Mining engineering students learn valuable skills through mine rescue contest

April 22, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — On March 30, Penn State hosted the SME (Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration) Eastern Collegiate Mine Rescue contest. Teams from Penn State, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, West Virginia University, and the University of Kentucky competed throughout the morning in mock mine-hazard scenarios.

At 9 a.m. the first competition kicked off with Penn State’s Mount Nittany Mine Rescue Team gathering together to figure out their mine scenario. Tail captain Vanilo Antonio relayed to map man Mark Lawrence what the conditions were in the simulated mine scenario. Various mock situations were set up along the path of the mine, including a caved-in roof and chemical hazards. The team had to work together to get safely past each scenario, including checking for oxygen levels and ensuring all of their equipment was in tow.

“As the captain, I had the obligation to lead my team through a systematic exploration of the simulated mine," said Kevin Toe, Penn State senior mining engineering student. "Knowing that my team relied on me to properly and successfully complete the course made me rethink more than once how I gave my orders. The challenges of being captain mostly come from being able to make quick decisions on what to do next and properly communicate to the rest of the team, as well as getting your team to trust you."

In addition to the mock hazards throughout the mine scenario, the team was also tasked with locating a missing person. They needed to find out how to safely get to the person and bring them out of the mine.

“It was my first time with this experience and it felt like we were in a real-life situation. The team had to figure out whether there were people alive in the mine," said Kiazoa Joao, Penn State senior mining engineering student. "Once they found out there was a live person [Joao] trapped in the mine, they had to find a way to ventilate the mine and take me out of there alive."

Kiazoa Joao, Penn State senior mining engineering student, waits for help.

Kiazoa Joao, Penn State senior mining engineering student, waits for help.

IMAGE: Penn State

Although Penn State’s team did not place, they still had a great opportunity to learn and test many new skills. Sekhar Bhattacharyya, adviser for the Mount Nittany Mine Rescue Team and associate professor of mining engineering, hopes the students learned focus, leadership skills, attention to detail, time management, effective communication and the value of life. He also hopes they experienced pride for being part of the great culture of mining engineering.

“Penn State is home to a high-quality mining engineering program, which was established in 1890," said said Bhattacharyya.. "Currently we are ranked fifth in the world by QS Top Universities 2018 rankings. While research and academics are two very strong components of the program, deep-rooted industrial collaboration and training have always been of prime importance.

"I felt fortunate to be instrumental in hosting the SME Eastern Collegiate Mine Rescue Contest," he added. "My thanks go to all who supported organizing this event, especially the staff and  Sanjay Srinivasan, head of the John and Willie Leone Family Department of Energy and Mineral Engineering, and Lee Kump, dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences."

Edward Zeglen Jr., the Mount Nittany Mine Rescue Team coach, originally started the team at Penn State and has been instrumental in training and preparing the students for mine rescues.

“I felt that the entire mining engineering program at Penn State did an outstanding job of putting on the contest," said Zeglen. "The trainers and mentors, as well as myself, were all very pleased with the event and spectators. We look forward to the future of collegiate mine rescue contest and hope to host the event again at Penn State, two years from now."

Members of the 2019 mine rescue team with faculty, staff, and alumni supporters.

Members of the 2019 Mount Nittany Mine Rescue Team with faculty, staff and alumni supporters.

IMAGE: Penn State


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Last Updated June 21, 2019