This year marks the third time since 1997 that Mining and Minerals Engineering has been named a University Exemplary Department. The award was announced in February by the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost.

The University Exemplary Department or Program Award “honors the collaborative efforts and successes of a group of dedicated colleagues actively performing work that is essential for sustaining a truly excellent academic environment,” according to its website.

Each year a selection committee drawn from across the university evaluates program performance based on a theme and chooses one or more departments to serve as examples of excellence. Mining and Minerals Engineering was chosen this year because of its commitment to providing engagement activities to benefit student well-being and sense of belonging.

MME received $20,000 with the award, and will invest it in more student-focused projects, Department Head Kray Luxbacher said.

Luxbacher said the money will be split between three initiatives: sending students on additional field trips and to industry conferences, establishing a new undergraduate teaching assistantship and tutoring program, and holding a celebratory spring gathering in the new, improved Holden Hall. The department will move into its new offices and laboratories in March.

Departments that are nominated must submit letters of recommendation from students, alumni, and others that illustrate how and in what areas they excel.

“The professors within our department surpass all expectations and work diligently to create an environment where all students have endless opportunities to achieve their goals,” senior Ashley Woodward wrote. “When COVID-19 hit, many students lost their summer internships. In response, Dr. Luxbacher organized a paid summer research opportunity to help students gain valuable research experience and expand their health and safety knowledge.”

Woodward also noted the numerous student field trips, training opportunities, and social events that brought her closer to her peers. And like many MME students, she has taken advantage of undergraduate research opportunities that “allow many students to work towards discovering their own research interests, while building strong relationships with other students and professors in their lab group,” she wrote.

students in mining gear
MME sophomores ready to go underground during a 2021 class field trip to West Virginia.

Senior Baxter Jones wrote about the dedication faculty show to students.

“I am on a first name basis with all the MME professors I have had, which makes all the professors approachable about any questions we have,” Jones wrote. “For example, this semester I am taking the mining engineering capstone class, and I have talked to a couple previous professors about their expertise, outside of class time.”

Jones also detailed the department’s support of student professional development and networking.

“MME sends students to conferences, design team competitions, and field trips to mines.These extracurricular opportunities are an excellent way to learn more about industry, while networking with potential employers,” Jones wrote. “On one field trip my sophomore year to West Virginia, I received a Co-Op offer from the company we toured.”

MME provides a robust academic advising program, led by Michelle Crotto. She has worked closely with the department’s undergraduate and graduate students for the past six years, helping them navigate every aspect of their coursework, research and scholarship opportunities, and choices of internships, co-ops, and first jobs out of college.

In January, Crotto was named Advisor of the Month by the Office of Undergraduate Academic Affairs.

“My well-being in this department can be attributed to the excellent human qualities of faculty, advisors, and staff members, such as respect, politeness, and fairness,” wrote Manuel Barros Daza, who recently completed his doctorate. “This makes our departmental environment optimal for creating excellent interpersonal relationships, which in my opinion contribute to members’ well-being and a successful academic environment.”

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