Mining engineering program celebrates 125 years of success

December 16, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — On Oct. 4, 1890, Penn State’s Board of Trustees approved the establishment of a mining engineering degree program. In the 125 years since then, Penn State’s mining engineering program has become one of the most influential in the country, helping to educate future engineers and providing leadership and ideas to help shape the industry.

Evolution of the industry: from mules to machines

Penn State’s mining engineering program played a major role in helping the mining industry transition and progress into how it operates today. In the 1880s, it was common practice for mules (such as Penn State’s Old Coaly) to carry materials out of mines. As demand increased, mining companies sought ways to improve efficiency, and one way to accomplish this was mechanization, or the use of technology such as electric-powered conveyor belts and elevators to accomplish task previously done manually.

One of the first graduates of Penn State’s mining engineering program, Lewis Young (who received his bachelor of science degree in 1900), was renowned for his expertise in mine mechanization. He advised mines worldwide on how to implement new technologies and was responsible for the first complete mechanization of a coal mine in Illinois. In 1960, he was named a Penn State Alumni Association Distinguished Alumnus in honor of his achievements.

Technological innovation evolved from mechanization to computerization — initially using computers in the planning and design process. Operating a mine with and without computers was like “night and day,” said Tom Falkie, who served as head of the Department of Mineral Engineering (the predecessor to the John and Willie Leone Family Department of Energy and Mineral Engineering) from 1969 to 1973.

“In the 1950s, Penn State and two mining companies were the leaders in computerized mine planning and mine operations. We would develop applications to simulate different mine plans, and then put the plan that had the best potential into operation. Without a doubt, it increased efficiency of mines tremendously. Eventually, everyone across the world got involved, and today the use of computers in mine operations has become much more advanced,” said Falkie, who later served as president of Berwind Natural Resources Company.

Falkie and other Penn State mining engineering faculty such as Howard Hartman, Robert Stefanko, Charles Manula, Frank Aplan, Reginald Hardy, Stan Suboleski and Raja Ramani were instrumental in both conducting groundbreaking mining research and educating future mining engineering faculty members.

“Penn State’s mining engineering program has produced some of the best and most original thinkers in the mining industry. At one point, around 25 percent of the mining engineering faculty across the United States had received a mining engineering degree from Penn State,” said Ramani, an alumnus, professor emeritus of mining engineering and geo-environmental engineering and head of the Department of Mineral Engineering from 1987 through 1998. “I studied under Charles Manula, and seven of the eight Ph.D. students studying with me at the time went on to become faculty members at colleges across the United States. He was a beacon of light when it came to operations research and computers. Almost anyone who wanted to do work in this area was attracted to Penn State because of him.”

As a testament to the expertise of Stefanko and other Penn State mining engineering faculty, several books used in mining engineering curricula worldwide were authored by former Penn State mining engineering faculty: Howard Hartman, who was head of the Department of Mineral Engineering from 1957 to 1963, wrote “Mine Ventilation and Air Conditioning” and Stefanko’s “Coal Mining Technology: Theory and Practice,” now in its fourth edition, can still be found in classrooms today. Hartman was also called upon to serve as senior editor for one of the largest manuals used by the industry — the 2,453-page “Mining Engineering Handbook” produced by the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration (SME).

Pioneers in safety

Safety in the mining industry is equally, if not more, important than efficiency. Two Penn State alumni paved the way for improving mine safety. George Deike Sr. and John Ryan Sr., who both received bachelor of science degrees in mining engineering from Penn State in 1903 and 1908, respectively, started the Mine Safety Appliances (MSA) company in 1914 to develop new equipment to improve safety. The company collaborated with Thomas Edison to develop the first-ever electric cap lamp, which cut fatalities by nearly 75 percent, according to the MSA.

The names Ryan and Deike may be familiar to Penn State visitors; each have facilities named in their family’s honor on the University Park campus — the Deike Building and the Ryan Family Student Center, the college’s advising, tutoring and social hub.

Ryan and Deike each had sons — John Ryan Jr. and George Deike Jr. — who would go on to get their mining engineering degrees from Penn State and continue in their fathers’ footsteps by focusing on improving mine safety. Deike Jr. and Sr. also played a strong role in Penn State’s development by serving on the Board of Trustees; together, the two served for 51 years total. George Deike Jr. and Sr. and John Ryan Jr. received the Penn State Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumni award in recognition of their accomplishments.

George Deike Jr.’s wife, Anne B. Deike, endowed the first professorship in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences in 1998.

“The University is always proud of endowed chairs, and they’re really a testament to relationships between industry and education,” said Ramani, who was the inaugural holder of the George H. Jr. and Anne B. Deike Endowed Chair in Mining Engineering. Today, the chair is held by Jeff Kohler, who previously served as director of the Office of Mine Safety and Health Research at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Over the years, Penn State faculty and graduate students have been responsible for numerous advances in ground control, ventilation, electrical systems, systems engineering and other topics, and these advances have led to significant gains in safety as well as productivity.

