Alumni

Black and white photo of the 1966 freshman class celebrating in front of one of the buildings on the Mines campus
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.

Posed portrait of members of the class of 1966
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

Mines student works on a project in the radiochemistry lab
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.

Mark Jensen works on a project in the radiochemistry lab
 
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.”

Student Nathan Bessen talks to Jenifer Braley in the radiochemistry lab
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.”

Student Erin Bertelsen works on her research in the radiochemistry lab
 
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.”

WHO GAVE:

·       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 point to a map on a classroom wall
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 poses with nine other teachers in Burkina Faso
 
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.

Ghanaians work on a sanitation project with Peace Corps volunteers
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.’”

A win-win 

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.


Reprinted from the winter 2017 issue of Mines Magazine, the Colorado School of Mines Alumni Magazine.

Story by Lisa Marshall

Andrea Christine Blaine, research assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and assistant director of WE²ST Research Center at Colorado School of Mines, passed away Thursday, December 22, after a five-year-battle with cancer.
 
Blaine first came to Mines in 1993 as an undergraduate from Houston, Texas. She went on to earn three degrees from Mines: a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering, a master’s degree in Environmental Science and Engineering, and a PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering. Blaine also earned a MS in Horticulture from Colorado State University. 
 
Since 2014, Blaine served as assistant director of the ConocoPhillips Center for a Sustainable WE²ST, mentoring and training undergraduate scholars and graduate fellows in water sustainability related to oil and gas operations. 
 
“We will all miss Andrea deeply as a friend and for her gifts to WE²ST and Mines,” said Terri Hogue, CEE professor and director of WE²ST. “Andrea embodied the word “teacher” and was a role model for all of us in our interactions with students, colleagues and family.”
 
A former high school teacher herself, Blaine was passionate about collaboration between academic researchers, industry leaders and K-12 teachers. She was Co-PI on the NSF-funded Water-Energy Education for the Next Generation, a Colorado School of Mines Research Experience for Teachers. She also led Mines students in their STEM outreach to local elementary schools, via Shelton’s Math & Science Night and Earth Day at Ralston Elementary.
 
Blaine’s career was strewn with awards and achievements. Among many publications, Blaine was the lead author of three Environmental Science & Technology articles. As a graduate student, Blaine received several scholarships and awards, including a research award from the EPA. Her research into the accumulation of perfluorochemicals into crops blended her love of chemistry, engineering and horticulture, and has been used to inform public health policies in Colorado and beyond. 
 
“Andrea’s work was truly groundbreaking, and will have a lasting impact on the scientific community,” said Chris Higgins, associate professor of CEE and Blaine’s PhD advisor. “She exemplified what it means to be an Oredigger: a scholar, a teacher, and an all-around great person. She will be missed.”
 
Blaine was chosen as the Favorite Professor in CEE by The Oredigger student survey in 2014. Prior to coming back to Mines for her graduate work, Blaine was co-department chair for the Math & Pre-Engineering Department at Bear Creek High school, helping pilot the Project Lead the Way for Jefferson County School District. As an undergraduate, she was the outstanding graduating senior in chemical engineering, a member of the McBride Honors Program and Blue Key National Honor Society and received the Mines Outstanding Female Athlete award her senior year.
 
More than all her achievements, though, Blaine will be remembered for her passion for education, her devotion to family and her compassion as a friend.  
 
Blaine is survived by her husband, Jason Blaine, their children, Star and Antonio Blaine, and her parents, Steve and Betty Crowell.
 
A service celebrating Blaine's life will be held at 2 p.m., December 31, at First Presbyterian Church of Golden (17707 W. 16th Avenue, Golden). 
 
 

CONTACT:

Deirdre Keating, Communications Manager, College of Engineering & Computational Sciences | 303-384-2358 | dkeating@mines.edu

Graduates at the 2016 Midyear Commencement Ceremony
Keynote speaker Martin Keller, director of the National Renewable Energy Lab, addresses the graduates during the 2016 Midyear Graduate Commencement Ceremony. 

