Arizona Educators Energized: Mining Conference Welcomes K-12 Teachers for STEM Insights

April 26, 2024
Arizona teachers in a workshop

17 Arizona teachers participated in a workshop dedicated to sharing the importance of the green energy revolution

Dedicated to the worldwide exploration, mining, and mineral processing industry, the annual MINEXCHANGE SME Conference & Expo attracts thousands of mining professionals from around the world for four days of interdisciplinary education. But this year, thanks to the efforts of the Arizona Science Center, the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration Foundation’s Minerals Education Coalition (MEC), and the University of Arizona School of Mining & Mineral Resources, there were some new stakeholders in the event: Arizona K-12 science educators.  

On February 27, a daylong professional development workshop provided 17 science teachers from across the state with knowledge of the importance of mining to the green energy revolution. The workshop featured interactive presentations, hands-on learning sessions, and career panels that allowed attendees to meet with industry professionals and learn about the diverse career opportunities available for their students in the mining industry upon graduation. 

“The focus was to introduce teachers to the mining and mineral resources industry and all the things that it can offer their students,” said Chris Earnest, UArizona School of Mining & Mineral Resources K-12 Education Outreach Coordinator. “That includes not only career pathways but also ways they can use the information about what we do with mined materials in their classrooms to help connect some of those key science concepts.” 

"I had a great time and I learned so much. I can't wait to do it again next year!" - Workshop participant, K-12 teacher

The workshop was the brainchild of Kal Mannis, senior director for rural engagement at the Arizona Science Center. A former teacher, Mannis engages with K-12 educators throughout Arizona to support workforce development in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. He was familiar with School of Mining & Mineral Resources’ education outreach program and thought the school would be an ideal partner for the project. “I'm always looking for opportunities that are out of the mainstream, but fit into the workforce development focused on Arizona,” he said. 

Teachers talking

Teachers at the MINEEXCHANGE SME Conference explore hands-on science activity stations

Mannis assembled his dream team of collaborators: Chris Earnest and Akudo Nwokeukwu, outreach coordinator MEC. Mannis used his connections with schools to recruit teachers to participate in the workshops, while Nwokeukwu obtained approvals for the idea and coordinated resources from the MEC. As chair of the organizing committee, Earnest helped the team develop an educational program that would provide workshop materials that would be most useful for the teachers. 

Furthering the collaborative spirit of the event, the organizing committee contacted teachers in advance to solicit ideas for workshop activities and events. In the end, the agenda included a presentation on the transition to green energy powered by earth scientists and engineers, hands-on science activity stations, and an industry panel discussion that included Lisa Rudstrom, Mineral Education Coalition Committee 2024 incoming vice chair, data manager, Northeast Technical Services, Mario Muñoz, recruitment & outreach coordinator, School of Mining & Mineral Resources, and Rebecca Siwale, vice president, head of digital services, FLSmidth Mining. The day’s events concluded with a tour of the bustling MINEXCHANGE exhibit floor, and a presentation about the development of mining and metals company South32’s Hermosa Project at its Southern Arizona project site from Pat Risner, president, Hermosa Project, South32. 

“It was a long day and a lot of information,” Earnest said. “But the response from the teachers was very enthusiastic. We successfully introduced them to the mining industry as it relates to their students, but we also provided them with materials to help them in their science teaching.” 

The workshop was such a resounding success that plans are already underway to continue the program next year. “Throughout the day, there weren’t any frowns,” Mannis said. “Everybody was engaged. The Arizona Science Center is happy to be a partner in this process, especially with the School of Mining & Mineral Resources and MEC. The process of what was going to be taught and when was all done collaboratively, and everybody brought their strengths.”