elements, are all radioactive and are generally not found in nature. The most famous among them, uranium and plutonium, have been integral in shaping the global political and energy landscape, used in nuclear weapons production until the late 1960s and nuclear plants since the mid-1950s. To this day, roughly 20 percent of the United States’ energy comes from nuclear power. But in the wake of the Cold War’s end and the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, interest in studying such elements fell off in the ’90s, leaving a wide knowledge gap at a time when expertise was still badly needed.
Today, Mines, with a new nuclear science chair, a new state-of-the-art 2,200-square-foot radiochemistry lab and a burgeoning research and education program—all funded with help from Transforming Lives: The Campaign for Colorado School of Mines—is working to fill that gap.
“These additions have allowed Mines to become one of the foremost institutions in the world when it comes to expertise in radioactive elements,” says Mines Foundation President Brian Winkelbauer, who points to the nuclear science program as one of many key successes of the six-year, half-billion-dollar campaign. In all, the campaign, which drew to a close this past fall, raised $456 million which was used to fund scholarships, numerous capital projects, campus programs and fund 10 new faculty positions, including the Jerry and Tina Grandey University Chair in Nuclear Science and Engineering.
As the United States grapples with what to do with its nuclear waste and nations around the world eye nuclear energy as a clean and relatively cheap energy source, Mines is poised to be a go-to source for solid science and informed perspectives.
|Chemistry Professor Mark Jensen holds the Grandey Chair in Nuclear Science, a position endowed with funding from the Transforming Lives campaign.
(Photo by Leah Pinkus)
Why plutonium research is still critical
Prior to arriving for his new post at Mines in January 2015, Mark Jensen, director of the nuclear science program, spent 20 years at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory studying radioactive elements, particularly plutonium. Asked why it’s important to study, he responds:
“First, let me tell you why it’s fun.”
Jensen explains that until 1941, when University of California Berkeley chemist Glenn Seaborg secretly isolated and synthesized plutonium in a lab, it had “not existed on Earth” in any significant quantities for about 2 billion years. “What that means is that, unlike other elements, we can’t go learn about its chemistry, biology or physics by looking at the world around us,” Jensen says. “Since it hasn’t existed on Earth, nature—especially biology—hasn’t developed any way to handle plutonium.” For a scientist, that presents a rare and tantalizing challenge.
There are also plenty of practical reasons to study plutonium, he adds. “In the last 70 years, we have gone from having no plutonium on Earth to having many hundreds of tons on Earth.” Roughly 60 tons of spent plutonium are generated per year globally, via nuclear energy production, placed in repositories next to plants where they take an unfathomably long time to decay. “Half of it goes away every 24,000 years,” explains Jensen.
Meanwhile, interest in nuclear energy—a relatively cheap, clean-burning fuel source which uses uranium as its feedstock and produces plutonium as waste—is growing globally as nations like China and India grapple with unmanageable CO2 emissions.
With a group of seven faculty and five associate researchers, Mines’ nuclear science and engineering program is exploring not only how to use uranium for energy most efficiently but also how to better deal with the waste and be prepared to address security and safety issues in the unlikely event that it, or legacy waste from the use of plutonium in weaponry, ends up in the wrong hands.
“I think that peaceful nuclear power production is going to be a really important part of our energy portfolio worldwide in the future,” says Jenifer Braley, an assistant chemistry professor and nuclear science researcher who works with Jensen. “We would like for its implementation to be as secure and responsible as possible.”
|Graduate student Nathan Bessen, right, talks about nuclear science and chemistry with Assistant Professor Jenifer Braley.
(Photo by Leah Pinkus)
The CSI of nuclear science
Braley says she was always fascinated with the “basement of the periodic table” and got turned on to radiochemistry as an undergrad when she attended a Nuclear Chemistry Summer School sponsored by the DOE to reinvigorate the field.
“Research in this area had basically just died off,” she says.
She came to Mines in 2012, drawn to what was already a growing program, and has watched the program flourish ever since. “The facilities infrastructure and support provided by the Transforming Lives campaign has really helped this research move forward,” she explains.
While research is slowly increasing, there are only seven institutions in the country with the specialized equipment, lab space and expertise to work with radioactive “transuranic” materials like berkelium, plutonium and neptunium. Only two academic institutions in the world—Mines and Florida State University—have the resources required to study berkelium. “We have the best-looking radiochemistry lab in the nation,” Braley says.
She and FSU researchers recently published a paper in Science, heralded as the most rigorous characterization of the actinide berkelium. Just understanding the basic science behind how such elements behave could ultimately lead to more efficient nuclear fuel systems and shorter waste-management times, she says.
