Over two decades after his show aired on PBS and took the ‘90s by storm, “Bill Nye the Science Guy” is still a hit among science enthusiasts, especially with the millennials who grew up watching him. On Oct. 5, Nye visited the Colorado School of Mines to speak to a sold-out crowd of students, alumni, faculty, and staff in Lockridge Arena. 
Bill Nye speaks to sold out crowd at Mines' 2016 President's Distinguished Lecture.
Bill Nye speaks to sold out crowd at Mines' 2016 President's Distinguished Lecture. Photo Credit: Agata Bogucka
“It was a childhood dream come true,” said sophomore Victoria Martinez-Vivot. Martinez-Vivot got the opportunity to meet Bill Nye prior to the talk, due to her role as MAC Co-Publicity Chair. 
Mines' President Paul Johnson, Bill Nye and Blaster the Burro in their matching bow-ties, all part of the Bill Nye official bow-tie collection.
Mines' President Paul Johnson, Bill Nye and Blaster the Burro in their matching bow-ties, all part of the Bill Nye official bow-tie collection. Photo Credit: Thomas Cooper

Nye’s talk— part of the President’s Distinguished Lecture series and kickoff to the 2016 Homecoming festivities— focused on the biggest problems facing our planet and what society, especially young people, can do to make the world a better place.

His catch phrase for the night was: “I want you guys to — dare I say it — change the world.”

Climate change sparked the conversation, but was only one element of Nye’s advocacy for “renewable and reliable energy for all”. In addition to encouraging the crowd to recognize renewable resources as the future of energy, he also dared Mines students to design the better battery and invent hydro-fusion engines for airplanes.

Fueled by his views on climate and the need to recognize the reality of our rapidly changing planet, Nye challenged the crowd of young engineers to solve the world's top three engineering grand challenges: providing clean water, renewable reliable energy and Internet access for all. He also expressed his support for space exploration.
“Space exploration brings out the best in us," said Nye. "There are two questions we all ask: Where did we come from? And are we alone in the universe?” Nye asserted that our desire to explore space illustrates the innate yearning within humankind to understand our origins, despite problems planet Earth may be faced with.
After a humorous introduction highlighting his father’s fascination with sundials and Nye’s own “MarsDials”, Nye quipped about how times have changed and reflected on his own scientific youth, including the moment he learned that there are in fact, “100 times more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on the Earth.” One of the most memorable moments of the night was Nye’s birthday call to Neil deGrasse Tyson — last year’s Distinguished Lecturer — where he invited the audience to join him in wishing Tyson a “happy orbit around the sun.” The Mines crowd could not have roared any louder.
One Mines student gave a heartfelt thank you to Bill Nye during the Q&A at the end of the lecture — “I just want to say that your plate tectonics episode is probably the reason I’m here studying geology right now, so thank you.” 
Nye is currently the CEO of The Planetary Society, continuing his legacy of teaching people of all ages the joys and wonders of science. He spent Earth Day 2015 speaking with President Barack Obama about climate change and science education. He also had a short debut on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” but had to drop out after sustaining an injury.
Agata Bogucka, Communications Manager, College of Earth Resource Sciences & Engineering | 303-384-2657 |
Leah Pinkus, Communications Assistant, Colorado School of Mines 303-273-3088

ADAPT team members and the governor celebrate the new proclamation.

ADAPT team members celebrate the Governor's proclamation, naming October Colorado Manufacturing Month.
Left to right: Aaron Stebner, Katie Woslager, Governor John Hickenlooper, Brandan Kappes, Mickele Bragg, Sumer Sorensen-Bain,
Heidi Hostetter, Craig Brice, Alicia Svaldi and Douglas Van Bossuyt.

Colorado School of Mines and Manufacturer’s Edge hosted Governor John Hickenlooper on September 30 to tour the Alliance for the Development of Additive Processing Technologies (ADAPT) advanced characterization center and meet with the center's founding stakeholders. The governor also used the occasion to announce October as Manufacturing Month in Colorado.

ADAPT is a consortium that provides manufacturers access to the latest research on how to take advantage of additive manufacturing technologies. In addition to Mines and Manufacturer's Edge, ADAPT's founding stakeholders include Lockheed Martin, Ball Aerospace, and Fauston Tool. ADAPT companies work closely with Mines researchers and students on world-class machines to develop technologies to accelerate certification and qualification of 3-D printed metal parts. 

