Name: Hunter Stanley
Major: Mining and minerals engineering
Hometown: Coeburn, Virginia
Post-graduation plans: Engineering job at Alpha Metallurgical Resources

Mining came early to Hunter Stanley.

Born and raised in Virginia’s coalfields, Stanley spent his high school years working at Mill Creek Mining, owned by his grandfather. When he returns home to Coeburn in May with a bachelor’s degree in mining and minerals engineering, he’ll bring a wealth of skills and experience to his new job at nearby Alpha Metallurgical Resources.

Stanley’s grandfather, Ken, didn’t just give him his first job in mining, however. He also introduced his grandson to engineering as a career.

“I was always good at math and science in school. Then my grandfather pushed me to hang out with one of the mining engineers that he hires. And he's actually a Virginia Tech graduate and encouraged me to come here,” Stanley said.

Preparing for productive careers

Stanley and his fellow mining graduates will be entering the industry during a time of rising demand. Critical minerals needed for technological devices, electric cars, solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries are driving a worldwide boom in mining. And Virginia’s metallurgical coal is in high demand to help feed the growing global need for steel production.

Stanley transferred to Virginia Tech from a community college near Coeburn, where he received his associate’s degree. During his time in the department, he was exposed to new mining technologies and did two industry internships. At Salem Stone in Blacksburg, Stanley worked in the processing plant of a rock quarry. His second experience was at Coronado Coal Company’s Buchanan mine.

“It was kinda like a rock quarry on steroids. It's a whole lot bigger. All the equipment is bigger,” Stanley said. “It's really interesting because they don’t just crush and size the rock like a quarry operation. They use gravity separation, floatation, and a whole range of other techniques. The coal floats to the top. It’s really something to see rocks float.

His professors took notice of his desire to seek out a range of experiences, from playing an integral role in the Mine Safety and Rescue Team that recently placed second in a regional competition in West Virginia, to building autonomous bots in the new Center for Autonomous Mining, to learning the more scientific aspects of mine ventilation and safety.

“Hunter is a memorable student. He is curious about how to transfer the theory he learns in a pragmatic way, and he has an understanding of how to apply design in the context of mining operations, which is rare so early in one’s career,” said former department head Kray Luxbacher. “I look forward to watching his career unfold, and I think he will be a great asset to our industry.”

"Not only is Hunter a strong student, but he is very personable and has an outstanding positive attitude,” said interim department head Erik Westman. “He was an integral member of the team that worked to develop lab-scale equipment in the Center for Autonomous Mining."

Hunter Stanley on the Holden Hall patio
Like nearly 100 percent of mining engineering graduates, Hunter Stanley will start a full-time engineering job right after graduation. Photo by Tonia Moxley for Virginia Tech.

Full employment at graduation

Stanley credits his positive experience in the department to the tight-knit, student-focused culture of mining engineering. He said he did struggle with online learning during the coronavirus pandemic, and some of the classes were challenging. But when he needed help and support, he got it from faculty and classmates.

“I loved the professors. I'm on a first-name basis with all of them,” he said. “And I love my classmates. I have a personal relationship with probably everyone in the senior class, and I'm very good friends with some juniors and some sophomores.”

Like nearly 100 percent of graduating seniors in mining, Stanley already has accepted a full-time job that will start right after graduation. But he said it’s a bittersweet accomplishment.

“I'm ready to go to work,” Stanley said. “But I'm definitely going to miss all the people I've met here.”