Braley also specializes in nuclear forensics research, helping to identify chemical fingerprints and develop forensic tools which could ultimately assist government agencies in identifying the source of nuclear materials should they end up in the hands of rogue states or terrorist organizations.
“It is, in a sense, the CSI of the nuclear world.”
|Graduate student Erin Bertelsen focuses on her research in teh radiochemistry lab.
(Photo by Ronald Kem)
From recycling plutonium to treating toxicity
For years, Jensen has focused his research on a concept called “partition and transmutation”—a proposed technology that would essentially extract radioactive materials from nuclear waste stored in repositories and recycle them, both creating more energy and radically reducing the amount of time it takes waste to decay. “You would take them out and put them in a different reactor that would actually destroy the plutonium and other radioactive materials that are going to last a long time. In destroying them, you turn the problem of radioactive waste into something that could be gone in a thousand years instead of a hundred thousand years.”
In 2011, Jensen and his co-authors published a paper in Nature identifying for the first time, precisely how plutonium gets inside of human cells, causing health problems. As he explains it, plutonium binds to transferrin—a protein responsible for shuttling iron into the cells—changing the shape of transferrin in almost the same way that iron does and “tricking the cells into thinking it is iron” so they let it in.
He hopes that someday the research could be used to help develop a drug to block that “Trojan horse” from entering the cell. It could be used to treat workers who are accidentally exposed to radioactive elements or provide an emergency remedy in the unlikely case of a terrorist attack or accident.
For now, Jensen and his students at Mines are working to better understand how cells in the body process and separate other naturally occurring metals, with the hope of learning new strategies for dealing with nuclear waste.
“The real, practical avenue for this research right now is the recognition that biology does its metals separation differently than I as a chemist would do it, and it works pretty well. There’s a lot we can learn from that,” Jensen says.
Mines alumnus and uranium industry leader Jerry Grandey ’68, who donated $3 million to establish the new chair, said he felt that as a school with a strong emphasis on coal, petroleum, mining and renewable energy, Mines would serve its students well by offering a robust look at the technical and policy issues surrounding nuclear energy, too.
So far, so good, Grandey says.
“It’s achieving the objectives I had hoped—exposing students to the nuclear field from beginning to end and all of the issues that come with it. I feel very good about it.”
TRANSFORMING LIVES BY THE NUMBERS
The six-year Transforming Lives: The Campaign for the Colorado School of Mines drew to a close in fall 2016, having raised $456 million and far exceeding its fundraising goal of $350 million.
“This is an unheard of fundraising feat for a small public school like ours,” said Mines Foundation President and CEO Brian Winkelbauer. “We capitalized on the incredible pride that our alumni have for this institution and their willingness and interest in making Mines one of the best STEM institutions in the world.”
· Out of 8,857 donors, 5,403 were alumni
· 3,566 gave for the first time
· Mines received 50 gifts of $1 million or more
· Mines’ endowment now sits at $248 million, a growth of 50 percent
WHAT IT BOUGHT:
Donors contributed $63 million for financial aid, creating 168 new scholarships
Several buildings were built or enhanced, including: Marquez Hall; the Wright Student Wellness Center; the Clear Creek Athletic Complex, including a new football stadium and soccer and track facilities; a renovated student center; the Starzer Welcome Center; and the CoorsTek Center for Applied Science and Engineering (currently under construction).
NEW FACULTY POSITIONS ENDOWED WITH CAMPAIGN FUNDING:
Stephen Liu, ABS Endowed Chair in Metallurgical and Materials Engineering
Open, Fred Banfield Distinguished Endowed Chair in Mining Engineering
Paul Constantine, Ben L. Fryrear Assistant Professor of Applied Math and Statistics
Dehui Yang, Ben L. Fryrear Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
Tzahi Cath & Michael Wakin, Ben L. Fryrear Endowed Professorship Fund for the College of Engineering and Computational Sciences
Mark Jensen, Jerry and Tina Grandey University Chair in Nuclear Science and Engineering
Mike Mooney, Bruce E. Grewcock University Chair in Underground Construction and Tunneling
Jamal Rostami, Timothy J. Haddon/Alacer Gold Endowed Chair in Mining Engineering
Erdal Ozkan, F.H. “Mick” Merelli/Cimarex Energy Distinguished Department Head Chair in Petroleum Engineering
Lesli Wood, Robert J. Weimer Distinguished Endowed Chair in Sedimentary and Petroleum Geology
To see more about the impact of the campaign visit campaign.mines.edu.
Reprinted from the winter 2017 issue of Mines Magazine, the Colorado School of Mines Alumni Magazine.
Story by Lisa Marshall
|Ghanaian students are taught a lesson by Molly Jane Roby '11 on a world map painted on a classroom wall.
