University Embodies Centuries of Mining ExperienceWed, 10/21/2015 - 11:32
The effects of the mining industry’s downturn have been widely felt but the education sector seems to have been spared for the moment. Rubén Del Pozo Mendoza, Director of the Earth Sciences Unit at Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas (UAZ), reports that enrollment levels at his institution remain high. He believes this is due to society’s perception of mining as a booming industry that offers well-paid positions. But even with these sustained enrollment figures, UAZ still faces its fair share of challenges. Del Pozo Mendoza specifically points to increasing competition from other universities across Mexico. “The perceived potential of the mining industry led many establishments to offer mining related programs. In the past, we were one of the few schools offering these choices in the center of the country, but now competition has grown, even within Zacatecas itself.” To support UAZ, mining companies have provided opportunities to its students and professors by setting up residencies for them in various mining operations. This benefits UAZ financially since many such educational institutions depend heavily on subsidies and the private sector to fund fieldwork opportunities for its graduates. However, these opportunities have been reduced since mining companies have found it difficult to cater to the plethora of courses that now exist. Nevertheless, Del Pozo Mendoza says that UAZ’s long history of cooperation with the mining sector has continued to evolve, becoming more symbiotic due to the industry’s need for skilled labor and common interests in research projects. For example, UAZ recently worked in the exploration, evaluation, and quantification stage of a project in collaboration with Harbor Mining, a company that focuses on manganese.
The university’s relationship with the private sector is further exemplified by its involvement with CLUSMIN, the Zacatecas Mining Cluster. “We are presenting a postgraduate program to the cluster which is focused on the issues and challenges faced by the local mining industry,” comments Del Pozo Mendoza. He continues by explaining that CLUSMIN’s work has helped to foster unity among different parties in the mining sector with successful results. “In the past, isolated efforts might have rendered some achievements, but these were not as relevant as the accomplishments we are producing nowadays. As part of the cluster’s dynamic, the educational, public, and private sectors sit together frequently and talk about their own requirements and needs, finding common ground to work on.”
According to Del Pozo Mendoza, the university’s most important credential is that silver mines located in Zacatecas are operated by technicians and engineers that have graduated from UAZ. The industry’s respect for the university’s graduates is coupled with the fact that Zacatecas has the most productive silver mines in Mexico, which is the world’s largest silver producer. But as important as silver mines are to Mexico, they are not the single defining reason for its mining success, according to Del Pozo Mendoza. “Mineral resources are not the only factor that contributed to our country’s position in the global mining industry. Human talent has also played a crucial role.” Two decades ago, the mining industry was almost exclusively operated by Mexican mining companies, but as international firms began staking their claims, UAZ realized the gulf between existing mining practices in Mexico and their foreign equivalents. “We had to create a curriculum that would suit the new practices of training students to work with global companies,” mentions Del Pozo Mendoza. To assess its global position, UAZ began comparing its programs to those in both national and international schools, including the Colorado School of Mines. UAZ then upgraded its courses to compete with foreign universities and created links to sector leaders, enabling its graduates to compete at a global level
In the last few years, the university has been working with Peñoles to organize forums where schools can talk about the challenges and issues that educational institutions face in Mexico. This has enabled UAZ to share its concerns with the heads of other Mexican universities and work together with them to find common solutions. One particular issue involved the male population of Morelos, Zacatecas. Due to the community’s focus on agriculture, many of its working age men have migrated to the US in search of opportunities in that sector. When Peñoles began mining exploration in the state, it found a dearth of employable men. Instead, Peñoles started hiring women, many of which turned out to be more responsible employees. Since then, Peñoles has replicated the model in other operations. Del Pozo Mendoza says that this strategy has led to far more women enrolling in Earth science programs, with almost 50% of UAZ students in that area now being female. “Our main purpose is to serve the mining industry, locally and globally, and that will remain our main focus for years to come. Any company, foreign or Mexican, that requires the services of a UAZ graduate has to have the certainty that it is hiring a trained professional,” concludes Del Pozo Mendoza.