Governor Hickenlooper toured the facility and met with manufacturing leaders to discuss the growth of the sector and the role of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade’s (OEDIT) Advanced Industry Infrastructure grant program. ADAPT was started with support from the State of Colorado in the form of an Advanced Industries Infrastructure Grant from OEDIT.

”Colorado is home to 6,000 manufacturers that contribute $20 billion to the state’s economy. ADAPT is consistent with Colorado’s collaborative culture,” said Governor Hickenlooper. “It provides our entrepreneurial manufacturers the ability to work closely with university researchers to develop the next generation of technologies.”

“Innovation is the key to survival and growth for small and medium manufacturers,” said Heidi Hostetter, vice-president at Arvada-based Faustson Tool. “Through ADAPT, manufacturers of all sizes looking to incorporate the flexibility of 3-D metal printing into their portfolio will have access to cutting-edge research and help shape the future of the industry.”

Gov. Hickenlooper listens as Research Associate Professor Branden Kappes describes the work of ADAPT.

This tour kicked off Manufacturing DayTM celebrations in Colorado, which continue throughout the month of October. Manufacturing Day is an annual celebration of modern manufacturing meant to inspire the next generation of manufacturers, including Mines students.

“In Colorado, one day is not enough to recognize our manufacturers— so we are declaring October ‘Colorado Manufacturing Month,’” said Governor Hickenlooper as he presented a proclamation during his visit.

As ADAPT continues its work, the consortium is actively seeking additional academic and industry partners. Analysis is underway on more than 5,000 specimens with respect to build geometry, power, speed, number of lasers used and more, to build a robust database.


The Alliance for the Development of Additive Processing Technologies (ADAPT) is a research and development organization dedicated to the creation of next-generation data informatics and advanced characterization technologies for additive manufacturing technologies. ADAPT uses these tools to help industry and government qualify, standardize, assess and optimize advanced manufacturing processes and parts. Several levels of membership to the ADAPT consortium are available. Founding industry members include Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Faustson Tool, Lockheed Martin and Citrine Informatics. Grant funding from OEDIT was provided to Manufacturer’s Edge and The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership. For more information, find ADAPT on the web, LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.

About Manufacturer’s Edge

Manufacturer’s Edge is a statewide manufacturing assistance center, partially funded by NIST’s Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). Manufacturer’s Edge provides onsite technical assistance, coaching, training and consulting, as well as collaboration-focused industry programs and leveraging government, university and economic development partnerships to boost the competitiveness of Colorado manufacturers.



Aaron Stebner, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering
ADAPT Technical Director 
ADAPT – Alliance for the Development of Additive Processing Technologies
(303) 273-3091

Sumer Sorensen-Bain, Chief of Programs and Operations
Manufacturer’s Edge

A view into a deep mining tunnel with tracks running down the middle.
Colorado School of Mines underground classroom, the Edgar Experimental Mine. Photo: Agata Bugucka

While the U.S. continues to look for new energy sources, our reliance on mining for rare minerals grows. Unfortunately, miners often work in dangerous environments where there is a risk of mine explosions, fire, poisonous gases and flooding in tunnels. Mine accidents have killed over 40,000 mine workers worldwide in the past decade.

Mine safety demands a scalable, low-cost solution to enable sensing, communication and tracking in underground mines to detect precursors to emergencies and to aid rescue efforts in the aftermath of an accident. In spite of requirements for data and voice communications in underground mining growing significantly, the high cost of deploying a safety infrastructure often leads to companies only meeting the minimum required safeguards.

The National Science Foundation awarded a three-year $750,000 grant to the project, “Enabling Smart Underground Mining with an Integrated Context-Aware Wireless Headshot photo of Qi Han, associate professor of Computer ScienceCyber-Physical Framework,” in order to solve this problem. About $338,000 will go to Colorado School of Mines researchers, led by Computer Science Associate Professor Qi Han, in collaboration with Carl Brackpool, a research associate in the Department of Mining Engineering. Han shares in the grant with fellow CS researchers at Colorado State University.

“I’ve been passionate about using my research expertise to improve mine safety for quite some time, so it’s very exciting that the NSF has chosen to support this research,” said Han. “I’m most interested in designing algorithms to support the co-existence of high quality voice streams in noisy underground environments. Providing voice streaming support will significantly improve situational awareness.”