(Photo by Seth Roby)
David Frossard was an idealistic, small-town newspaper reporter with a psychology degree when, in pursuit of a new adventure, he applied to join the Peace Corps in 1985. “If you had a college degree and some basic science knowledge, you were considered trainable,” recalls Frossard, who now works as a web administrator for Mines Computing, Communications and Information Technologies and teaches a humanitarian engineering course. “I said, ‘Send me anywhere. I’ll do anything you think I can do.’ It was the luck of the draw.”
He landed in a mountainous region of the Philippines, tasked with helping villagers establish tilapia ponds. The work was rewarding and, as he puts it, life-transforming. But the village turned out to be too cold for the fish he was trying to breed. In retrospect, he says, “My project was a failure. I came back from Peace Corps the first time asking: ‘How come so many projects fail?’”
Fast-forward to today and Frossard, Mines and the Peace Corps have all come a long way in answering that question and are taking bold steps to improve the success rates and sustainability of community development efforts abroad. In 2014, more than 50 years after its founding, the Peace Corps overhauled its application process, enabling prospective volunteers to, for the first time ever, choose their country of service and apply to a specific program they believe they will be best suited for. Then this past fall, Mines became the first higher education institution in Colorado to establish a Peace Corps Prep program, an undergraduate program aimed at better prepping would-be volunteers for the unique cultural and technical challenges they’ll encounter if they join. Those who complete Peace Corps Prep get a certificate from the Peace Corps, a notation on their Mines transcript and a good shot at a modern-day Peace Corps that has become increasingly competitive to get into.
“Peace Corps Prep lets us take students years before they apply and make sure they get the skills Peace Corps is looking for,” says Frossard, who got a PhD in anthropology after his first Peace Corps stint, returned in 2003 to help establish a wildly successful aquaculture project in Zambia and is now co-coordinator of the Mines prep program. “We want to make sure the courses you take, the languages you take, your leadership activities and your volunteer activities all lead you in a direction to make you an effective volunteer.”
Humanitarian engineering a perfect Peace Corps primer
Mines professor Juan Lucena, co-coordinator of Peace Corps Prep, stresses that while the formal partnership with the Peace Corps is new, Mines has been churning out uniquely qualified volunteers for years via its humanitarian engineering program. Established in 2003, the program aims to explicitly connect the technical aspects of engineering with the humanities and social sciences, exposing students to the oft-neglected subject of social justice and cultural, gender, economic and environmental sensitivities that often collide with development projects.
One course in particular, Engineering and Sustainable Community Development, is “maybe the most perfect Peace Corps prep course ever created,” says Frossard, who has taught the class. It explores the unique challenges that can arise when an engineer is trying to sensitively develop a small-scale project (such as a new water or sanitation system) and be sure it’s still in use years down the road.
“Many engineering students have a tendency to assume money is endless. But when you are doing a small-scale community development project, the Home Depot is not just around the corner,” says Lucena. “You have to know how to design under precarious circumstances, with low budgets, for multiple stakeholders. And you have to think about big concepts like poverty, inequality and social justice.”
Peace Corps spokesman David Reese says Peace Corps Prep was founded in 2007, to draw more students with foreign language fluency, intercultural competency and leadership skills and to introduce the program to populations on college campuses that might not otherwise think of serving. For the past three years, more than 20,600 people have applied annually to Peace Corps, and only about 6,000 currently serve. “We’re focusing to a greater degree on qualified diversity and applicants over age 50, as well as those individuals who have the skills to match hard-to-fill positions,” says Reese.
The takeaway: It’s competitive. And those with a Peace Corps Prep certificate are about twice as likely to apply, get accepted and go.
With a strong humanitarian engineering curriculum already in place, Mines is a “wonderful fit” for Peace Corps Prep, says Reese. “In the developing world there just is not enough manpower in the engineering field to currently fill the need. Our partners, such as Mines, are critical to filling that void.”
|Whitney Svoboda '08 poses with the other teachers she worked with at a school in Burkina Faso.
(Photo by Joseph Bonzi)
Putting humanitarian engineering skills to work
Molly Jane Roby ’11 graduated from Mines long before Peace Corps Prep came to campus, but in many ways her experience reflects what newcomers to the formal program might be able to look forward to. She had a mild interest in the Peace Corps when she entered college, but after taking Engineering and Sustainable Community Development and hearing Frossard talk about his experiences, the deal was sealed.
“When my husband asked me to marry him that year I said, ‘Okay, but we’re going to the Peace Corps. Either we go together, or I go by myself,” she recalls.
