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The New Face of Mining: Ruby Barickman

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The New Face of Mining: Ruby Barickman

May 14, 2013
Engineering Just the Start for Grad Set on Shifting Public Opinion

Ruby Barickman stood mesmerized watching a 29-ton drill bit, or reamer, boring an exhaust hole 14 feet in diameter and 550 feet deep, backwards, from underground to the surface at a Rio Tinto mine site in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The drill, or raise borer, one of only a few in North America, was assembled underground but operated from above ground, and that means fewer miners underground.

Women are persevering; change is happening.

Mining is still seen as a quintessential male domain in many respects. But women the world over toil as miners, and more and more female mining and geological engineers are entering the industry, putting their mark on technological, environmental, corporate  and social advancements.

The University of Arizona is dedicated to helping fill the much-needed pipeline of mining and geological engineers. In part, that means making sure women continue to take their place in an industry expected to need 128,000 skilled workers by the end of the decade.

"When I was growing up, I heard more about what careers women couldn’t have than what careers they could have," said UA Distinguished Professor Mary Poulton, director of the Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources and head of the mining and geological engineering department. "Today it is a different world.  Women can access any career they want. Now the challenge is what you can do, not who you are."

Young women just entering the profession feel they have a world of opportunity awaiting them, and those well into their careers and nearing retirement say they have had the ride of a lifetime.

They are the new face of mining. And these are their stories.

"I was at the bottom watching as it first started to spin around and drill upwards," said the 2012 University of Arizona mining engineering graduate. "It was a completely new process to me. Even a lot of the older people I was with had never seen that before."

Barickman is on assignment in Michigan and one of only a handful of engineers planning a small mine project there. Like many women in the University’s mining and geological engineering program, she fell into mining engineering, the romance began, and now she is in love. Barickman already had her mind set on engineering, but opportunity drew her to the mining industry, and it is opportunity that likely will keep her there.

"Getting people into the industry is really just about exposure," she said.

Barickman, who recently was accepted into the UA online master's program in mining engineering, thinks mining will stick and eventually plans to roll her engineering skills more into the social and political side of mining.

A former College of Engineering Ambassador and secretary of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration student chapter, Barickman traveled alone to Budapest, Hungary as an exchange student in her sophomore year then toured throughout Europe. She is excited about the possibility of worldwide travel in mining, rising through the ranks, and contributing to an industry she sees as not having received a fair shake.

"The social perception of mining is a huge problem," she said. "A lot of people speak on behalf of mining but don’t know much about mining."

Compounding the misinformed negative perception is the mining industry’s history of reacting defensively, and Barickman sees advantages to applying her engineering know-how to the problem.

"There is a lot of value in taking an engineering analytical approach to the opposition," she said. "A new trend is occurring now with mining companies beginning to get on the offensive and promote their names and their brands and their companies, just like in any other industry."

It is far out, but Barickman thinks she may even go on to get her PhD, teach and influence other young women. She sees her life falling out much like that of her mentor, UA Distinguished Professor Mary Poulton, mining and geological department head. Poulton inspired and continues to inspire Barickman, along with countless other UA students.

"She is such a huge influence on the entire industry, so successful yet so accessible, and always there for us."

Barickman has added another mentor to her support network as well. She has been selected to join the approximately 40-member Young Leaders Committee in the Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration. As a member of the committee, she will be partnered with a senior mining engineer in Montana.

"It is inspiring to be able to connect with another woman in the industry who is obviously very successful," she said.

"Women offer different perspectives, and maybe there are problems women can help address better. The more women who get into the industry, the better."