The project will devise, design, prototype and test a fundamentally novel framework of low-cost, energy-efficient and reliable sensor nodes and commodity smartphones to improve safety in underground mines. The wireless cyber-physical framework would bypass GPS, cellular and other signals that we take for granted above ground.

The researchers will field-test their system in Colorado School of Mines’ Edgar Mine, used for research and education. They also will partner with Hecla Mining in Idaho, which has expressed interest in the proposed technology.

While useful for mining, the technology could lead to a host of other applications in the realm of next-generation smart workplaces and various “Internet of Things” applications. It could also be used in the aftermath of disasters for survivor rescue efforts.


Deirdre Keating, Communications Manager, College of Engineering & Computational Sciences | 303-384-2358 |
Ashley Spurgeon, Editorial Assistant, Mines magazine | 303-273-3959 |


Paul Polak address a full house for his humanitarian engineering seminar on solving poverty via design.Sharing his broad world experience as an entrepreneur and activist, Paul Polak presented, “Prescriptions for Helping Poor People Help Themselves: What Engineers Need to Know,” to a large crowd of Colorado School of Mines students and faculty on September 20.

“Instead of trying to bring the newest technology to the poorest regions,” Polak said, “we need to listen and design based on the specific needs and environment of that community.”

Polak’s talk kicked off the Shultz Family Leadership in Humanitarian Engineering Speaker Series, a series aimed at changing the conversation about what engineering is for by showcasing leaders in humanitarian engineering and corporate social responsibility. Author of “Out of Poverty” and “The Business Solution to Poverty,” Polak offers an unconventional approach to solving poverty not through government programs or philanthropic efforts, but by designing for the market of the poorest people on the planet.

“Most design efforts are aimed at the world’s richest 10 percent, while nearly half of the population doesn’t have regular access to food, shelter or clean water,” Polak said, challenging Mines engineers to design affordable technologies that will increase the revenues of the poor.

Even prior to his talk, Polak has influenced design teaching at Mines. Several past humanitarian engineering projects have collaborated with International Development Enterprises (IDE), an innovative nonprofit design organization that Polak founded, located in Denver. Leslie Light, director of EPICS at Mines and a former project manager for IDE, has brought similar human-centered design principals to EPICS, Mines' first-year design course, such as the landmine detection project in fall 2015, and wheelchair redesigns in spring 2015.


The five humanitarian engineering student scholars link arms for a photo.

2016-17 Humanitarian Engineering  Shultz Student Scholars: Michelle Pedrazas, Rosalie O'Brien, Melissa Breathwaite, Micaela Pedrazas, and Stephanie Martella

In addition to the lecture series, the Shultz Family fund also sponsors undergraduate students each year as Shultz scholars. The current five scholars are Melissa Breathwaite, Stephanie Martella, Michelle Pedrazas, Micaela Pedrazas and Rosalie O’Brien. Juan Lucena, director of humanitarian engineering, introduced them as “outstanding students who have demonstrated their commitment to connecting their engineering majors to humanitarian engineering in creative ways, all while maintaining excellent academic standing."

For example, inspired by Polak, Stephanie Martella, a chemical and biochemical engineering senior, is collaborating with John Persichetti, teaching associate professor, on designing chemical processes to produce a nutritious beverage for the poorest markets in the world.

“I got involved with Humanitarian Engineering, because I’m passionate about building relationships through engineering and communication,” Martella said. “I want to apply the engineering skills I’ve learned at Mines to solve problems for humankind.”

According to Lucena, as part of their scholarship, the scholars are also committed to mentoring and learning from low-income, first-generation students at Red Rocks Community College who are considering transferring into engineering at Mines.



Two professors sit outside as they begin their time as Humanitarian Engineering Faculty Fellows.

The new Humanitarian Engineering Shultz Faculty Fellows: Linda Battalora and Kathleen Smits

A third program funded by the Shultz Family Fund is the Humanitarian Engineering Faculty Fellows. Lucena announced this year’s new faculty fellows as Civil and Environmental Engineering Assistant Professor Kathleen Smits, and Petroleum Engineering Teaching Professor Linda Battalora.