On December 16, 2016, 195 bachelor's students, 134 master’s students and 47 doctoral students will walk across the Lockridge Arena stage and shake President Paul C. Johnson’s hand, a symbolic gesture representing the end of one era and the beginning of another. As graduation draws near, we took a moment to reflect on how Mines has influenced its graduating seniors. In all, 213 bachelor's and 181 master's and doctoral students will earn their degrees from Colorado School of Mines this month. 

As the end of the semester wraps up and students finish their last round of final exams, we asked soon-to-be graduates what they will remember most about Mines and how their time here has shaped them. “Mines taught me to work my hardest,” said metallurgical and materials engineering student Mitchell Hopper. Mines without a doubt provided a challenging education for soon-to-be graduates, “but the feeling of success and reward you get when you finish a problem you thought was impossible is the best feeling in the world,” said Kerry McQuaid, also a metallurgical and materials engineering student.

Whether coming together to express their Oredigger pride during Homecoming or study for finals, each Mines student has had a unique experience. “My most memorable experience at Mines was watching the E-Days fireworks,” said McQuaid. “That’s when the fact that I was in college at a school I really love solidified for me.” For some students, Mines was a home away from home, a place where one felt included and comfortable.

Mines graduates will take with them more than just the unforgettable memories or a superior knowledge of math and science. “Mines has allowed me to see just how many possible paths to success exist,” said civil engineering student Claire Mahoney. “Engineering education is really just learning how to learn.” Mines fosters an environment for students to grow and expand their ideas, enabling countless students to feel prepared to join the workforce. As a result, many employers share the belief that Mines graduates are more effective team players due to their tendency to be collaborative rather than competitive.

Most graduates have a clear picture of their goals for the future. Logan Woish, a metallurgical and materials engineering student, said he wanted to “be involved in developing and characterizing materials systems for 3D-printed foams for application in sports helmets and blast protection.” And some students are just excited to be out in the world. Samuel Drescher, a mechanical engineering student, is most looking forward to traveling after graduation. “I am ready to graduate,” he said. “But I would have told you that freshman year too.”

No matter what graduates do once they leave, Mines will stay in the heart of each and every Oredigger. Good luck to the graduating class of 2016. Go Orediggers!

Check out the video below of the Class of Fall 2016 Orediggers reflecting on their time at Mines, and sharing their plans for the journey ahead.

Student Awards and Recognitions

Every commencement, a select number of graduates are recognized for their achievements in service, scholarship and activities.

Outstanding undergraduate seniors for the 2016 Midyear Commencement are:

  • Derek Smith, Computational and Applied Mathematics
  • Elliott Gordon, Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Jason Loving, Chemistry and Geochemistry
  • Erikka Baker, Computer Science
  • Patrick Sean Callahan, Economics and Business
  • Nicholas Joel Markel, Electrical Engineering
  • John S. Hinton, Geophysics
  • Kathryn Regas, Mechanical Engineering
  • Logan Woish, Metallurgical and Materials Engineering
  • Tyler Rockley, Mining Engineering
  • Richard Rice, Petroleum Engineering
  • Marc Valdez, Physics

The 2016 midyear undergraduate commencement awardees and recognized graduates are:

  • The Charles N. Bell, 1906, Award is presented to Nikky McIntosh for completing a course in mining with the most progress in schoolwork during the entire period for which the course is given.
  • The Honorable D.W. Brunton Award is presented to Josef Bourgeois for meritorious work in mining.
  • The Clark B. Carpenter Award is presented to Enkhjin Tumurbaatar and Jacob Tavenner. This award is presented to the outstanding graduating senior(s), who, in the opinion of the seniors in mining and metallurgy and the professors in charge of the respective departments, is the most deserving of this award.
  • The Mary & Charles Cavanaugh Award is presented to Mason Woish in metallurgy and determined by scholarship, professional activity and participation in school activities.
  • The Computer Science Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher is presented to Daniel Mawhirter.
  • The Computer Science Faculty Choice Award is presented to Trevor Worth.
  • The Maryanna Bell Kafadar Award is presented to Christine Pumford for excelling in humanities courses and humanities-related activities.
  • The H.G. Washburn Award is presented to Stephen Candelaria for good scholastic record in mining and active participation in athletics.
  • The Materials Engineering Faculty Award is presented to Logan Woish for participating and contributing to campus life and academic achievement and expressing those characteristics of a well-rounded graduate that Mines aspires to develop in its students.
  • The Physics Faculty Distinguished Graduates are Jacob Wilson and Mollie Murray.
  • The President’s Senior Scholar Athlete Award is presented to Amber Harley and Richard Rice. This award is presented to one female and male athlete with a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or higher, has lettered in a sport during their senior year and who has demonstrated leadership qualities of an exemplary student-athlete.
  • The George T. Merideth Award is presented to Brandon S. Clayton for demonstrating early leadership potential in the field of Geophysical Engineering.
  • The Harvey Scholars Program recognizes Mollie Murray and Kylen McClintock.
  • The Guy T. McBride Honors Program in Public Affairs recognizes Christine Pumford and Caleb Clough. This program allows students to explore the interfaces between their areas of technical expertise and the humanities and social sciences resulting in a minor in public affairs with the honors distinction.
  • Blue Key recognizes Joshua Reed and Jacob Wilson as students with achievements in service, scholarship and activities.
  • The Order of the Omega recognizes Christine Pumford for outstanding leadership in fraternity and sorority systems.
  • Ye Liu is recognized as the outstanding chemical and biological engineering student.
  • Heidi M. Logsdon, Jason A. Loving and Steven D. Mohan will be commissioned as Second Lieutenants in the United States Air Force.
  • Patrick S. Callahan will be commissioned as Second Lieutenant in the United States Army.

The 2016 midyear commencement master’s and doctoral student awardees are:

  • The Dr. Bhakta Rath and Sushama Rath Research Award was presented to Rui Zhao who is graduating with a doctoral degree in computer science. The Rath award recognizes a Colorado School of Mines doctoral graduate whose thesis demonstrates the greatest potential for societal impact. Read more about Rui Zhao's work and award.
  • Rath Award finalists were: Kevin Albrecht (Mechanical Engineering), Ali Moradi (Civil and Environmental Engineering), Whitney Poling (Metallurgical and Materials Engineering), Adam Stokes (Materials Science), Michael Teter (Operations Research with Engineering).
  • The Mendenhall prize is awarded to Yuting Duan from the Geophysics Department to its outstanding PhD graduate.

Undergraduate Ceremony Video

 

Photos

 

Mines students at commencement

This December, Colorado School of Mines will hold two mid-year degree commencement ceremonies:

·      The undergraduate Commencement Ceremony will take place on Dec. 16 at 9:30 a.m. in Lockridge Arena.

·      The graduate Commencement Ceremony (MS and PhD students) will take place on Dec. 16 at 3 p.m. also in Lockridge Arena.

If you are unable to make it to the ceremony, livestream viewings are available via the links below.

·      Dec. 16 undergraduate ceremony

·      Dec. 16 graduate ceremony

Share your commencement memories on social media using the hashtag: #MinesGrad2016

Parking permits and meter receipts are not required on the day of commencement. For the most current parking information, visit http://inside.mines.edu/Parking.

For more information, please visit inside.mines.edu/Commencement.

