Q&A with Shawn vanDoorn, Future Mining Engineer

woman in a hard hat standing next to a 20-foot tall mining truck
woman in a hard hat standing next to a 20-foot tall mining truck
Shawn vanDoorn grew up in the Midwest and starts her career in mining out West next summer.

Shawn vanDoorn graduates in May 2020 with Michigan Tech’s renewed mining engineering degree. She talks about her Robo-One internship, career goals and favorite courses.

Q: What made you want to get a mining engineering degree?

A: I grew up in a really small town in Wisconsin, so I looked into different engineering majors and I chose mining — it’s been really great. I was originally a bachelor’s of science in engineering with a mining eng minor but then the full degree went through so I will get the mining engineering degree.

With a mining engineering degree, there are so many specific fields you can get into both in and outside of mining. I like having options and different opportunities available to me and mining has been really great for that.

The summer after my first year, I was still technically general eng, so I went back home and worked for Rockwell Automation in their injection molding facility. It was a great experience and it helped me figure out that I don’t want to be indoors at a desk in a factory for the rest of my life. I really like mining because you get a balance of desk work and being in the field. Personally, I want to go more of the operations route; I really like the people, I like that aspect of the work more than the design aspect, so that’s what I want to focus my career on.

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Q: Congrats on your full-time gig down at the Safford Mine in Arizona! How did your internships help?

A: I got both of my internships from Career Fair. We’re trying to get more mining companies to come to Career Fair so there are more opportunities, and yeah, I was fortunate enough to get these ones.

The first was with Barrick out in Nevada at the Goldstrike open pit. I was on their autonomous project, so I was Robo-Intern One. It was a brand-new and really cool project to be on. Within the first few weeks, I got to see the first truck up and running. They were retrofitting Komatsu 930Es from the manual fleet with autonomous kits. By the time I left, we had three trucks up and running. I got to drive Komatsu 930Es, I got to load autonomous haul trucks in the 4100 shovel, which was really awesome and was a lot of fun as well as a good professional experience. I just loved being out West.

Then this past summer, I was out in Arizona at a copper and gold mine in Morenci. It’s a Freeport-McMoRan site and I was in the long range planning division. That was really cool; it’s a massive mine, they have about 130 haul trucks going, so it was so busy, it was huge. I accepted a full-time position out there. Safford is about an hour from Morenci and I’ll be going out there in June.

woman in hazmat suit in a dark tunnel
Shawn vanDoorn graduates in May 2020 with a degree in mining engineering. 

Q: How did your Michigan Tech classes prepare you for working in mines out West and what’s unique about the program?

A: The opportunities in the field. I mean, this is a mining district, there are mines that students have the opportunity to go to. Quincy is the big one; last semester I got to go to the Mead Mine near Ontonagon. We learned about mine ventilation and worked on a project to help the bats in the mine: white nose fungus can’t survive in certain temperatures; it lies dormant. So if you can lower the temperature of the mine in the winter, when the bats are hibernating, they have more chance to survive. We had the opportunity to go visit the mine in February or March, so we had to snowmobile out there while we were working with the Department of Natural Resources. The whole project was through DNR — they’re implementing it but they wanted input from our department. And I love bats, they’re so cool and adorable; they kill mosquitos.

Another great thing about being out West — fewer mosquitos!

Q: Ha! Bug bites aside, would you ever come back to the Midwest?

A:  I figure I can always come back. I’ve been in the Midwest my whole life and I chose Michigan Tech because I came and toured here and it felt like home. Plus, I’m only 3.5 hours away from where I grew up. But it’s not like I go home on the weekends — I’d rather be here. Michigan Tech has been great. I don’t think I could do a bigger school. It’s a really close-knit community and I really like that.

Mining Engineering

Michigan Tech’s first graduates were mining engineers. Now, it’s a whole new program: 


Q: That community has changed a lot and so has mining since Michigan Tech opened its doors. What’s different about your courses today?

A: The big changes are safety and technology.

The emphasis on safety is really important, including the addition of MSHA — the mining version of OSHA. We had the opportunity last semester to renew our MSHA certifications and we got to do it in class. Even when you’re not in a course that is solely about safety, instructors highlight aspects of it; like, safety was a big part of my drilling and blasting course.

The other big change is keeping up with the technology. A lot of courses now will do modeling, mapping ore bodies and drill holes, things like that. We can get really accurate mapping of a mine and what we’re going to be digging. What’s cool about our Tech program is that they cater to new tech so courses like mine design and mine planning are helpful, and you get to use software that companies actually use. In Senior Design, we’re going to be mapping an ore body. So keeping up with the technology, especially with everything going autonomous, is making a huge impact on the mining process. We’re not doing things by hand anymore.

That’s why I like mining engineering — it’s a balance of old-school field geology and new tech. In short-range planning, you have the design aspect of the project and looking at all the computer elements, but then you also go out into the field and see where the dig face is at, see what the operators see, and get the human element in there as well.

Q: What are you most excited about?

A:  I enjoy it. That makes me really excited. I love the industry; I fit in really well. Growing up in the logging industry, it’s different, but there are similar aspects. I like the work, I like experiencing the mines and I like the big equipment. I just love mining. I nerd out a bit.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.