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High school students from Elko, Spring Creek and Ely tour the tire repair shop at Barrick Gold Corp.’s Goldstrike mine outside of Carlin during the Oct. 3 Mining Rocks tour through Great Basin College.

CARLIN — Robert Johnson, a high school senior from Ely, looked out over Barrick Gold Corp.’s Betze-Post open pit mine, straining his eyes more than a mile to see a portal that leads to the underground workings. Once he found it, he wanted to know:

“What’s next?”

Johnson and 32 participants — including juniors and seniors from Elko, Spring Creek and Ely — explored the Barrick site, careers in mining and education opportunities through Great Basin College on the fall 2017 Mining Rocks tour Oct. 3.

“We’re educating the next generation of miners,” said Melinda Edmonds, senior human resource generalist for Kinross Gold Corp., who attended the tour. “Things like this, you never know when you’re going to inspire a young mind.”

GBC offers the event through the Maintenance Training Cooperative, a program established in 1994 among Northern Nevada mines and the college to offer scholarships and internships to assist future engineers, human resource professionals, welders, electricians, technicians, diesel mechanics, millwrights and more. Sponsors include SSR Mining, Kinross, Newmont and Barrick, which offered its mine site — commonly called Goldstrike — north of Carlin for the fall 2017 destination.

To answer Johnson’s question, Amy Conway, a Barrick open pit training technician, said the next stop was to get an up-close look at a haul truck.

“I want to sit in the cab!” Johnson said.

A few minutes later, his wish came true. Johnson ascended the stairs on a retired Komatsu haul truck and sat in the driver’s seat — sporting a big grin.

College options

Earlier that day, a group rallied on the college campus, where Jonica Gonzalez, CTE college credit coordinator, described how getting higher educations can put students in the drivers’ seats of their own lives. She touted GBC’s low tuition, academic programs and available scholarships. Then splitting into two sections, the students toured the college to visit classes and labs of science programs or trade professions.

In the electrical lab, electrical technology instructor Kevin Seipp explained what can be done with an associate degree in this field, including working for mines.

“It’s a vast array of what we do here to touch on all aspects of the industry,” he said. “You can work anywhere coming out of this program pertaining to electricity.”

Millwright instructor Tom Bruns described the trade as a “very diverse, varied field” that can lead to jobs at mines, power plants, manufacturing operations and more.

Several hands went up when diesel technology professor Michael Whitehead asked how many were interested in mechanics. Encouraging them to pursue higher educations or certifications, he told the group of mostly seniors, “We hope to see you here in about nine months.”

The students also heard from welding instructors Steven Scilacci and Matthew Nichols, who assured them that the GBC curriculum includes plenty of shop time for the hands-on practice that is invaluable in the real-world.

Mining careers

To help portray real-world work in mining, the tour allows students to spend time on a mine site to see how procedures work and hear from employees.

This year on the Barrick property, the young adults — including Josh Parker, a Spring Creek High School senior, who wants to pursue mine rescue after graduation — took phone pictures of the haul trucks and water trucks rumbling by the charter bus on which they arrived. Whispers of “Wow” and “Whoa” could be heard from teachers, counselors and students alike, as many had never before seen an operating mine.

Mine operations is how NikKayla Simon got her start with Barrick years ago. The students, perched on bleacher-style seating, listened as she described how she worked her way up into a leadership position with the help of an education through GBC. She is now a senior safety and health coordinator.

“Any of the big dreams you want to do can happen here,” she said. “I love it. I don’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon.”

The group also heard from other Barrick employees about what it is like to work in departments such as environmental, human resources, metallurgy, underground mining and blasting.

Sid Owen, Barrick blasting superintendent, passed around a model of an explosives cap and fuse, and showed a surface blasting video, recorded on high-speed film. The footage showed plumes of dirt flying 40 feet into the air in succession.

“It’s kind of fun blowing stuff up, but it’s also a lot of work,” he said.

Owen explained how getting a federal explosives license requires an upright lifestyle to pass the background check and extensive training. He also recommended earning a degree in mining engineering or geology to “be a valuable tool to any gold mine.”

After a few speakers, a theme emerged on the importance of higher education — whether certifications or associate, bachelor’s or master’s degrees.

“I challenge you guys,” said Nick Nelson, who works in human resources. “The education is important.”

He, too, started out driving haul trucks, going to school on his days off and claiming tuition reimbursement. Operator roles, such as driving a haul truck, he said, can be entry-level positions that open the door to opportunities.

More questions

After the department presentations, Barrick’s Anthony Siri from training and development invited all to don hardhats, safety glasses and reflective vests before going out the door, saying, “When you’re out here, you’re one of us.”

Then Ron Hackler led the crew through the truck shop, tire repair shop and welding shop to explore some of the trades discussed back at GBC. Students marveled at the large size of oil-change pan, climbed a ladder to see inside a haul truck bed and touched the black rubber of a tire with treads larger than their hands. All the while, the young students asked questions.

Do women drive haul trucks? asked Kyra Campbell, a Spring Creek High School junior who wants to be a mining engineer or geologist. The answer is yes.

Do you need a master’s degree for environmental work? asked Hayden Binger, a Spring Creek School senior. The answer is that it is not absolutely necessary.

If you take tuition reimbursement from a mine, are you contractually obligated to work for that mine? asked Anna Mendez, a Spring Creek High School senior. The answer is that it is highly encouraged but not always part of the contract.

Perhaps one of the most important questions of the day was the one asked by Johnson before seeing the haul truck. That same question can now be redirected at him and the other young adults who participated in the 2017 Mining Rocks event to learn about what a future in mining could hold:

“What’s next?”

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