 

Contact:
Leah Pinkus, Communications Assistant, Colorado School of Mines 303-273-3088 lpinkus@mines.edu
Ashley Spurgeon, Editorial Assistant, Mines Magazine | 303-273-3959 | aspurgeon@mines.edu

Joe Geiger stands in front of the ROTC building on the Mines campus
After 11 years in uniform (four years in ROTC and seven years as a U.S. Army captain), Joe Geiger '09 visited the ROTC building on the Mines campus in late June 2016. Now, he's shifting gears toward a career in teaching and politics.
(Photograph by Kathleen Morton)

 

Joe Geiger ’09 is not shy to say that being in ROTC as a student at Mines changed his life. His wife, Mel, agreed, remembering back to their high school days when he was a scrawny boy who had an afro of red hair and wore Hawaiian shirts like they were going out of style.

“I was able to get an engineering degree in four years and have a job and stay on track and have good grades and do ROTC because of the structure and discipline that ROTC provided. It’s multilevel,” Geiger said.

He knew he wanted to be in the military from a young age. Five generations of his family served in the U.S. Army, and he felt the calling, the desire, the responsibility to serve. He was awarded a National ROTC scholarship at the same time he was accepted to Mines—the only college he applied for. During his four years at Mines, he created lasting friendships with fellow cadets and ran up Mt. Zion too many times to count. Geiger graduated from Mines with a mining degree and went straight into the Army. He spent seven years in active duty, three years overseas and one year in combat in Afghanistan. His last day in the Army happened to be the day before he was interviewed for this story; his new reality was just setting in.

“I haven’t processed [being out of the Army] yet. Even when I was on campus, we were doing physical training five days a week in the morning, and then we had classes and leadership lab, so I was in uniform almost every day. And then the last seven years as my full-time job,” Geiger said.

But Geiger is not finished with the military. He accepted a job as an assistant professor of military science at the Rochester Institute of Technology. The position seems made for Geiger; it was vacant for four years because the requirements (a post-command captain with combat experience and an engineering degree) were pretty limiting. His Mines education made him the perfect candidate.

“Now I can kind of mold the little cadets into my vision of what a good officer should be. And I’m not the best officer—far from it. But I want to be able to take my slice of wisdom and try to make them better than I was,” Geiger said.

As if his time in the Army and new teaching position do not show his commitment to service, Geiger also tossed his hat into the race for a seat in New York’s state legislature. Twenty-four candidates initially announced they wanted to run in the primary on the Republican ticket. Of those, 13 were invited to interview before party chairs in the district. Eleven candidates were then invited to participate in a caucus, and Geiger finished third.

“Third place as someone who had just moved home recently, had zero connections or background in politics and effectively hadn’t been able to campaign at all [while serving in the military],” Geiger said. “The two people who beat me had been involved in politics and government for 20 years plus and they were already elected officials as it was. It was kind of a shocker.”

Now that he has the freedom to campaign, Geiger thinks he has as good of a shot as anyone to make the ticket for the primary in September and believes that because of the conservative demographics of the district, whoever wins the Republican primary will go on to win the election in November. He will campaign on three specific platforms: rooting out government corruption, fixing a crumbling infrastructure and growing a friendly business climate. He was also recently accepted to the University of Rochester’s Simon Business School, where regardless of whether he wins the election, he will go on to get an MBA.

Geiger’s life has been full of learning opportunities that he hopes will help make a difference and contribute to bettering the world. And even though he says it’s cheesy, Mines was instrumental in his success.

“I would say joining the Army was the second best decision I’ve made. The best decision was marrying Mel, and I’m really excited that we have a baby on the way,” Geiger said. “Our journey started years ago with me joining ROTC.”


Reprinted from the fall 2016 issue of Mines Magazine, the Colorado School of Mines Alumni Magazine

Story by Anica Wong

Can you imagine sending for admissions info to a college and getting a personal letter from the university president, encouraging you to apply? That’s exactly what happened to George Sturgis in 1975.

He was nearing the end of his voluntary enlistment and decided he wanted to finish his education after he got out of the Army, so he sent for applications from Mines, Princeton, MIT and Rensselaer.

