José Santos Jallath
Head of the Mine Exploitation and Metallurgy Department
View from the Top

Educating Earth Science Engineers for Tomorrow’s Needs

Mon, 10/21/2013 - 12:41

Q: What is the impact of mining cycles on the education of mining engineers?

A: It is important to remember that everywhere in the world mining is cyclical. The cycles in the Mexican mining industry have been affected by social events such as the Independence War and the Mexican Revolution. History has shown that in those depressed times mining activity was able to continue in the country thanks to Mexican investment, which shows that even during depressed market times mining specialists will always be required. Today, UNAM is training engineers that are able to manage mining operations even when times are not thriving. Currently, the industry requires a large number of graduates. However, the enrollment capacity of universities has been reduced, in some cases due to a lack of infrastructure. There is currently greater demand for earth science engineers in the industry than the universities can provide, and even though Mexico has seven universities with mining engineering programs, industry demand is not being satisfied at the moment.

Q: What is the importance of developing engineers that have both technical and scientific expertise and an understanding of the economic and social aspects of the industry?

A: This is an issue of great importance, and it is central to the education of future engineers. Along with most UNAM academics, I am convinced that future professionals in the area of mining exploitation should not base their performance just on their technical skills, but should be able to balance the use of natural resources while also protecting the environment and providing benefits to the local communities. In order to perform sustainable operations, communities and the environment must be integrated into operational plans. It is therefore necessary to invest in the generation of human capital but also in the measures that are required to take care of local communities and the environment.

Q: How does UNAM organize its curriculum to educate graduates that meet the industry demands of tomorrow?

A: What distinguishes UNAM graduates is the efficient integration of knowledge in the different areas of mining. The mining and metallurgical engineering curriculum begins with a solid foundation in mathematics, physics and chemistry. It later continues with geology, mine exploitation, and metallurgy, but we also have a very good course in economy and finance, mine installation, and civil works. Another important part of the curriculum is occupational safety and environmental protection. It is complemented by courses in the areas of humanities and social sciences. This integrated training allows us to provide the mining industry with graduates that have skills in supervision, planning, and operations development from the beginning of their careers.

Q: How does UNAM create links between students and mining companies operating in Mexico?

 A: UNAM is a higher education institution that performs its duties with a limited budget, and it needs the mining industry’s support. After completing their fifth semester our students do professional placements in the mining industry, and we get a lot of support from mining companies. Our students have to complete three residencies during their studies, each of which lasts four to six weeks, which allows them to become familiar with the way the industry works. This approach between industry and academic institutions is critical in making these placements effective. We also have links with companies through research. The Economy Ministry of Economy facilitates the entry of our students into the public sector so that they can do their social service. Another example is our collaboration with Camimex, which awards scholarships and grants to our students and teachers so they can continue their professional education. In return we perform consulting services and implement projects.

Q: How does UNAM produce engineers that are suitably trained to work with and pursue technological innovation?

A: To be able to innovate, the most important thing is to be up to date with what is going on in the world, knowing the best international practices and being able to take them to the next level. After that comes evaluating the requirements in Mexico and finding the solutions that suit them best. In terms of technological innovation, Mexico is lagging behind many countries. We consume huge amounts of technology, but we do not produce it. Mexico has the knowledge and human capital to develop first class technology, but we need to venture more into research and development.