Summer mining internship gives student broad exposure to industry

Liam Jackson
April 25, 2016

With only a few weeks left until summer, Katie Hutton began to feel anxious. As a mining engineering and German double major, she knew securing an internship would help set her apart when looking for jobs after graduation. Typically, mining engineering students find internships in the fall semester, but because Hutton enrolled in the program during the spring semester, she was scrambling to find an internship.

But then a chance conversation with her faculty adviser, Jeffrey Kohler, the George H. Jr. and Anne B. Deike Endowed Chair in Mining Engineering, opened a door for Hutton.

“Dr. Kohler asked if I was still looking for an internship. He said he knew an alum, Pete Merritts, who was looking for an intern. Dr. Kohler told me if I was interested, I could meet with Mr. Merritts the following week, so I did,” she said.

Kohler, as the chair of the undergraduate mining engineering program, cultivates relationships with alumni and leaders in the mining industry, like Merritts, who is the president of the Northern Appalachian Division of Corsa Coal Corporation, based in Somerset, Pennsylvania. But Kohler helped out more than just by making connections, says Hutton.

“This was my first real interview with a mining company, so I was very nervous. Dr. Kohler was very helpful in getting me prepared. He told me what was appropriate to wear and to expect. He offered a lot of support and made sure I was ready,” said Hutton. “And the interview was actually very fun. We talked about mining and real-world applications of some of the topics I had learned in my classes.”

Merritts hired Hutton as an intern in the summer of 2015 and took the approach of educating her about the coal mining industry as a whole.

“I put myself in her shoes, remembering what it was like when I was going into my junior year in college. I had a few internships with Bethlehem Mines Corporation, and those experiences really did help increase how much I learned in class. You can really relate more to what you’re learning in class once you see it in practice,” said Merritts. “As she takes more mining courses, I’m hoping she can say ‘Okay, I went to a surface mine. I saw them doing contour stripping. I saw them running the highwall miner. I saw something in a textbook that I’ve seen firsthand, and now I can relate to it better.’”

Building experience and knowledge

Hutton was able to spend time at each of Corsa Coal’s Northern Appalachia operations, where she got exposure to surface mining, underground mining, coal preparation plants, water treatment facilities, and reclamation activity. 

“It was a really good experience,” says Hutton. “At first it was introductory, but later in the internship, I was getting involved with more in-depth activities.”

One of those in-depth activities was a project to survey, or estimate, the tonnage of coal in a seam by hand.

“There are several ways to survey, and I had heard about how to do it by hand but had never actually done it. Whenever you’re exploring for ore bodies you’d want to mine, you’d do a calculation to find out how much coal is there. I had to get data points from a coal pile using a handheld GPS receiver, then upload that information into AutoCAD modeling software to calculate tonnage.”

student holding surveying equipment at surface mine

Katie Hutton surveys the perimeter of the pit at a Corsa Coal surface mine

IMAGE: Katie Hutton

Completing projects like this during internships not only helps students feel more confident and build practical skills but can also serve as talking points for future job interviews.

“When it comes time to hire a new employee, recruiters will be looking at grades and school activities, but they’re also going to look hard at students’ practical experience,” said Merritts. “Everybody wants a graduate who has experience from summer work, so they have a good understanding of actual operations and engineering.”

Peeling back layers of the complex world of industry

Internships offer students a chance not only to see real-world applications but also affords them the opportunity to see the bigger picture of how work gets done at an efficient, large-scale operation.

One surprise for Hutton was seeing how much effort goes into complying with mining permits, which are regulations under which work must be completed. Mining permits outline how companies must complete work to meet federal and state regulations related to things such as utilities, floodplains and waterways, geologic hazards such as landslides, and endangered species protections.

“Seeing the mining permits was such a good experience, and especially to see how much work goes into staying in compliance,” she says.

student in dark coal mine wearing reflective jacket

Katie Hutton stands in the underground portion of a Corsa Coal mine. Through her internship, Hutton saw many facets of the mining industry.

IMAGE: Katie Hutton

Understanding the context in which mining work has to be completed gave Hutton a realistic picture of mining operations.

“Some of my mining teachers have said, ‘Whenever you open a mine, you have to think about closing it,’ and I got to see that in practice. I enjoyed being able to see how Corsa managed its operations from end to end, and how much thought was put into where to put your coal pile, where to put your waste, how to reclaim land using topsoil and planting trees, and how to test and treat water,” she said.

Another unplanned benefit for Hutton was being able to participate in business meetings with a potential vendor for Corsa Coal.

“Corsa Coal was discussing utilizing a new piece of equipment for cleaning very fine pieces of coal. I was able to sit in on business meetings and saw negotiations around leasing versus purchasing, how the machine would be run, and the financial considerations. It was very interesting to see the financial side of the business operations.”

Penn State connections around every corner

From the moment she first set foot in Corsa Coal’s offices for her interview, Hutton got a glimpse into the value of a Penn State degree—and what many Penn Staters go on to accomplish.

“Many of the people I met throughout the summer were from Penn State,” she said. “It was great for networking and hopefully for finding jobs and internships in the future. Everyone was excited to hear about what professors were still here, what classes I was taking, and what I was learning about. It was fun to have something in common with them, and it made my step into the professional world easier by having something in common with these people.”

Merritts can attest to that, which is part of the reason he wanted to offer an internship to a Penn State student, he says.

“Penn State has one of the top mining schools in the country. I changed jobs a few times in my career, and every step of the way, when someone saw a Penn State mining engineering degree on my résumé, it made a difference,” he says.

Going out with a bang

“I got to see the engineers shoot off a blast on one of the surface mines, and they let me press the button to initiate it. After I pushed it, around 10,000 pounds of explosives went off. That was really cool,” she says. “Overall, the internship was a fun and rewarding experience, and I’m excited to branch out and find another internship next summer working with a different commodity.”

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 26, 2016