In spring 2017, Smits and Battalora will offer two courses of interest to students with minors in humanitarian engineering as well as students in their own departments. Smits is adding a humanitarian engineering focus to CEEN 475: Site Remediation Engineering, which will culminate with a feasibility study on an actual environmental site in a low-income country as the students’ final project.

Battalora is developing a pilot course, PEGN 498A: Environmental Law and Sustainability, which will focus on societal impacts and ethics in the discussion of fundamental environmental regulations, policies and case studies.

Humanitarian engineering at Mines continues to grow, with increased emphasis on corporate social responsibility as well as designing for the world’s greatest problems.



Deirdre Keating, Communications Manager, College of Engineering & Computational Sciences | 303-384-2358 |
Ashley Spurgeon, Editorial Assistant, Mines magazine | 303-273-3959 |



A multidisciplinary team, led by the Ben L. Fryrear Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Tzahi Cath, has received a $1 million award from the National Science Foundation to develop an innovative monitoring and control system for small wastewater treatment facilities.

The project, titled “Self-Correcting Energy-Efficient Water Reclamation Systems for Tailored Water Reuse at Decentralized Facilities,” draws on the bioreactor at Mines Park, which treats more than 7,000 gallons of domestic wastewater each day, and will integrate existing and new wireless sensor networks to monitor water quality and for process monitoring and control.

“Improved monitoring of water quality and early warning of treatment system vulnerabilities are critical to protecting the public and the environment,” said Cath. “The smart service system we are building uses a network of simple, existing sensors and a novel wireless sensor network. These new, smart sensor technologies can learn from past performance, predict future performance and adapt the system to achieve preset objectives.”

Water pipes with electronic gauges are shown, as the professor kneels to read the information and a student records the data.

Professor Tzahi Cath and a graduate student take readings at the AQWATEC Laboratory.

In addition to being more energy and resource efficient, the new system will benefit many small communities that operate decentralized wastewater treatment facilities and don’t have the resources to improve their system.

Cath also attributed the project’s selection to the foundation laid by the Engineering Research Center for Re-Inventing the Nation’s Urban Water Infrastructure, also known as ReNUWIt, at Colorado School of Mines. “All of this is only possible because ReNUWIt at Mines that has been building these partnerships in an effort to develop new strategies for water management and treatment,” said Cath.

After testing the new monitoring and control system at Mines Park, the team will work with industry partners from Aqua-Aerobic Systems and Kennedy/Jenks Consulting as well as broader context partners such as Ramey Environmental in Frederick, Colorado, to deploy, incorporate and test the system at existing small, decentralized treatment plants.

The team includes Professor Tracy Camp from the Division of Computer Science, Assistant Professor Salman Mohagheghi from the Division of Electrical Engineering, and Associate Professor Hussein Amery from the Division of Liberal Arts and International Studies, as well as professors Amanda Hering and Michael Poor at Baylor University. The team will also include graduate and undergraduate students from CEE and CS.

The grant is one of 13 awarded by the NSF’s Partnerships for Innovation: Building Innovation Capacity program, in support of innovative partnership projects that create new human-centric service systems.

 “The National Science Foundation fosters innovation and partnerships between academic researchers and industry, catalyzing interdisciplinary projects to understand and design smart systems and technologies of the future,” said Grace Wang, acting assistant director, NSF Directorate for Engineering. “These 13 projects are at the forefront of the human-technology frontier, driving innovation to solve problems to benefit society and improve life as we know it.”


Deirdre Keating, Communications Manager, College of Engineering & Computational Sciences | 303-384-2358 |
Mark Ramirez, Communications Manager, College of Applied Science & Engineering | 303-384-2622 |

Colorado School of Mines was recently approved by the U.S. Peace Corps to house the first Peace Corps Prep program in Colorado. All Mines undergraduates now have the opportunity to prepare for adventures overseas, either as a Peace Corps volunteer or as a professional.

Photo courtesy of Peace Corps

The Peace Corps Prep program aims to enhance students’ undergraduate experience by preparing them for international development fieldwork and overseas service. Mines was selected for the pilot program based on the highly technical skills and knowledge of its graduates. “There is a real synergy between Peace Corps and Mines, because they need trained, technical people,” said David Frossard, a web administrator for Mines Computing, Communications and Information Technologies and one of the co-coordinators of the program. Frossard also served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines and Zambia.