When a letter arrived at his post in Fort Hood from the Office of the President, Colorado School of Mines, he assumed it was a marketing piece. “I got ribbed and razzed mercilessly by my company, and my commanding officer told me to read the letter out loud,” said Sturgis. “As I read, they all stopped laughing and fell silent.”

The letter was from President Guy McBride, encouraging him to apply even before the applications arrived from the admissions offices. Knowing that McBride was passionate about the military, Mines’ admissions office told the president about Sturgis. McBride was moved to send the young man a personal letter, promoting the university and how it could help Sturgis on his life path. Sturgis applied to all four top engineering programs and was accepted at all of the schools.

He chose Mines for three reasons.

1.      The letter from McBride made him feel like someone truly had an interest in him attending and doing something valuable with his career.

2.      He was from Colorado and had an interest in returning.

3.      Mines had the reputation as a university you went to if you were very smart and knew how to work hard -- it was a challenge.

After Sturgis had been on campus about a year, on a lark, he stopped by McBride’s office to introduce himself and thank him. “I asked him why he sent the letter to me. He said he wanted a hard-working veteran on campus and wanted to encourage me,” said Sturgis. “He asked if I was happy I came to Mines. I replied, ‘Most of the time.’”

He confirms that Mines was a very demanding university. “I’d never given up on anything in my life, and I was not going to leave Mines as anything but a graduate.” said Sturgis. “The two events which most influenced my life as young adult were my military service and my education at Mines.”

A new recruitment tool for President Johnson?

Contacts:

Rachelle Trujillo, Foundation Senior Director, Marketing Communications | 303-273-3526 |  RTrujillo@mines.edu
Anica Wong, Foundation Communications Specialist | 303-273-3904 | acwong@mines.edu

A moment of silence for those who lost their lives in the White Ash Mine disaster.

On September 9, 1889, ten miners drowned in the White Ash Mine disaster, one of the most serious accidents in Golden’s history. In commemoration of the lives lost in the tragedy, the unveiling of the new memorial site located on the Colorado School of Mines campus across from Marv Kay Stadium took place on October 29, 2016. The dedication ceremony was led by Marv Kay, a Mines alumnus and former football coach and athletic director. Stan Dempsey, a geologist, historian, lawyer, author and a recent inductee into the National Mining Hall of Fame, provided the historical account of the tragedy.

“The White Ash Mine contained a bed of coal that had been upturned along the hogback,” Dempsey explained, recounting the geologic background of the area. Development began in 1877 and “by 1888 the shaft had been sunk down to a depth of 730 feet, which made it the deepest coal mine in the state,” said Dempsey.

The Loveland Mine, the northern neighbor of the White Ash Mine, was abandoned in 1881 due to a coal fire, and “its ten and a half miles of workings was left to fill with water from the workings underneath Clear Creek,” said Dempsey. Additionally, the coal fire in the Loveland Mine had burned downward, damaging the 90-foot pillar separating the two mines until on September 9, 1889, the pillar broke and water burst through to the 280-foot level, flowing down to the 440-foot level and eventually down the shaft to the very lowest level of the White Ash Mine, drowning the ten miners working in the lower depths.

Foreman Evan Jones, superintendent of the White Ash Mine on the day of the accident, made several attempts to evacuate the mine. The last attempt was made the next day at 7:30 a.m. as “Jones and the state mine inspector went down in a heavy iron bucket to conduct an inspection,” said Dempsey. After the inspection, it was decided that for the safety of the rescue team, no further rescues could be attempted.

A memorial for those killed in the White Ash Mine disaster was first proposed in 1909. However, it wasn’t until 1936 that there was “a community effort led by the Junior Chamber of Commerce to create a small memorial with a plaque on a stone that stood on the end of 12th Street,” said Kay. The memorial was dedicated on September 9, 1936, by Mayor Albert Edward Jones, son of Evan Jones.

A commemorative bronze statue of a coal miner to honor those killed in the
White Ash Mnine tragedy.