Her pursuit of a humanitarian engineering minor directed her toward classes and volunteer projects that forced her to explore the ethics and human impact around projects—not just the technical details. When it came time to apply to the Peace Corps, she felt as prepared as she could be.
“I don’t think anything can completely prepare you for the Peace Corps. There were certainly times that we were miserable and looked at each other and said, ‘What the hell are we doing here?’” Roby says. “But being a problem-solver and having confidence that you can get through it—that there is always an answer to the problem—really helped me.”
In February 2012, she arrived in Ghana, where she and her husband spent two years working on water and sanitation projects. They lived in a small concrete structure with a corrugated tin roof on a school campus, using bucket-flush toilets that had been installed but were not actually hooked up to water (due to an unsuccessful previous development project).
Roby’s roles varied over the years. At one point, when there was an instructor shortage, she stepped in and used her math and science skills to teach. At another point, she worked on a latrine project in a tribal village, grappling with a delicate problem to which only those who have done international development work can truly relate. “For one of the tribes, the concept of pooping on someone else’s poop was equivalent to cursing them. The concept of a latrine for them was just unfathomable,” she recalls, noting that they had to have numerous conversations before arriving at a different plan that worked for the tribe. “Just throwing money at the scenario and building a latrine without having someone on the ground to ask lots of questions just doesn’t work.”
In another instance, she worked with a group of students to address a dangerous sanitation issue at their school. Trash riddled the ground, foraged by wild goats, cows and chickens. Rather than opting for a technical fix, Roby helped the students use enamel paint and discarded boxes to create dozens of trash cans, which they distributed first throughout the community, and then in their own villages.
“The idea was to empower these kids to do the education on their own and take it back to their communities,” Roby explains. “We wanted to be able to walk away and know they could keep doing it without us.”
In the years that followed, the students did just that. And the whole project cost almost nothing.
“We did our entire service without writing a single grant or asking for a single penny. I’m very proud of that,” says Roby, who now works for environmental consulting firm Tetratech.
Roby says her Peace Corps experience taught her patience, flexibility and resourcefulness—key attributes for an engineer required to work on a team. For other Mines students, like Whitney Svoboda ’08, the Peace Corps offered a chance to see the world and gain a multicultural perspective they didn’t have before. Svoboda was applying for jobs her senior year at Mines when she began to feel a twinge of dread. “I thought, ‘I am going to go work in a lab for 40 years and then retire?’ I was only 21. I wanted to do something different with my life,” she says. She applied to the Peace Corps, got in and spent two years teaching in a sweltering village a bumpy seven-hour bus ride from the capital city of Burkina Faso, Africa.
Going in, she had little travel experience and didn’t speak a word of French. “I wasn’t very prepared,” she concedes, lauding the new Peace Corps Prep program as a useful addition. She thrived regardless, teaching English and helping turn a dilapidated building on campus into a library that is still in use today.
|During her volunteer service in Ghana, Molly Jane Roby '11 helped with sanitation efforts at a high school.
(Photo by Molly Jane Roby)
Coming out, she had an insatiable travel bug and a knack for making things happen in even the most challenging of environments. She now works as a field engineer for oilfield services company Schlumberger, a job that has taken her to Equatorial Guinea, Abu Dhabi, Norway, Spain and elsewhere.
“The Peace Corps completely helped me get my job,” she says. “I said, ‘You can send me anywhere. I used to work in Africa.’”
Since 1961, the year the Peace Corps was founded, 89 Mines alumni have served as volunteers in the Peace Corps, with four currently serving in Tanzania, Uganda, Namibia and Paraguay.
Frossard and Lucena hope the new Peace Corps Prep program will encourage more Mines students to consider joining the Peace Corps. But they also hope to use it as a recruitment mechanism to draw more engineering students—tantalized by the prospect of serving overseas after college—into humanitarian engineering classes and perhaps adding a humanitarian engineering major. (In 2017, the program will also establish a new minor in leadership in social responsibility).
“I think Peace Corps Prep is going to give an additional incentive for students to complete the minor and have something very concrete to look forward to at graduation,” says Lucena. “They will be able to say, ‘I have a real chance at being a Peace Corps volunteer and can put into practice everything I learned in the humanitarian engineering classroom.’”
Melissa Breathwaite is sold. A sophomore pursuing a major in environmental engineering and a minor in humanitarian engineering, she was among the first to sign up for the Peace Corps Prep program. She’s not certain yet what she wants to do with her career long-term: maybe research, maybe graduate school, maybe serving as a liaison between oil and gas companies and the communities in which they operate.
But she does know what she wants to do right after graduation: Join the Peace Corps.
Story by Lisa Marshall
Deirdre Keating, Communications Manager, College of Engineering & Computational Sciences | 303-384-2358 | email@example.com