The Peace Corps Prep program encourages students to expand their global awareness and gain international knowledge and skills that employers value, as well as develop leadership skills through volunteer work or internships. The program integrates coursework with hands-on experience and professional development, allowing students to gain sector-specific skills and foreign-language proficiency, while also cultivating a cultural competence that will help students succeed no matter where they are in the world.

Peace Corps volunteer reads books to children in Moldova.
Photo courtesy of Peace Corps

Frossard, along with fellow co-coordinator, Juan Lucena, hopes students will be eager to be a part of the Peace Corp Prep program. “It just seemed to us that this would be a great opportunity to give our students,” said Frossard. “For those who want to work abroad, who want to not just be a tourist but live in a place and become a part of a place, this is a fantastic experience.”

Overall, the Peace Corps Prep program is a stepping stone for Mines students to put their engineering or science degrees to use in service of others after graduation. Successful completion of the program will earn students a certificate and a competitive edge when applying for Peace Corps volunteer positions as well as make them attractive candidates for professional positions in government or industry.

For students interested in volunteering and gaining a broader understanding of another culture and sharing that understanding with others, the Peace Corps Prep program is ideal. Frossard adds: “Once you’re a Peace Corps volunteer, you’re always a volunteer.”

For more information about the Peace Corps Prep program or to get involved, visit

Ashley Spurgeon, Editorial Assistant, Mines magazine | 303-273-3959 |
Deirdre Keating, Communications Manager, College of Engineering & Computational Sciences | 303-384-2358 |


Rebecca Flintoft, assistant vice president of Student Services and Administration, co-authored a feature article in About Campus, a journal of ACPA-College Student Educators International. The article "Beyond trigger warnings: Preparing for engaged learning within an ethic of care," written with Christopher Bollinger of Texas Lutheran University, tackles the timely issue of balancing academic freedom and engaged, deep learning when teaching and training on trauma-related topics. The article appears in About Campus, July-August 2016, Volume 21, Number 3.

Read Flintoft's article here.


Ashley Spurgeon, Editorial Assistant, Mines magazine | 303-273-3959 |
Kathleen Morton, Digital Media and Communications Manager, Colorado School of Mines | 303-273-3088 |


In a state with an energy economy as purple as its politics, it can be hard to decide where to stand.

The Payne Institute for Earth Resources at Colorado School of Mines teamed up with Inside Energy to host Spark! Unpacking the Politics of Energy in Colorado on Sept. 8 at Mines' Ben H. Parker Student Center.

The Payne Institute and Inside Energy explored everything Colorado’s energy portfolio stands to lose, gain or change in the 2016 election. Journalists from Inside Energy pressed a panel of experts on critical energy issues to help the public make their own decisions in November.

The panel included Ian Lange, PhD, Mineral and Energy Economics Program Director, Division of Economics and Business, Colorado School of Mines; Tracee Bentley, Executive Director, Colorado Petroleum Council; Meghan Nutting, Vice President of Policy and Government Affairs, Sunnova; and Lee Boughey, Senior Manager, Communications and Public Affairs, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.

“This panel coversed a wide variety of the Colorado energy landscape,” says Dr. Lange. “It was exciting to hear the views of my fellow panelists and share my thoughts on how Colorado could be impacted by the policies on the ballot this fall.”

Read a recap and view photos from the event.

Visit for more information.

About the Payne Institute at Colorado School of Mines
The mission of the Payne Institute for Earth Resources at Colorado School of Mines is to inform and shape sound public policy related to earth resources, energy and the environment. Its goal is to educate current and future leaders on the market, policy and technological challenges presented by energy, environmental and resource management issues, and provide a forum for national and global policy debate. For more information, visit

About Inside Energy
Inside Energy is a collaborative journalism initiative among public media with roots in Colorado, Wyoming and North Dakota. It is funded by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Its mission, in collaboration with its partner stations, is to create a more informed public on energy issues. Inside Energy seeks to make energy issues a household topic and to inspire community conversations on the topic of energy. Learn more at

Kelly Beard, Communication Specialist, Division of Economics and Business, Colorado School of Mines | 303-273-3452 |
Kathleen Morton, Digital Media and Communications Manager, Colorado School of Mines | 303-273-3088 |

Unsafe levels of polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances, industrial chemicals linked to potentially serious health problems, have been found in the public drinking water of 33 states, according to a new study coauthored by Mines Civil and Environmental Engineering Associate Professor Chris Higgins.