73 years later in 2009, John Ackle and his mother, Dorothy Ackle, decided to create a new memorial for the miners by starting the White Ash Mine Memorial Committee. They solicited proposals from 62 artists to create a bronze sculpture of a coal miner to stand alongside the plaque. The committee selected a design by well-known sculptor Cloyd Barnes. “The earliest and largest donors to the bronze were the Odd Fellows,” said Kay. Many of the miners were members of the Odd Fellows, a fraternal order that participates in community and charity services. The Odd Fellows, alongside the Golden Civic Foundation and many Golden citizens aided in raising $60,000 to complete the statue. The bronze miner was completed in 2011 and kept in the Mines Geology Museum until its unveiling at the dedication ceremony on October 29.

“The Colorado School of Mines provided the land, design and funding for this beautiful final resting place for the miners,” said Kay. “As part of the Clear Creek Athletic project, [Mines] felt the need and desire to see if a permanent memorial could be established.” As a result, the Golden Civic Foundation agreed to relinquish control of the piece so that Mines could provide a permanent site for the “internal remembrance of the tragic disaster and a final resting place for those ten White Ash miners,” said Kay.

“We’re sitting here today just imagining what 12th Street was like those couple of days with the wagons, other miners and grieving widows,” said Kay. “History talks about how the city was full of all the people that were willing to help.”  

Contact:
Leah Pinkus, Communications Assistant, Colorado School of Mines 303-273-3088 lpinkus@mines.edu
Ashley Spurgeon, Editorial Assistant, Mines magazine | 303-273-3959 | aspurgeon@mines.edu

Chris Fehn BASE jumps above a river in West Virginia
Chris Fehn '12 BASE jumps into the New River Gorge in Fayetteville, West Virginia.
(Photo courtesy of Chris Fehn)

Mines engineers are making a name for themselves in the growing world of extreme sports.

For Mickey Wilson ’11, MS ’12, it’s just another day at the office.

Sporting baggy jeans, a black ball cap and an intensely focused look, the physics and metallurgical engineering graduate steps onto a 2-inch wide strap of webbing suspended a dizzying 460 feet above the blinking Las Vegas Strip. Guests at the nearby Mandalay Bay casino look up nervously as he moves toward the center, riding the line surfer-style and wildly rocking it back and forth. He brie y hops on one foot, then gracefully (and purposely) slips off, tumbling ground-ward. The audience gasps. His safety rope catches him. He climbs back up, grin spreading across his face. And he begins again, joining three other professional slackliners hired to put on tonight’s hair-raising show.

What does any of this have to do with engineering? Let Wilson count the ways.

“Just setting up a slackline safely is an engineering problem,” says Wilson, whose job has required him to tiptoe over an active volcano in Italy, traverse a cavernous limestone valley in Spain and perform high- flying acrobatics for the Prince of Dubai. “And what you do with your body up on that line—it’s all physics.”

Surprisingly, Wilson’s career choice isn’t as rare as you’d think. From Alan Stevens ’12, an environmental engineering graduate turned professional musher; to Maureen Sweet ’15, a chemical engineering graduate turned professional half-pipe snowboarder; to

Derek Parks ’05, MS ’10, a computer scientist who moonlights as a wingsuit skydiving instructor, stories abound of Mines alumni using their engineering backgrounds to excel (even make a living) at extreme sports.

Some of these athletes say their appetite for adrenaline, and the epic kayaking, climbing and mountaineering around Golden, were some of the things that lured them to Mines.

Others say they gravitated toward their grueling, exceedingly risky pastimes as a mind-clearing distraction from the school’s academic rigors. And many say the scientist’s mindset is a perfect t for sports in which calm, analytical problem-solving in tense times can mean the difference between life and death.

“Risk management was a big part of our curriculum at Mines,” says Stevens. “Maybe it wasn’t about jumping out of airplanes or trying to not freeze to death when you’re out on the frozen ocean, but it translates well anyway.”

