Thursday, November 24, 2011

Douglas College student does co-op at coal mine

Photo: David Denofreo
Ask her about coal: Geology student AJ
Ward examines the black stuff.
By Tamara Letkeman, doug Editor

Summer is a time when we do the things we love: travel, spend time at the cabin, lie on the beach, go camping and barbecue. AJ Ward is no exception to this rule. Last summer the Geology student did something she loved: working at an open pit coal mine.

It was a dream come true for AJ, who did a three-month Co-op placement through Douglas College at Peace River Coal’s Trend Mine site near Tumbler Ridge, B.C., a five-and-a-half hour drive northeast of Prince George. “It was fun for me,” says AJ. “I was in exploration, so basically we worked on developing the other properties that Trend Mine is thinking of expanding.”

Co-op placements integrate academic studies with work experience. After completing the first half of a diploma or university transfer program, Co-op students alternate semesters of classroom studies with semesters of paid, full-time employment.

AJ was in charge of extracting coal from core pieces and packaging, weighing and shipping it to Vancouver. She says her experience at the mine complemented what she’s been learning in the classroom. “I applied what I learned at Douglas, but I don’t think you could get anything this hands-on at school.”

Nor were the conditions what she was used to. But Dave Thompson, AJ’s supervisor, says he was impressed with how quickly she acclimatized to her new surroundings. “Working in exploration has many challenges, and most of them are related to the remoteness of the locations and the challenges associated with this,” he says. “It’s not for everyone, and it requires a substantial amount of stamina, hardiness and maturity. I was impressed with AJ’s ability to adapt to the harsh conditions.”

Dave also says he’d hire AJ again if the opportunity came up. “AJ was keen to work in an unfamiliar environment. She’s smart, very focused on her work and worked well without supervision.”

Once AJ completes her Associate Degree in Geology at Douglas, she plans to transfer to SFU and get a bachelor of science degree in Earth Sciences. From there, she’s not sure which branch of geology she’ll pursue. “Part of why I did the Co-op was to help me decide whether I wanted to go into industrial or environmental geology," she says. "It’s a big choice. I could end up working in coal. I could end up working for the government in environmental geology.”

To learn more about Co-operative Education at Douglas, visit the web page.