The study, “Detection of Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs) in U.S. Drinking Water Linked to Industrial Sites, Military Fire Training Areas, and Wastewater Treatment Plants,” will be published August 9, 2016 in Environmental Science & Technology Letters.  Higgins is one of twelve researchers contributing to the study, with Xindi C. Hu, from Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, as the lead author.

The researchers looked at concentrations of six types of PFASs in drinking water supplies, using data from more than 36,000 water samples collected nationwide by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from 2013-2015.

They also looked at industrial sites that manufacture or use PFASs; at military fire training sites and civilian airports where fire-fighting foam containing PFASs is used; and at wastewater treatment plants. Discharges from these plants—which are unable to remove PFASs from wastewater by standard treatment methods—could contaminate groundwater. So could the sludge that the plants generate and which is frequently used as fertilizer.

Higgins, who has been researching the effects of PFASs for more than a decade, said, “Poly- and perfluoroaklyl acids are highly fluorinated synthetic organic chemicals that do not occur in nature. Their highly-fluorinated tails repel both oil and water, which is why they are used in so many consumer products. These compounds are used as stain repellents, paper packing products, and in making polymers like Teflon.”

The study found that PFASs were detectable at the minimum reporting levels required by the EPA in 194 out of 4,864 water supplies in 33 states across the U.S. Drinking water from 13 states accounted for 75% of the detections, including, in order of frequency of detection, California, New Jersey, North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Georgia, Minnesota, Arizona, Massachusetts, and Illinois.

“It is a complex topic,” explained Higgins, “because these compounds stick around for a very long time in the environment and enter the environment in several ways. We are also exposed to them from a variety of sources.”

Higgins continued, “They are extremely difficult to remove from water. At Mines we are working on a variety of water treatment technologies to treat these compounds. A great deal of work remains to be done.”


Learn more about PFASs by watching our Facebook Live video of Associate Professor Chris Higgins explaining perfluoroalkyl substances and the implications of this new study.


Deirdre Keating, Communications Manager, College of Engineering & Computational Sciences | 303-384-2358 |
Mark Ramirez, Communications Manager, College of Applied Science & Engineering | 303-384-2622 |


Emerita Associate Professor Cathy Skokan has been named a fellow of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) at the society’s annual conference this week in New Orleans. 

Founded in 1893, ASEE is a nonprofit organization of individuals and institutions committed to furthering education in engineering and engineering technology. The organization promotes excellence in instruction, research and public service, and fosters technological education. The honor of fellow is bestowed by the ASEE Board of Directors upon members in recognition of outstanding contributions to engineering or engineering technology education.

The first female to earn a graduate degree at Mines

Skokan’s early interest in rocks led to a love of science, and a wise high school counselor suggested she combine her skills in math and science with her passion for the outdoors and study geophysics.

“I remember I applied to LeHigh University as C. King, my maiden name,” said Skokan, “because they weren’t accepting women at the time. But they eventually figured out I was a woman.”

Mines, on the other hand, offered Skokan a full scholarship. She received her bachelor’s degree in geophysical engineering in 1970, and went on to become the first woman to receive a graduate degree from Mines in any field, receiving her master’s degree in 1971, and PhD in 1974. Her goal remained conducting research for a government organization.


From government researcher to university professor

Skokan’s many contributions to engineering education and to Mines, in particular, almost never came to be. She originally saw herself solely as a researcher rather than a teacher. Thanks to a delay in her government paperwork, she returned to Mines to do postdoctoral research in electromagnetics while waiting to start her new job. Skokan shared how her plans changed: "Just before the beginning of the fall semester, George Keller, who was the head of the department and my thesis advisor, came in and said, ‘We need someone to teach linear systems analysis.’

“I said, ‘I don’t teach.’

"He said, ‘Classes meet Monday, Wednesday and Friday.’ He handed me the class notes, told me what time it started and walked out the door.

“Linear systems was not one of my favorite subjects, though it is now.”

Skokan credits Keller as a mentor throughout her early career. She went on to accept a tenured faculty position in Geophysics. In 1996, she moved to what was then the Engineering Division at Mines (now the College of Engineering and Computational Sciences), where she spent the next 20 years teaching linear systems, senior design and geophysical courses to electrical engineering students.