From Summer Adventure to Life’s Work

Alan Stevens rides on a sled pulled by dogs.
Alan Stevens '12 approaches the finish line in Nome, Alaska, as he completes the 2015 Iditarod trail sled dog race.
(Photo by Hideo Sata)

Alan Stevens knew little about Alaska and less about sled dogs when, after graduating, he spotted a job advertisement for “a poop scooper for 300 dogs.” He worked at a tourist dog- sledding camp, accessible only by helicopter, on Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier. He assumed that by fall, he’d come home and get a “real” job.

“I thought of it as a big summer adventure,” he
says. But during his time on the glacier, he became enamored with the athleticism of the huskies and the ancient form of transportation they provided to some of the world’s wildest places. By summer’s end, he set his sights on the frigid 1,000-mile Iditarod sled- dog race from Anchorage to Nome. He reached out to four-time champion Martin Buser for mentorship, began to amass a team of huskies and spent three cold and dark years training.

He used his engineering skills every step of the way, he says, from building himself a 31-pound carbon fiber sled to designing tiny strain gauges (wired into each dog’s harness) to measure in real-time how much weight each was pulling. When it came time
to packing and arranging for the drop-shipping of 2,700 pounds of supplies (mostly dog food) along the Iditarod Trail in March 2015, his eye for efficiency came in handy. His time management skills also helped, as he cared for 16 dogs, stopping for six-hour breaks to methodically examine each of their 64 feet, rub every shoulder, check every harness, melt snow and prep a warm stew for them and try to find time to feed and dry himself before packing up to go again.

At one point, he got lost and had to hunker down in -68 degree temperatures, blanketed in falling snow. At another, the team took 15 hours to scratch its way across the frozen ice of Norton Bay—visibility near zero. (It typically takes six hours.)

“When I was facing extreme diversity, I’d just stop, take a few minutes to think about what resources I had available to me and problem solve. I learned that at Mines,” says Stevens.

After 12 days, 8 hours, 43 minutes and 2 seconds, Stevens crossed the finish line, becoming only the 745th person ever to do so. By comparison, roughly 4,000 have summited Mount Everest. Now he’s back in money-making mode, offering tourist dog-sledding excursions to save up for his next race.

“There are always some eyes rolling during the tour when I tell people I am a trained engineer, and I admit my parents were extremely skeptical about the lifestyle I chose,” he says. “But when they saw me at the finish of the Iditarod, the scope of what we were trying to accomplish came into perspective. We are doing something big here. And it is a lifestyle that makes me happy.”

The Zen of Freefalling

Derek Parks skydives in a wingsuit over Chicago.
With a 300-jump-per-year habit, Derek Parks '05, MS '10, had no problem donning his nylon wingsuit for a jump over Skydive Chicago this past August.
(Photo by Matt Lesziak)

To computer science grad Derek Parks, who writes seismic data processing software for Landmark Graphics, the answer seemed obvious. In order to indulge his newfound and expensive hobby of skydiving, he’d have to get a second job.
“I figured I’d pay for skydiving with skydiving,” says Parks, who moonlights as an instructor with Longmont-based Mile High Sky Diving. That decision years ago led to a 300-jump-per-year habit, which in 2010 evolved into a new, even more esoteric hobby: competitive wingsuit flying.

“My first instructor told me: ‘Being strong has worked for you in everything in your life, but you cannot be strong in the sky. You can’t push against it,’” recalls Parks, a big, slick bald guy who played rugby in college. “You have to relax and learn how to control your body in a different environment.”

Once he jumps out of a plane, his nylon superhero-esque wingsuit essentially turns his body into a plane, which he accelerates
or brakes with carefully orchestrated movements. The rush is exhilarating, but the risk is real. “You are zipped into a suit, like a straitjacket, and you have to be able to unzip in time before you can reach back and control your parachute.”

