Wildcats win big in SME mine design competitions

March 23, 2021

Two teams celebrate awards after completing their final presentations at MineXChange 2021

senior design team.

UArizona students went all out at this year’s Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration/National Sand, Stone and Gravel Association (SME/NSSGA) student design competitions. The senior design team, Aggregate Mining Solutions, brought home the gold against international participants—a first for the university. Not to be outdone, the Wildcat Junior Team earned third place in the Metallic Student Design Competition, which ran for the first time this year.

“The University of Arizona’s mine design teams have been consistently ranking in the top three for the past several years. We have a tight-knit group of undergraduate students who are passionate about everything they do,” said Moe Momayez, Interim Department Head of Mining and Geological Engineering at the University of Arizona. “The success of both the senior and junior mine design teams is also a reflection of the quality of our mining engineering program and the faculty in the department.”

In the senior team were Ryan Amos, Alexandra Contreras, Sarah Huggins-Hubbard, Nick Overleas, Will Peterson, and Nathan Syers. Kate Brown, Kerst Kingsbury, Schuyler Mangiafico, Victor Nieto, David Raihala, and Tennyson Wilson came together to form the junior team.

Most of the students find their home in the Mining and Geological Engineering Department (MGE), but some, like Sarah Huggins-Hubbard, hail from other departments. “I am studying engineering management and working towards my minor in mining engineering”, she said.

The challenges began in November and were concluded in the first week of March at the 2021 SME Annual Conference & Expo. Schuyler Mangiafico, leader of the junior team and a fourth-year student pursuing a bachelor’s in mining engineering, said that working remotely due to the pandemic made the first phase of the competition especially challenging. On top of that, the team of juniors had not yet taken all the core classes that would help them along the way. By phase two, though, they had found their groove. “Phase two went much smoother than phase one because we had gotten familiar with the software and we had more classroom knowledge under our belt,” Mangiafico said. “I actually used something I learned just a few weeks before phase two to solve one aspect of the problem they gave us.”

According to Will Peterson, head of the senior team and MGE undergraduate, a tight-knit team that worked hard to communicate was the key to their victory. “This has been one of the closest teams that I have worked with and I enjoyed every moment I get to spend with them,” he said. “It is my belief that this cohesiveness was paramount in the eyes of the six, industry-veteran judges, but more importantly our own enjoyment of the project.”

The success of both teams has already created a buzz in the mining engineering community. Brad Ross, Director of the Geotechnical Center of Excellence and Professor of Practice at the Lowell Institute of Mineral Resources, was impressed with the professionalism and thorough work of both teams. “The [senior] team went above and beyond by visiting local sand and gravel mines to better understand how those operations worked. They talked with the engineers who designed those mines to find out more about the intricacies of designing sand and gravel mines,” Ross said. “Even with one less year of experience than most of their competition, the junior team’s work was remarkably complete and professional.”

Steve Trussell, Executive Director of both the Arizona Rock Products Association and the Arizona Mining Association, was also excited to see the students’ final results. “The Arizona Rock Products Association and Arizona Mining Association could not be more delighted to hear of the recent success of the aggregate and metals design teams from the University of Arizona. These accomplishments demonstrate not only the fortitude of the students but also the skills and preparedness these students are receiving in UArizona’s world class program,” he said. “Both the rock products industry and hard rock mining industry look forward to working with these accomplished students and future leaders of our industry sectors.”

Watch the final presentation videos for yourself here: Senior Team and Junior Team.