by Thomas Guengerich
SOCORRO, N.M., June 13, 2008 –Freeport-McMoRan, a worldwide leader in the mining industry, recently donated $1 million to New Mexico Tech to help create an endowed chair in the Mineral Engineering Department.
“This donation by Freeport-McMoRan is a great benefit to New Mexico Tech,” university President Dr. Daniel H. López said. “Through this partnership, we will be able to continue to attract the best instructors and top students.”
Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold Inc. is the world’s largest publicly traded copper company, with headquarters in Phoenix. The company operates mines that produce more molybdenum than any company in the world.
“We’re very pleased to be able to make this donation to New Mexico Tech to help strengthen their Mineral Engineering Department. This investment represents a number of investments we have made in partner universities to support the expansion of mining engineering programs across the United States,” said Richard C. Adkerson, President and Chief Executive Officer of Freeport-McMoRan. “Copper mining is an exciting and vital industry, presenting future engineers with the opportunity for rewarding work, highly competitive compensation and growth and development in national and international settings.”
Along with $1 million of matching funds from the state of New Mexico, the state-supported university in Socorro has created a $2 million endowment to add a new faculty position in the department.
“This sort of support is indispensable for New Mexico Tech to continue to produce mining engineers,” Lopez said. “With this support we can attract, retain and graduate the best and brightest for future work in the extractive industries.”
Formerly known as New Mexico School of Mines, the university has one of only 12 mining engineering programs in the nation.
Department chair Navid Mojtabai said the company’s donation is not only generous, but also indicative of the need for more mining engineers.
“The Mineral Engineering department offers a very broad-based program with strong emphases in mining” he said. “We need faculty with broad background – not just in mining, but civil engineering, geology and processing.”
Mojtabai said the donation gives the university flexibility with hiring a top-notch educator.
“Because of our low enrollment in the Mineral Engineering Department, we do need outside assistance,” Mojtabai said. “We go through cycles of high and low enrollment, so we rely on outside sources to stay self-sufficient.”
The skyrocketing price of oil and gas in recent months has generated headlines around the world. The price of metals like copper has been on a steep climb as well. As demand outpaces supply, mining companies like Freeport-McMoRan have accelerated their activities globally.
Freeport-McMoRan reported $16.9 billion of revenue in 2007, nearly triple its 2006 revenue of $5.9 billion. The company operates mines in Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. Internationally, the company operates mines in Indonesia, Congo, Peru and Chile. In addition to its proven expertise, Freeport-McMoRan has significant reserves of copper, gold and molybdenum.
“The markets for the metals we produce are strong and we are aggressively pursuing growth opportunities, creating significant employment opportunities, particularly for engineers,” Adkerson said. “Our goal is to work with universities such as New Mexico Tech to support student recruitment, strong curriculum and quality faculty.
Despite the growing demand, college-age students are not selecting mineral engineering in enough numbers to keep up with the industry’s demand for professional engineers. The industry needs 300 engineers each year, but the 12 mining engineering colleges in America are only graduating 100 each year, Mojtabai said. Additionally, the industry is aging – the average age of mining engineers is 55, he said.
“There is a serious shortage of mining engineers and a very high demand,” he said. “The industry needs engineers to match the increase in production, but also to replace those who are retiring.”
The Mineral Engineering department at New Mexico Tech has four professors, 17 undergraduate students and 20 graduate students. Recruiting is difficult, Mojtabai said, because students know very little about the discipline, unlike civil, mechanical and electrical engineering.
“Students see gas prices going up and they flock to petroleum engineering,” Mojtabai said. “But when was the last time you went to the store to buy five pounds of copper?”
– NMT –