Scott Koermer, a doctoral student in Virginia Tech’s mining and minerals engineering department, is the third recipient of an SRK 2018 Scholarship Award. SRK, a world recognized consulting practice that provides focused solutions in the earth and water resource industries, established its scholarship program to encourage and support students undertaking graduate studies in mining-related fields.

This is the third SRK Scholarship awarded to a Virginia Tech graduate student in the 2018 academic year, with Paige Guse and Jon Baggett having also earned the prestigious and generous recognition.

A native of Basking Ridge, New Jersey, Scott is appreciative of the award as well as being recognized by the international organization. “SRK works on projects globally, and I see them as a potential employer after graduation,” says Scott. “I’m glad I was able to start building a relationship with the company through their scholarship program.”

Scott graduated from Virginia Tech with both his B.S. and M.S. in mining engineering (2014, 2015). After graduate school, he worked as a process engineer for Schnitzer Steel in Everett, Massachusetts, as part of its non-ferrous operations.

At this job he encountered numerous engineering challenges related to calculations of equipment downtime, scrap availability and metal pricing. “I saw a lot of operational variables that I felt could be quantified, but at the time the industry regarded them as random or unknowable." Scott felt certain, however, that these problems had answers. “I never really saw this knowledge as being impossible, but rather only as being difficult figure out.”

His certainty that there were answers to problems such as these prompted Scott’s desire to pursue research and a doctoral degree, and two years later, he found himself in Blacksburg working with Dr. Aaron Noble as his advisor.

Scott’s research is in the general area of process design and techno-economic process modeling.  “My current project is a perfect opportunity to gain valuable experience by building models with uncertain parameters that vary with natural and economic phenomena,” he notes.

Currently, his work supports one of Dr. Aaron Noble's research projects and specifically addresses the modeling of novel processes used to recover rare earth elements from acid mine drainage. The project team is hopeful that this research will lead to a new domestic source for critical rare earth elements.  Scott's specific work in modeling and optimization is a crucial component of the broader effort, which will lead to better understanding of potential cost drivers as well more efficient process solutions.

While research and doctoral studies consume much of his time, Scott sees his time in Blacksburg as a unique opportunity to take advantage of advanced learning. “One of the best parts of graduate work is the ability to take classes in any subject at a world-class university.”