Training Students in one of Mexico’s Mining Centers

Mon, 10/21/2013 - 10:40

Mining today represents one of the key sectors in the Mexican economy as a result of the income and employment that it generates. Rogelio Monreal Saavedra, Coordinator of Graduate Programs in Geological Sciences at the University of Sonora, comments about the few universities in Mexico offering undergraduate and graduate programs in geology: “Although the student population has been growing for the last few years, there is still not enough human talent available to supply the industry demand, despite there being many well paid job opportunities for geologists and mining and metallurgical engineers in the mining industry.”

The undergraduate Geology program at the University of Sonora has been offered since the mid-1970s. In the last few years it has been modified from a five year to a four year program, in order to bring it in line with other programs offered outside of Mexico. Enrollment has been a key issue over the years. In 1990, due to the cyclical nature of the mining industry, there were less than 50 students; last year over 400 enrolled. “After 2007 the number of students started to increase; this increase in enrollment reflects the renewed importance of mining in Mexico,” highlights Monreal Saavedra.

According to Monreal Saavedra, University of Sonora Geology graduates have great flexibility because the university trains its students to be general geologists; this means that they can work in many different areas, such as mineral exploration, cartography, hydrogeology, environmental geology, and education, among many others. “The fact that our university is located in Sonora allows our students to have more training in open pit mining,” explains Elizabeth Araux Sánchez, Academic Secretary of Civil Engineering and Mining at the University of Sonora. “This gives our students a distinctive signature because most of the field practice they do is located in mining units near Hermosillo. Porphyry copper deposits – such as the ones in Nacozari, Cananea and Alamos – are frequently visited, as well as disseminated gold deposits such as the San Francisco, La Herradura, El Chanate, and La Colorada mines, all of which are exploited via open pit mining. Professional practices also take place in open pit mining, since it is obligatory for students to carry out this type of placement in order to graduate.”

Being located in one of the most important mining centers in Mexico bestows key advantages on the Earth Sciences programs at the University of Sonora. “The work area we are training our students for is located in our backyard. So we can go to a mine for one day, and later go back whenever we need to. The programs are very much geared towards giving students that exposure to the field, and they graduate with experience as a result,” Monreal Saavedra adds.

Being surrounded by some of the world’s most important mining companies also facilitates the link between academia and industry. The University of Sonora has fostered a strong relationship with the sector through collaboration agreements, service-providing programs, and professional and social service practice agreements. “Since the academic and program coordination office was created we have sought to create a more direct relationships with mining companies, with the goal of getting their support for our students,” comments Araux Sánchez. These efforts have translated into scholarships being offered by Camimex, AIMMGM (Mexican Association of Mining Engineers, Metallurgists, and Geologists) and Fresnillo. To a large extent, the financial factor allows students to continue their undergraduate studies, because many of them come from faraway places both inside and outside Sonora.

On the other hand, companies like Minera María, Meridian Minerals and First Majestic have also approached the university with the intention of establishing collaboration agreements. Fresnillo, for example, requested to participate in the geology and mining programs, and has analyzed class content and supported the university with workstation donations, DATAMINE software licenses and by training teachers to use this tool. “We have agreed to meet twice a year with companies, such as Peñoles, and with the mine and geology program coordinators of the main universities in Mexico in order to directly support academic needs as well as professional practices and scholarships, among other matters that are deemed important for the Mexican mining industry,” Araux Sánchez adds.