Helicopters, gold pans and coconut cream pie – what do these things have in common? They all relate to mineral exploration and mining, as a group of 32 high-school students discovered when they attended Mineral Exploration Roundup at the Vancouver Convention Centre. The students, who came from 10 Lower Mainland high schools, spent the day engaging with the industry. They were guests of MineralsEd, which arranged for the facilitator, guest speakers and volunteers for this annual Career Exploration Day program.

In the morning, the students listened to several speakers, each working in some aspect of mineral exploration and mining, including geology, engineering, human resources, accounting and environmental services. Their afternoon was spent on the convention floor, where they interacted with people from diverse areas of the industry. Volunteers guided groups of three or four students through the experience.

Examining neat rocks on display was part of the fun for Ata, a Grade 12 student from West Vancouver Secondary

At the trade show, the students asked questions of exhibitors representing a broad cross-section of the industry, from exploration geologists to analytical chemists, to find out for themselves if a career in the industry might be for them. One of the students’ favourite booths was Matrix Helicopter Solutions, where they were intrigued by the glamorous prospect of flying to work in a helicopter. Another favourite was Yukon Dan, who was running the gold-panning exhibit. The students, gold pans in hand, followed Dan’s instructions, listened to his tips and swirled their pans with water until shiny nuggets were all that were left. What’s not to like about a hands-on activity?

The morning speakers were mostly young people, early in their careers. The students heard from Jason Courneyea, a geologist who described exploration geology as “trying to figure out a 500-piece puzzle when you’ve only been given 25 pieces.” This conundrum appealed to the students in the group who like to problem solve.

Learning how to pan for gold was fun for Cynthia, a Grade 11 student from Lord Byng Secondary

Julia Gartley, a mineral process engineer from Taseko Mines Limited, spoke to the group about her current project – extracting niobium. One of the common threads in the speakers’ messages was that they had each arrived at their careers via circuitous pathways, teaching the students the reality of the career search. Speaker Tom Broddy, a senior mining engineer also working with Taseko Mines Limited, advised, “Life is about choices. Then serendipity takes over. Enjoy it.”

When asked the proverbial question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” few students typically respond that they want to work in mineral exploration and mining. But after a day of listening, engaging and learning, many of the students on this field experience could see something of interest among the wide range of opportunities in the industry. A spark was ignited; perhaps a path will unfold.

Students pan for gold using magnetic separation at Yukon Dan’s station

One of the students’ favourite speakers was Nicole Westcott, who works in environmental services with Stantec. Her initial career was as a jazz musician. After a stint as an English major in university, she landed a job as a receptionist at a junior mining company. Eventually, she began writing for the company, and her career took off. Her pathway illustrated to the students that choosing a career in the industry may take some time and experimentation. It may also involve some amazing people. When Westcott went to a remote diamond camp in Inuvik, the Inuk chef there discovered that she had a favourite dish and, in a caring attempt to make her feel comfortable so far away from home, served it to her in camp. That dish? Coconut cream pie, of course!