He also has, as he puts it, “geeked out” using his engineering skills to excel at his sport (which was only recently recognized by skydiving governing bodies as a legitimate discipline). He uses a GPS logger on his helmet to assess his precise location and glide ratio as he travels at 100-plus miles per hour. Then he plots that data on a graph, assessing it to improve his precision on future flights.

His most proud moment came in 2015, when he and 60 other wingsuit flyers set a world record for the largest formation made in the sky. The job of each flyer: to leap from one of five planes at

a precise time, then beeline toward their pre-destined position to join a giant human diamond. For less than a minute they stayed in place, two feet from each other, falling downward in synchronicity. Then, they peeled off and pulled their chutes. “You are working to get that one perfect frame—a perfect grid that everyone fits in,” he says, proudly pointing to a photo of his blue suit at the center of the diamond. “It’s almost a Zen experience.”

Chris Fehn ’12 can relate. He found his way to skydiving, wingsuit flying and now BASE jumping after a 2010 motorcycle accident on his way to class landed him in the hospital for 45 days and required 13 surgeries to x his leg. “I have had the urge to do risky things my whole life, but after the accident, I figured I am only going to do things that are really worth the risk,” he says. “Motorcycling wasn’t. BASE jumping is.”

The mostly underground sport stands for Building, Antenna, Span and Earth—the four objects from which participants jump. Like skydiving, it requires a literal leap of faith, followed by a strategically timed parachute pull. But because Fehn jumps from 250 to 2,000 feet—rather than 13,500—there’s far less room for error.

“It is an extremely dangerous sport no matter how you do it, and you have to respect that,” says Fehn, who BASE jumps purely for a hobby. But the feeling of falling through the air with style, “It’s just indescribable.”

A Gap Year—Or Two… Or Three…

Mickey Wilson jumps on a slackline
Mickey Wilson '11, MS '12 performs at a Gibbon Slacklines event in Richmond, Virginia. Wilson is known to be one of the best in the world for highline tricklining.

For recent graduates Maureen Sweet and Mickey Wilson, the thrill of extreme competition has been reward enough to forgo a lucrative job in their respective fields, at least for a few years.

Sweet came to Mines from Baltimore, in part to pursue a life as a competitive snowboarder—a goal that required her to drive to Summit County, Colorado five days a week before or after classes to train with her team. “You have to find some kind of extracurricular passion that you love or this school can eat you up,” she says. “The more stress school put on me, the more stress I relieved with snowboarding and the better I did at both.”

Now a professional halfpipe competitor, she says her mathematical mind is hard at work as she enters the pipe, plotting the angle she’ll have to move her body and the level of pressure she’ll have to put on the board to catch air. But as she soars above the 22-foot walls, doing tricks, her mind goes blank.

“I’m not focused on anything up there. It’s complete silence.” She’s now living in Aspen, Colorado, training to ride professionally with the 2017 U.S. Revolution Tour. Ultimately, she plans to go back to school for a nursing degree.

And for Wilson? The future is wonderfully uncertain.

Sitting in his kitchen in Golden, Colorado, surrounded by trophies from the Red Bull slacklining competitions he has won, he marvels at the fact that he’s able to make a living (albeit modest) doing the very thing his classmates gave him grief for back in school.

They always marveled at how the guy who was always hanging out, tan and shirtless, doing tricks on a slackline in the commons, managed to maintain a 4.0 grade point average. “I’d tell them, ‘for every hour of slacklining you do you get four hours of increased productivity,’” he says. “It clears your head.”

Now he’s a sponsored athlete, flying around Europe, the United Arab Emirates and South America to compete and put on shows for event companies.

“I spent a lot of my youth working really hard on academics,” he says, remembering the day post-graduation when he decided to stop looking for a “real job.” “I still wanted to save the world with solar energy, but I figured my 20s should be for athletics and my 30s could be more for serious stuff,” says Wilson.

“Right now, my life is more about experience than making money.”


Reprinted from the fall 2016 issue of Mines Magazine, the Colorado School of Mines Alumni Magazine

Story by Lisa Marshall

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