Strong industry leadership

Since 1894, the mining engineering program has coordinated efforts to promote and publicize new knowledge and has provided outreach to the larger mining community. “The Mining Bulletin,” first created in 1894, was published to the benefit of the mining industry, and former Penn State President George Atherton served on the publication’s board of managers. The bulletin comprised articles on technology written by members of the community, and it was distributed free of charge to anyone interested.

In the mid-20th century, several other programs were created at Penn State to promote best practices and keep professionals up-to-date with new mining techniques. A series of short courses were made available in the 1970s through the 1990s for miners across the country. Additionally, through the Miner Training Program, established in the 1970s, Penn State assists mining companies across the Pennsylvania by providing training in areas such as ground control, ventilation and safe work practices to mine employees. The Miner Training Program is supported by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Mine Safety, a division of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

The mining engineering program’s leadership extended to professional organizations. Multiple Penn State faculty — Stefanko, Falkie and Ramani — have been presidents of SME, which is the largest professional organization for mining engineers with 15,500 members worldwide. Several others have served as president of the American Institute of Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers (AIME), which represents over 150,000 professionals worldwide in the areas of mining, materials research, iron and steel, and petroleum engineering.

Government also sought the expertise of many Penn State mining engineering faculty. Falkie left Penn State in 1974 to serve as director of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Mines. Edward Steidle, who served as dean of EMS from 1928 through 1953, was appointed on separate occasions by both President Dwight Eisenhower and President John Kennedy to serve as chairman of the Federal Coal Mine Safety Board of Review. Steidle, Mitchell and Hartman received Presidential appointments to serve as chair of the Federal Metal and Nonmetallic Mine Safety Board, and Kohler was appointed to head the government’s mine safety and health research program at NIOSH.

Several mining engineering faculty and alumni were elected fellows of the National Academy of Engineering, the highest honor for engineers in the United States. Twenty-three researchers have been elected to the NAE for their contributions to the mining industry, and seven of these are current or former Penn State mining engineering professors: Falkie, Ramani, Suboleski, Aplan, Ramani, Richard Hogg and Derek Elsworth.

Penn State alumni have also been leaders within the industry — more than 70 alumni have risen to the rank of president or CEO of their company.

Students and faculty have the opportunity to tap into this industry expertise through the G. Albert Shoemaker Lecture in Mineral Engineering series. The series was established in 1992 by Mercedes G. Shoemaker to honor her husband, a Penn State mechanical engineering alumnus who was president of CONSOL Energy and served as a Penn State trustee for more than 20 years. The series has brought presidents, vice presidents and CEOs of major energy companies and governmental organizations (MSHA, NIOSH and the United States Geological Survey) to the University Park campus to speak on critical topics in the mining industry, such as safety and energy security.

Hands-on experiences through industry ties

Practicums, internships and co-op experiences have been part of the mining engineering curriculum since the first courses were offered in the 1890s. According to the 1893-94 course catalog that is available in the Eberly Family Special Collections Library, two weeks at the end of every year were devoted to “practice in the field or in machine shops,” where students got experience with underground and above-ground surveying techniques, and mine inspection.

By the 1920s, travel to local mines had become an integral part of the curriculum: “Visits of Inspection to Mines, Furnaces, Etc.” was a required course to complete the mining engineering program during the 1920-21 school year. By the 1960s, a “student trainee” program was initiated by Howard Hartman. In this program, students completed the degree in five years by alternating periods of employment in industry and course work at Penn State. According to the 1960-61 course catalog, “numerous mining and manufacturing companies as well as governmental agencies [were] co-operating with the University” to provide employment to students.

Those industry ties have strengthened over the years, as practical experience is common through internships and co-ops. In 2015, 80 percent of undergraduate students had an internship or co-op, and job placement is close to 100 percent, said Kohler.

“We are fortunate to have a very strong collaboration with mining companies, manufacturers and government agencies, as well as a large and very much engaged group of alumni who work with our students and provide internships as well as full-time employment opportunities,” said Kohler.

Those internships and co-ops expose students to a wide range of assignments they may complete as a mining engineer, working in a variety of locations and with numerous commodities. There are nearly 14,000 mines in the USA extracting more than 75 different commodities. Worldwide, those numbers increase to nearly 200 commodities being mined at tens of thousands of facilities. Mining contributes nearly 15 percent to the domestic and 25 percent to the global economies, and mined products are ubiquitous in society — from their use in agriculture, manufacturing and construction, to pharmaceuticals, solar cells and electric cars.

“The demand for mined products, and at the same time, the challenges to mine in a profitable, safe and environmentally responsible way have never been greater. Graduates from our program will continue a 125-year tradition of excellence and technological innovation that will put them and the U.S. industry second to none,” said Kohler.

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Last Updated February 08, 2016