By Karina Barrentine, UA College of Engineering
July 30, 2014
Danielle Taran’s internships have zigzagged her halfway across Texas and stepped her through the life of a mine – from pre-stripping land, to digging coal, to reclaiming a site.
Danielle Taran, right, with another mining engineering student.
University of Arizona senior Danielle Taran says there's nowhere else she'd rather be as she helps put back a 30-year-old mine site to the way it was, plans for digging coal at a new site, and holds her own with seasoned engineers in Texas.
The idea of converting to Texan is appealing to Danielle Taran, who is doing her third internship this summer at Luminant, a power generation company in the Lone Star State. She likes living on a lake with deer in her front yard, bald eagles overhead, and the abiding Texas armadillo and infamous wild pigs roaming about.
New experiences don't faze the first-generation college student from Gilbert, Arizona. After all, this is a woman who played Carnegie Hall in high school and is now holding her own in a field where men have dominated for centuries.
"I've always liked competing with the guys, and being good at what I do," said the University of Arizona mining engineering senior, who plays coed soccer and describes herself as an outdoorsy type.
Taran's jobs with Luminant have taken her halfway across Texas – from the Big Brown Mine in Fairfield, an hour and a half south of Dallas in a town with maybe two sit-down restaurants, to the Three Oaks Mine in Elgin, about 40 minutes from the state capital of Austin, and now this summer to the Kosse Mine, between Waco and College Station, home of Texas A&M.
The summer jobs have stepped her through the life of a mine – from pre-stripping land for coal mining, to mining operations, to reclaiming a mine site.
"I am working more with the crews and the actual digging of the coal this summer," said Taran, who returned to Luminant in May to round out her internship experience with a job in mining operations. "I worked with reclamation and the pre-strip engineering; now I get to see how the coal is mined."
Holding Her Own
When first-year intern Taran presented her $32 million reclamation plan for an open pit area roughly the size of 662 football fields at the 30-year-old Big Brown Mine, it was summer 2012, and she was a sophomore standing before the likes of senior vice presidents, directors and mine managers.
Before a company ever starts digging, it must have a plan in place to put the land back to its pre-mining land formations, accommodating its original lakes, streams and hills, vegetation, fish and wildlife. Taran was tasked with figuring out how to most effectively execute the plan to re-create Big Brown's contour.
"My job was to figure out how to fill up the open space that was in the mine, where to get the soil, and what equipment would be best for each of the jobs, taking into consideration the cost of everything," she said. "I was really excited to work with other engineers and help do something that made a difference."
Taran's excitement translated to competence, her presentation was spot on, and the reclamation is well underway.
"She's very driven, and she never let intimidation slow her down. As a result, she performed well in that environment," said Cydney Walling, talent acquisition manager for Luminant. "That was impressive. It's hard to find that in someone at such a young age."
The next summer Taran worked at Luminant's Three Oaks Mine planning pre-strip operations, processes that remove the rocks and soil in preparation for mining, and completed a coal quality feasibility study.
"My first summer was so good that I wanted to go back," she said, adding that internships give students a chance to try out different jobs in different locations. "This summer, I'll be living in College Station, a good place to actually live when I graduate."
Considering that more than 90 percent of seniors interning at Luminant are offered full-time positions, landing in College Station is a distinct possibility for Taran.
Job internships are a win-win-win: for students, the company, and the University.
At Luminant, interns are recruited for specific positions and paid a competitive salary. Relocation assistance is available, and students who work multiple summers receive signing bonuses. Students fill a company need and get real-life experiences on projects that reinforce and add to what they are learning in their classes. Plus, they have opportunities to socialize with other interns and network with company leaders.
Texas does not have a mining school, so in addition to the University of Arizona, Luminant draws interns from the Missouri University of Science and Technology, the University of Kentucky, the Colorado School of Mines and the South Dakota School of Mines.
In an industry where it can take 10 to 15 years to acquire the level of senior engineer and more than half the engineering workforce is nearing retirement age, recruitment and training are essential. Companies like Luminant depend heavily on their internship, leadership development and fast-track supervisory programs to fill the positions.
"Our relationship with universities is critical because the intern program is a significant pipeline in our business," said Walling. "We're hiring people early in their careers, training and developing them, and giving them an opportunity to grow into leadership roles."
The Start of It All
Taran, who declared her major at the end of her freshman year, was only a semester into actual mining classes when she attended a UA career fair her sophomore year and got her first Luminant internship.
"They took a chance on me," she said.
In fact, when she started at the UA, Taran, who is set to graduate in May 2015 debt free, didn't even know she wanted to be in engineering, never mind mining engineering. She had considered nursing, pharmacy and law school. A geosciences class and a mining engineering student at a UA Meet Your Major fair convinced her otherwise.
"I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. Then he told me all about the different opportunities in mining and about the student-run San Xavier Mine," she said. "Ever since then, I have been hooked."
Taran began volunteering at the UA's underground San Xavier Mine, one of only three student mines in the United States, joined the UA women's mine rescue team, and became involved with the UA chapter of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration, serving as secretary, vice president, and now president. She has traveled extensively – to Seattle for the society's annual conference, and to London for the mining games, for example.
Mapping Out a Future
Taran, who performed with her high school orchestra at a Carnegie Hall exhibition, plans to keep playing violin, get some field experience, travel, start a family, then perhaps return to university life and become a professor, like her mentor, Mary Poulton, head of the UA Department of Mining and Geological Engineering.
For Taran, a UA Engineering Ambassador dedicated to recruiting other women to technology and engineering fields, choosing mining has been as much about having choices as anything else. She appreciates the job opportunities and the freedom to move between different types of jobs in locations around the world.
"It's one of the appeals of mining," she said. "It's a big, big world."
For now, though, a mining life in Texas suits Taran just fine.