By Dionne Walker

A Colorado School of Mines student writes specifications inside the Edgar Mine.
When most college students discuss their Friday night plans, the words "muck" and "blasting caps" don't often come up. Unless of course they are one of Dave Mosch's students at the Colorado School of Mines. There, Friday nights are less about socializing and more about academics as students suit up for their classes at the school's experimental mine. Each semester, about 30 students enroll in "Mining Safety" and "Mining Engineering Lab," a set of courses at the school combining lectures on mine safety with hands-on experience in nearby Edgar Mine. The defunct silver mine is the perfect setting for teaching logistics and mapping skills, says Mosch, who also manages the mine.

The classes start at 1 p.m. and run for eight hours. Only the first hour is devoted to lecture with the rest of the time used to perform tasks in the mine. Class begins with a discussion of safe mining practices, including the correct use of explosives, drilling techniques and methods of excavation. After the lecture, students don work boots, hard hats and other gear as they prepare to enter the mine.

Students are arranged in teams of three called crews, which are headed by "shifters"--students who have previously taken the class and are already familiar with the mine.Working in these small groups is one of the most practical parts of the course, says Arthur Brown, a mining engineering major who took the class last fall. "The crew situation is a vitally important component of being a mining engineer," says Brown. "For the rest of my career, I will be working on committees, perhaps supervising a crew, and working with others."

The eight-hours pass quickly as students do everything from mimicking the techniques that Mosch demonstrates to navigating their way through the mine in a thick haze of artificial smoke, all designed to simulate real situations that mining engineers may face. To make the class more realistic, Mosch gives the students a budget, which they must use to buy all of the tools they need to complete their jobs. Students even face pretend government inspectors who come in occasionally, as well as environmental inspectors--who issues fines for safety violations. "What I'm simulating is the real world so that these [students] can understand how it works," says Mosch.

Safety is a huge part of the class, with tests on such things as dangerous gases making up nearly 50 percent of the students' grade. The other half is based on ratings students receive from their shifters, who base their evaluation on how much the students know about safety and their overall attitude toward the work they're doing. Brown, who plans on pursuing a career at a large mine company upon graduation, says the class made him realize just how important safe mining practices are. "I certainly gained a greater appreciation for the need of safety in underground situations because of the infinite possible unforseen hazards," he says.

One of the biggest challenges of the class is taking students who are book smart and showing them how to physically apply that knowledge, says Mosch. While the physical aspects of the class may be a change for some students, Mosch says that being in a real working environment allows instructors to demonstrate more things and give students added understanding that books may not be able to provide. "I hand them a wrench and say go check the oil on this machine, and they say 'what is a wrench?" Mosch says. But with such on-the-job training, he adds, they learn very quickly.

Dionne Walker is a Prism editorial intern.

 

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