Pioneering the Future of Sustainable Mining: Teresa Billick's Journey in Environmental Science and Mineral Resources

June 28, 2024
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Teresa Billick receives a $2,000 scholarship to pursue a minor in sustainable mineral resources at Mines for Limitless Minds.

Teresa Billick receives a $2,000 scholarship to pursue a minor in sustainable mineral resources at Mines for Limitless Minds.

In November, environmental science major Teresa Billick was one of five hard-working students to receive a $2,000 scholarship to pursue a minor in sustainable mineral resources from the University of Arizona School of Mining and Mineral Resources. Provided by the school's industry partner Freeport-McMoRan, the scholarships are available to degree-seeking undergraduates with a minimum 3.0 GPA, enabling students to work with faculty from across colleges to learn about the skills needed in the mining industry.

A native Tucsonan, Billick is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in environmental science. In addition to the Freeport-McMoRan scholarship, she is fully funded by the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Foundation as well as Arizona Science, Engineering, and Math (ASEMS) and Phi Theta Kappa scholarships.

Billick is considering a career in soil science after earning an accelerated master’s degree. Intending to intern wherever she can get the most experience, Billick anticipates that her sustainable mineral resources minor will aid her in pursuing careers related to regulation enforcement, changing climate conditions, or pollution mitigation. “The program has taught me the history of mining and the importance of the industry as a whole. I’m learning what's expected of mining companies by the EPA and how much compliance is involved,” she says.

  • How has the Freeport-McMoRan scholarship helped you with your academic career?

The first internship I applied for and got called back for was with Freeport-McMoRan. I was offered a position in Silver City, New Mexico, at their Chino Copper Mine. I had knowledge of the company from my scholarship and was able to see the lengths they go to promote environmental action in the mining industry. I'm excited to be working on-site as an environmental engineer intern and living in New Mexico for the summer.

  • What led you to pursue a degree in environmental science?

Just being very interested in science. The idea of working on the frontline of climate change is exciting and interesting. The minor in sustainable mineral resources ties into the need for green energy metals, many of which are sourced here in the Southwest U.S.

  • In what ways do you see environmental sciences and sustainable mineral resources intertwining?

They say if it can't be grown, it must be mined. With increasing demand for green energy and its metals, it’s important to know how we can meet those needs while boosting environmental regulations and responsible mining practices.

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  • Before you enrolled in this minor, what were your thoughts about the mining industry?

I was aware of the negative connotations about mining but was unaware of just how much mining exists in the world. I’ve learned there is no quick alternative, and the demand for minerals is only going to increase. So how do we meet that demand but also pay attention to environmental safety? It’s my hope that the industry can come out from working in the shadows as was acceptable in the past. A future of increasing transparency, accountability, and public education is necessary to build a strong social license to operate and positive opinion for an industry that’s not going anywhere. 

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UArizona student stands near mine

  • What do you think about the importance of mineral resources for our future society and economy?

Because of increased demand, it's important to understand that there are ample mineral resources that will need to be mined safely. I've asked environmental science professors and researchers about their thoughts on the mining industry. One feeling is the hope that companies utilize their research and data to acknowledge environmental and health impacts rather than move to quiet it. That’s why I believe more education and transparency should be expected on the subject moving forward to avoid complicated, negative reactions in society.

  • What's been your favorite part of the minor so far?

Learning about the history of mining throughout the world. Mining has created many cities and governments, determined world powers, and bred conflicts too. There are the downfalls such as historical pollution, but you also learn which companies are really good and which companies have the whole business side of it ironed out. One great thing about the minor is that I'm not very familiar with economics, and the classes helped me make the connection between economic markets and environmental issues.

  • What are your thoughts about the Freeport-McMoRan internship you’ll be doing this summer?

I've heard really good things about Freeport. Out of all the companies I could be working for, I am thankful to be interning with such a reputable one. I understand them to be proactive and have a well-supported and motivated environmental department.

  • How do you envision the skills that you're learning will help with your future career?

Having an education in the mining industry will be helpful. It overlaps through and through with the environmental science field. Mining has historically been a source of pollution and environmental impact, so I’m grateful to gain this education in the field and in the classroom. I am interested to see how the industry evolves over the next decade to blend sustainability and extraction. Also, having this minor opens doors to international career opportunities. I want to explore jobs in places like Peru, Indonesia, Europe, and Africa. Mining spans the globe, and so should the scope of my education in environmental science.