After more than 37 years with the University of Nevada, Reno, mining program, Dr. Dan Taylor retired in June. The assistant professor of mining engineering witnessed the department grow and change over the years, and said he hopes to continue to shape the industry in his retirement.
Colleagues credit Taylor with saving the mining program when he joined the university in 1979.
“I believe if Danny had not been a member of the faculty during the ’80s and part of the ’90s, there would be no mining program at UNR,” said Dr. Jim Hendrix, who served as dean for the Mackay School of Mines 1991-95 and was the acting chair of mining engineering when Taylor was hired. “His development of the community of students while they were on campus and after was the single-most [important] achievement for the survival of the department.”
As an associate professor, Taylor taught myriad courses ranging from introduction to mining to a capstone class on mine design. The doctor also proctored economics lessons, which he dubbed “human evolution from a mining perspective” or “history according to Dan.”
His own evolution in academia put him on an upward path that included chairing the department between 2008 and 2012. His overall tenure earned him the role as professor emeritus.
Outside the classroom, Taylor’s students remember his involvement in what would become the International Collegiate Mining Competition. In 1980, UNR sent its first team to Arizona under Taylor as an adviser to compete in old-fashioned mining techniques.
“Danny Taylor has been supporting and coaching us through all these years,” said Emma Baker, a student and president of the mining team.
Taylor said the students have always taken the lead but described how they turned to him for advice on how to practice. “Go get a hammer and beat on something,” he recalled telling them.
The first year, the team won a beer chugging competition but placed “dead last” in everything else, Taylor said. The prize of a “green hand” trophy featuring a filled and mounted plastic glove was not as memorable as the relationships formed.
Reminiscing about the event over a Bud Light on a late-summer day at The Star Hotel in Elko, Taylor rattled off the names of all the inaugural team’s participating members and cited where their careers have taken them since graduation. He wore a 2002 Elko Mine Expo shirt, draped with his signature multipocket photographer’s vest.
Over the years and with Taylor’s encouragement, the mining competition grew to an international level, with colleges sending participants to the first overseas event in Australia in 2003. UNR hosted a game in 2011.
“It’s all tradition,” Taylor said. “You’ve got to have continuity in this thing.”
The professor applied that sense of tradition to the UNR mining program as a whole. Taylor’s attention to the program helped transform it into what it is today.
“The department was in a very bad condition at the time,” Hendrix said. “It needed some adhesive to keep it together. Programs such as mining need to have a ‘small-town’ approach, where all stakeholders feel an integral part of what’s happening. Danny brought youth, connections to the outside community, and a love for students.”
Taylor’s appreciation for mining stemmed from his own college experience while studying engineering physics at the Colorado School of Mines in the 1960s — “back in the Pleistocene,” he joked, threading his fingers and twiddling his thumbs as he prepared to tell a story.
He’d intended to work in the oilfields after college, but his peers had other ideas.
“I got to hang out with a bunch of mining engineers,” Taylor said but recalled his reasoning: “‘I’ve always got my contacts in oil. Let’s see what mining engineering is all about.’”
In 1968, he graduated with a mining and mineral engineering degree and later earned a master’s degree in operations research.
“I figure I about cover everything,” Taylor said. “Miners are that way. You have to know a little about everything.”
He worked for Atlantic Richfield looking at tar sands and got a job offer from the Northern Illinois Gas Co. Instead, he geared his career goals away from the oil and gas sector toward academia, pursuing a doctorate in mineral economics so he could teach.
“One day, I decided I might know enough about this that maybe I could teach somebody else,” Taylor said.
Taylor served as the assistant professor of mining engineering at the University of Alaska for about a year before joining the small UNR team.
Over the decades at UNR, Taylor said he witnessed many changes in the industry and UNR’s mining program. The program changed when metallurgy morphed into the material science program then transformed again in the early 2000s when the university reorganized, putting the Mackay School of Earth Sciences & Engineering under the division of the College of Science.
In the early years, the department had three faculty members and about 30 students in the entire program, Taylor recalled. Now, the division has about seven faculty and 20-50 students per class.
“For many years, Danny was the positive face of the department,” Hendrix said. “Through the decades he taught at Mackay, he made sure material he taught was relevant to the times. I believe that Danny was, and is, an extroverted introvert and is more comfortable with small groups of folks he knows well. He represented the department and the school well when he was required to make public presentations at national meetings and local professional meetings.”
Taylor estimated that he has touched the lives of more than 1,000 students (as only about half make it through the program) over his nearly four decades at the university. The students are the ones he said he will miss the most.
“That’s why I did it,” he said. “Then you look and see where their careers have taken them.”
As of late summer, Taylor already was making the most of his retirement, having traveled to San Francisco to see the Broadway musical “Hamilton” and watch the Aug. 21 solar eclipse in Idaho.
Retirement does not mean that Taylor will stop working, however, as he plans to remodel his home office where he and his wife, Dr. Jacque Ewing-Taylor, will offer services through Pairadocs Consulting, Inc.
Through his consulting business, Taylor offers mine operation economic analysis and long-range planning, and proffers his knowledge as an expert witness. He said he hopes to continue to raise awareness in the U.S. about the importance of mining and advance research in the field of mining on Earth and maybe beyond.
“I’ve always wanted to be the first mining on the moon,” Taylor said.