BS, Geological Engineering, Michigan Tech, 1999
BS Mining Engineering, Michigan Tech, 2000
MS Geological Engineering, Michigan Tech, 2001
Current position: Mine Engineering Manager, Rio Tinto
Chris Pascoe began at Michigan Tech in the summer of 1994, and completed seven years later in the summer of 2001. The focus of his undergraduate studies changed over time. “My original plan was to focus on the area of groundwater and hydrogeology and then changed to more of the geophysics side associated with the oil and gas industry. Neither of these areas were ultimately what I really wanted to do, so I ended up concentrating more on the mining side, but still with a focus on the geologic sciences. I also had great internships in both geophysics and the oil and gas industry that helped guide me in my decision. I then decided to get a degree in mining engineering in order to gain additional knowledge,” he explains.
Pascoe originally had not considered graduate studies, but was able to secure a good, practical MS project in the mining industry with partial funding from a mining company. The project was to build a 3D geological model of an iron ore deposit in Michigan and to study the distribution of gypsum in the deposit. Gypsum is a mineral that reduces the recovery of iron in the mineral processing side of the business and materially impacts the value of the ore deposit.
The data collection side of the project was the most challenging. “I had to log more than 50,000 feet of drill core and complete XRD analysis of sample pulps to get an understanding of the gypsum distribution. It was fun work, but it involved many months of fieldwork, logging, sampling, and data analysis—and much of it was back breaking labor! But the research project that I completed provided me with a set of tangible skills that I was able to leverage to get my first job. When I graduated, the mining industry was in a period of contraction, so it was difficult to get a job out of school, and this experience made all of the difference.
Graduate school was able to better prepare me for my career in areas that I was not able to appreciate when making the decision to go to graduate school. The two most important skills that I learned were actually not even directly related to the course work or my research. Ultimately, I was able to greatly improve my communication and public speaking abilities, which have served me very well. This was largely the result of being a teaching assistant during graduate school where I had to get in front of groups nearly every single day.
Also, graduate school also helped me ‘learn how to learn’ which I would argue is one of the most important things we leave with from our university time. Let’s be honest, upon graduation, an individual knows very little about anything! It doesn’t matter what industry one gets into, once out of school a life-long education process begins.
Pascoe is now an engineering manager at Rio Tinto, at work on a mining development project called Resolution Copper, one of the largest undeveloped copper resources in the world. “The mine will be more than 7,000 feet deep, and is very technically challenging from a geotechnical perspective and also because the virgin rock temperatures at depth are more than 175 degrees F. This project will be one of the largest underground mines ever built and will supply approximately 25 percent of the US copper supply once in production. I manage a group of mining engineers, geotechnical engineers and consultants to work on the future design and development strategy for this project. The engineering scope that I am responsible for is worth multiple billions of dollars in terms of infrastructure and the plant that will be constructed. From an engineering perspective, this is one of the preeminent projects in the mining world.
Studying geological engineering and having had a very good exposure to the geosciences has served me very well. I believe that geological engineering provides many unique learning experiences. Many engineers coming out of school think the world is very “black and white”, and that there is an exact answer (to many decimal points) to everything. In actuality, I find that decisions must be based a valid interpretation of often times uncertain, incomplete and or conflicting pieces of information. A strong back ground in geosciences provides this type of practical grounding and perspective.
Also during the course of my career, I have been fortunate and have been able to travel the world in the course of my various work assignments. I have traveled to six continents and many different countries and have been able to see and experience things that most people aren’t able to. Many careers in the geosciences are very international in nature, if one wants it to be.