When Talita Duarte was writing essays to apply for graduate school, she had to explain that she hadn’t chosen mining: Mining chose her. Then she fell in love with it.
Duarte’s mother helped guide the hand of fate, however, when she enrolled Talita at a high school with a mining technician program in her home state of Paraíba in Brazil.
“I ended up loving it,” Duarte said. “I took the best out of the opportunity that was given to me and made a life out of it.”
Her love affair with mining has been as dynamic as it has been consistent. During her first year of high school, she was fascinated by geology. Sophomore year, it was blasting. Junior year, underground mining. Senior year, mineral processing. Once she was off to the Federal University of Campina Grande in Brazil, she focused on rock mechanics.
I took the best out of the opportunity that was given to me and made a life out of it.”
Through the Brazilian Scientific Mobility Program, Duarte studied English abroad at the University of Arizona and mining engineering at West Virginia University. She was fascinated by the opportunity to observe graduate students in the UA Department of Mining and Geological Engineering at work in a rock mechanics lab. Eager to learn, she asked lab manager David Streeter about the tests they were running.
Streeter was impressed by Duarte’s initiative and invited her to be a volunteer lab assistant. She learned how to prepare samples, run tests and work with equipment. She also helped Streeter through a catastrophe when a testing machine fell out of alignment and spilled oil all over the lab.
“She spent about two weeks with me fixing that,” Streeter said. “I swear, she would hand me the tool I needed before I even asked.”
Finding a Path Back to the States
Duarte had marveled at an underground mine in West Virginia, grown accustomed the UA’s helpful professors and found a boyfriend in Tucson. Finishing up her undergraduate studies in Brazil during the 2015-2016 academic year was a difficult shift, and she was eager to return to the United States.
Her boyfriend suggested they get engaged so she could use a fiancé visa, but Duarte wanted to try doing things her way. She applied for Oportunidades Acadêmicas, a program run by Education USA that helps students with the cost and application process for grad school in the United States, and was accepted to several universities.
“I came back the way that I wanted, doing what I wanted, without relying on anyone or having my mom pay for anything,” she said.
Duarte narrowed her choices to the University of Arizona and the University of Kentucky, both with full scholarships. The coal mine relationships Kentucky offered weren’t quite what Duarte wanted, and the UA’s prestige in the mining industry was too good to pass up.
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The UA continues to provide experiences that were out of Duarte’s reach in Brazil. She is now a graduate research assistant in the rock mechanics lab working to incorporate new technologies.
“I think the fact that you have the opportunity to be in the lab and see the theory being applied is really mind-blowing,” said Duarte, adding that she might even come back for a PhD after five or 10 years in the field, so she can be a professor at the University of Arizona.
As a member of the Society of Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration, Duarte also connects with industry higher-ups in ways not possible back home.
“Here in SME, they are always encouraging you to network,” she said. “That’s something I never had in Brazil, and it really does work.”
Duarte will intern at Freeport-McMoRan in summer 2018 doing mining planning, and she intends to use the money she earns to fly her mom to Arizona for her graduation.
After having spent nearly half her life in school, Duarte’s dream career, she jokes, will be anything that involves making money. She hopes to become a geotechnical engineer for Freeport-McMoRan.
“My friends always say, ‘Oh, Talita, you always want something that looks impossible, and then you make it possible,’” she said with a shrug. “Yeah. If it were possible, it would be too easy.”