Underground Mine Education Center, internships key tools to mining engineering student’s success

Ian Pfeffer works in the UMEC

Mining engineering sophomore Ian Pfeffer likes to blaze his own path.

It would have been easy for Pfeffer to follow in the footsteps of his parents and older brother and attend the Colorado School of Mines, but instead, he chose to head north to Montana Tech.

“I lived right outside of Denver,” Pfeffer said. “It has been nice to get out of the city. Butte has that historical appeal. I have relatives in Bozeman that aren’t too far away.”

Pfeffer’s coursework allows him to spend several hours weekly in the Underground Mine Education Center (UMEC). The UMEC is a hands-on, interdisciplinary educational space consisting of the former Orphan Boy and Orphan Girl Mines located immediately west of campus. It is the nation’s only on-campus underground mining facility, and is home to courses for mining engineering, geological engineering, environmental engineering, metallurgical engineering, and occupational safety and health. It also serves as a research facility.

“We actively recruited Ian to Mining Engineering,” Assistant Professor of Mining Engineering Chris Roos said. “With his intellect combined with his desire for hard-work and hands-on learning, we knew that he would thrive at Montana Tech and he hasn’t disappointed us. Through his first three semesters, Ian has shown us that he’s able to maintain excellent grades while taking on leadership rolls within the Intercollegiate Mining Team and Underground Mine Education and even serving as a Teaching Assistant in the first year engineering course. I look forward to watching Ian’s career progress over the next few years and well into the future as he makes his mark on the mining industry.”

This year Pfeffer is showing first-year students how to jackleg drill and conduct other underground mining activities.

“Drilling the blast holes is the fun part,” Pfeffer said. “There’s a lot of the old workings down there you can see. They are blocked off, but it’s neat to see them.”

Pfeffer said he had no issues landing a summer internship as a freshman. He spent the summer of 2023 working at the Spring Creek Coal Mine near Decker for Navajo Transitional Energy Company. Tasks included using drones to survey the mine and computer drafting programs to design an overburden dump.

“Many companies will hire freshmen as interns and give you a chance,” Pfeffer said.

Pfeffer plans to go underground in the summer of 2024 to intern at the Stillwater Mine near Nye, where he’ll mine palladium and platinum. Pfeffer hasn’t found any mine or ore he prefers yet. He wants to experience a wide variety of techniques in the industry. For students considering mining, Pfeffer says the opportunity is great. Most internships are paid, and mining careers are in demand.

“The whole world runs on mining,” Pfeffer said. “It’s a big part of every industry. Without it, the world would stop turning.”

If students have an interest, the possibilities are limitless.

“Mining is great,” Pfeffer said. “There’s a lot of jobs available right now. You don’t have to know much about mining. Just give it a chance. It’s a lot of fun. It will put you in a great position. You can live almost anywhere in the country. I know a couple of students headed to the East Coast this summer. There are a lot of opportunities outside of the U.S., too.”

For now, Pfeffer thinks he will try to stay in Wyoming and Montana.

“I love the country up here, and I want to keep my plans open,” Pfeffer said.