AmandA Smith, Distinguished Alumna


February 22, 2024

Above: AutoHaul®, shipping a load in Australia. Courtesy of Rio Tinto

The John E. Willson Distinguished Alumnus Award was established in 2000 to recognize graduates of the University of Utah’s Mining Engineering Program who have set high standards by their professional accomplishments and service to the mining industry. The 2023 distinguished alumna is Amanda Smith BS’01 and MS’02. She was awarded in April of last year.

Amanda Smith (left) with Denee Hayes at the Department of Mining Awards Ceremony, 2023.

Currently owner and manager of SmithWengel Consulting LLC, she has accumulated over 20 years of global professional experience in mining, manufacturing, rail, logistics, technical studies, and supply chain management.

Originally from Provo, Smith decided to become a mining engineer at age 12 after a mining engineer visited her 6th grade class. She worked hard to graduate with high honors a year early from Provo High School. Her courses included AP calculus, AP chemistry, and AP US history along with English, biology and French. Her English Instructor describes Amanda as a “goal-setter” and “one who sets her mind to a task and then does all in her power to accomplish it.”

 In 1997, Smith applied for and received a Browning Scholarship to pursue her degree in mining engineering. A year later, her scholarship was upgraded to the Distinguished Browning Scholar Award. Her interest in, and ability to apply computer technology was recognized and she was hired as a teaching assistant for the department’s ACAD course, following her first year. Subsequently, she was old enough (18 being the required age to work in a mine) to accept summer internships with the Bridger Coal Company in Rock Springs, Wyoming and Newmont Gold in Elko,Nevada. She also worked for the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining while attending school.

Upon completing her MS Smith accepted a position at Rio Tinto Kennecott Utah Copper as a mine planning engineer. In part due to her graduate work in blasting, she was considered and offered a job the day of her site interview. This was the beginning of a highly successful career with Rio Tinto. While at Bingham, Smith progressed through various engineering and supervisor roles, ultimately becoming superintendent — mine monitoring and control where she established a team and successfully implemented a new operating system for the mine. Typically, superintendents at the mine had been male. Achieving this promotion as a young, capable woman was particularly significant.

down under

In 2010, Smith moved to Australia to work as the mine operations superintendent at Rio Tinto Gove. The attractions to this position were an opportunity to experience a different culture and increased responsibilities. As mine superintendent, Smith was responsible for over 100 employees across the operations, maintenance, and technical teams. She initiated step-change improvements in safety, mine planning, reporting, reconciliation, and leadership, resulting in zero recordable injuries along with record equipment utilization. From there, she advanced to acting mine manager where her span of control increased over materials handling and a full port operation.

Smith’s next move was working fly-in fly-out in Perth, Australia for Rio Tinto Iron Ore as mine services manager. She was responsible for site health and safety, training, business improvement, infrastructure, village and dewatering teams with her team setting new operational records. After another stint as a mine manager, in 2013, Smith’s mine services role transitioned to cover two sites and more than doubled in size. This enabled her to lead significant transformation, resulting in a greater than 10 percent reduction in department operating costs and an introduction of various cross-site synergies.

Lead Train Control

In 2015, Smith transitioned to lead train control of the largest rail network in Australia and one of the most complex logistics chains inside Rio Tinto. Her leadership was instrumental in the introduction of an electronic train control system, and commissioning of AutoHaul®, the world’s first fully autonomous heavy haul rail network. She also focused on improving team engagement, resulting in decreased operational costs.

Next, Smith became a business executive to the managing director, productivity and technical support for Rio Tinto globally. In this role, she was exposed to all of Rio Tinto’s operations, traveled extensively, and supported some of the key global initiatives that have contributed to Rio Tinto’s success. It also honed her interest for what she would tackle next. After nearly nine years in Australia, it was time to return to the US where she led a digital transformation project across the Rio Tinto Kennecott value chain.

In 2019, she accepted the operations general manager role for Rio Tinto’s California Operations. Here she led a team of more than 900 people with great care through the Covid-19 pandemic, while also navigating the politics of mining in California, supporting local communities, being an active member on the California Chamber of Commerce, and yielding record site performance.

Highlights of her time leading this team were the delivery of the first battery grade lithium from thesite’s pilot plant and the success and genuine care displayed by her team.

In early 2022, and after over 19 years with Rio Tinto, Smith decided to transition into consulting where she saw she could make a positive impact across a diverse range of fields and organizations. SmithWengel Consulting has supported global clients and a targeted project in Ghana, Africa. The change has also provided her more time and space to pursue personal interests and support the community through volunteering.

Smith and her husband and partner Craig Wengel have settled in St. Petersburg, Florida, where Smith enjoys fitness, investing and data analysis, cooking, traveling, and spending time with friends, Persian cats, or at the beach.


By Kim McCarter, Professor Emeritus


About the Award

John E. Willson (1912-2002), former chair of the department of mining engineering, led a distinguished career as an engineer in industry, as a teacher, and as an advisor and consultant. In 2000 the award named after him was established to recognize distinguished alumni and deserving students in the department.