“Several of my research grants centered around electromagnetic methods of mapping earth structures,” Skokan explained, “so I got to combine electrical engineering and geology, which was the best of all worlds.”

Humanitarian Engineering Program

Skokan was also one of the initiators of the Humanitarian Engineering program at Mines, the first in the nation. Initial funding from the Hewlett foundation aimed to take student engineers to communities that needed their skills most. As a result, Skokan took student groups to Senegal, Honduras and Ghana to work on solving real problems with engineering solutions.

Skokan recalls a particular Humanitarian Engineering trip to Alaska:

"An Alaskan tribal community had invited us to help with projects to prepare them for a community center. Over multiple years, we designed a road and septic system, among other things. One year, we were driving out there from the airport, and a student asked, “Do they live in igloos?” I told him, no, and that he would see what they lived in soon. The Bureau of Indian Affairs had built a series of prefab houses intended for Hawaii, and when they weren’t needed in Hawaii, they were sent there. Some members of the community lived in old school buses, and it reached -40 Fahrenheit during the winters. We left with a real sense of doing work that was needed. It was an eye-opening experience for all of us.”


Humanitarian Engineering students traveled to the University of Ghana with Associate Professor Skokan in 2007 as part of their senior design project.

Music at Mines

Skokan still believes that international experiences are essential for every engineer’s education, and often travels with Mines music students. She currently plays violin with the Mines Orchestra, bassoon with the Mines Band and erhu with the Mines Chinese Band.

"I’ve played in the band since I was a student here in the 60s,” said Skokan. “Believe it or not, I was the first director of the orchestra here, until they finally hired a real musician rather than an engineer to conduct the orchestra.”


                                                   Catherine Skokan and the Mines Marching Band in Dublin's 2015 St. Patrick's Day Parade.

In 2016, Skokan led 150 Mines music students and alumni on a spring trip to march in Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. “We always combine an engineering and musical component on these trips,” explained Skokan. “In Ireland, we visited Dublin Institute of Technology, with whom we are now working on a collaborative effort. I also took a group of students into the Tara Mines, a lead and zinc mine near County Meath. Because we are engineers, not just tourists, they took us underground and the students had a blast exploring the machinery. It included electrical, mechanical, civil, mining, geology— talk about interdisciplinary!”


                                                   Students prepare for an underground tour of the lead and zinc Tara Mine in Co. Meath, Ireland.

In 2015, Skokan accompanied Mines music students and alumni to Jamaica. In addition to meeting with engineering students at the University of the West Indies, the Mines group participated in a recording session with Winston “Sparrow” Martin, Bob Marley's percussionist, at the studio that Bob Marley founded.

In 2017, Skokan will be taking Mines music students to Florence. “We’ll be visiting Santa Croce,” said Skokan, “where Galileo, Michelangelo and Rossini are buried. It’s also right on the Arno River, which flooded in 1966, killing more than 100 people and destroying millions of masterpieces. So we’re going to talk to a professor from the University of Florence about flood mitigation and art restoration."

Innovation in engineering education

Skokan became involved in ASEE around the time that she joined the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. She spent a sabbatical writing a pre-engineering curriculum for Adams School District, which is still in use.

“Every project had a computer, math, writing and engineering component,” said Skokan.

“I joined the multidisciplinary division of ASEE,” continued Skokan, “because electrical, mechanical and civil were all under the Engineering Division in those days. I went from Secretary, to Treasurer, then Program Chair and finally Chair.” Skokan is currently the ASEE Vice President for External Relations, which includes chairing ASEE’s international advisory committee and external projects.

"The best thing ASEE offers,” according to Skokan, “is workshops and venues to look at innovative teaching methodsthose that worked and those that didn’t. I believe looking at the failure papers can be even more educational than the success papers." 

Despite retiring in 2015, Skokan remains as busy as ever. She will be giving a talk in Japan at the annual Japanese Society for Engineering Education meeting, and another in Korea in November at an engineering education conference. 

Skokan is the third Mines faculty member to be named an ASEE Fellow in addition to Theodore A. Bickart in 2000 and Joan Gosink in 2010.


All photos from the personal archives of Emerita Associate Professor Catherine Skokan.


Deirdre Keating, Communications Manager, College of Engineering & Computational Sciences | 303-384-2358 |
Kathleen Morton, Digital Media and Communications Manager, Colorado School of Mines | 303-273-3088 |


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