Engineering, Exploration, and Expertise in Mining

"This program has helped me become a lot more well rounded."

Howard Cheng

Howard Cheng

Year: Going into 4th year (as of July 2023)

Why did you want to study engineering?

Physics and chemistry were always my favourite courses, and I actually spent a lot of time in high school designing things in CAD and doing 3D printing, staying behind after school to work on my own projects. Engineering seemed like the most obvious choice! 

Why did you choose UBC?

I chose UBC because of its first year foundation program. I liked not having to commit to any engineering discipline from the start. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to go into, so UBC gave me the opportunity to learn about all the specializations, meet people from different departments and industries, and make a more informed decision about my future.

Foundation Year

How did you choose your specialization in Mining Engineering?

I’ve always been interested in rocks and geology. I attended high school in Hong Kong and during one overseas trip I visited a mine site in New Zealand. Looking down into the mine, I was struck by how massive it was – seeing the haul trucks in such a big pit was mind blowing. I also realized how much the local town depended on the mine site, which underlines the community impact and importance of mining. Once I was at UBC I saw that the university has really strong connections with the mining industry – and I have to say I was keen on the idea of the annual grad trip as well!

Mining Engineering

What are some of the highlights of your education so far?

UBC Mining Engineering is a very tight community. Everyone knows each other and, especially if you spend time in the club room, you’ll get to know everyone. It’s great, not just for friendship, but for networking and support too. We all help each other out with school and jobs.

Do you think you’ve developed new skills as a result of studying engineering?

This program has helped me become a lot more well rounded. I’ve learned a lot of communication, teamwork and leadership skills through my classes and co-op work terms – which have also helped me develop new technical skills and learn about mine safety. 

Tell us about your co-op experiences.

I’ve done 28 months of co-op at different mine sites. The first was at Taseko’s Gibraltar mine near Williams Lake, BC. I rotated through multiple departments and spent some time in the field working with mine systems, pit dewatering, drill and blast, survey, ore control and more.

I then did 12 months at a fly-in-fly-out operation at Rio Tinto’s Diavik Diamond Mine in the Northwest Territories. There I was working more on the projects and construction side of things, including progressive mine closure for their waste rock pile and tailings pond. I also worked in survey and quality control. There was a lot of field work and acting as a liaison between the engineering department in the office and operations crew in the field.

Right now I’m on a four month co-op at Suncor in the Syncrude Mildred Lake site helping out with tailings planning. I’ve had the opportunity to work with the reclamation team, as well as shadow the crew on some of the heavy equipment. Spending time with operations has been lots of fun, and I’ve also learned a lot from a leadership perspective.

Co-op ProgramTaseko Gibraltar Mines Rio Tinto Diavik Diamond MineSuncor

Howard Co-op

Are you involved in any clubs or teams?

I was part of the Canadian Mining Games team for UBC as one of the co-captains. Last year’s competition was in Vancouver and it brought together nine other teams from across Canada. There were 20 to 30 different events and UBC came in third overall, which is a great showing.

I was also the professional development representative for the Mining Council last year and helped organize a trip to Toronto for a conference hosted by the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada. We were able to network with different people and mining companies, including international ones. I’m on the council this upcoming year as the grad representative and one of our goals is to plan an international grad trip – we’ll be visiting Japan and Mongolia.  

Canadian Mining Games 

Howard and his team

Where do you see yourself going from here?

After graduating, I would love to work at an operating mine.

I’ve started putting in applications for full time jobs, many of them overseas. I want to do as much hands-on field work as I can, and if I have the chance to operate heavy equipment, I think that would add a lot to my technical knowledge of planning and surveying.

I know some operations are a little behind the times in terms of technology implementation.

I would like to be involved in the implementation of autonomous haul trucks, which can contribute to stronger safety performance, or equipment that uses renewable energy.

I know some sites are starting to trial electric haul trucks, which have a huge impact on reducing emissions while also creating a quieter underground mining experience as well.

Any advice for other students?

In first year, go to as many departmental events as possible to learn more about the different disciplines and figure out which one you really want to pursue.

Getting involved and forming connections is important, as is finding a healthy balance between school and extracurriculars. As for choosing a specialization, I think Mining Engineering is a great choice if you want to make a difference. As we move to electrify and decarbonize our world, we will require so much more copper and other metals to support that shift to sustainability. There are a lot of opportunities for mining engineers!

Find me on:

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Two UBC mining engineering students at a co-op term at New Gold.

Mining Engineering

UBC’s Mining Engineering program is consistently ranked among the top in Canada. We offer a broad professional degree program that integrates courses on engineering principles, earth sciences, and mining and mineral processing...

Mining Engineering

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