Friends along the way


The real mining was the friends we made along the way.

February 22, 2024
^ Ian Sutcliffe (left) and Alex Carhart at the Mining Dept. Open House, 2023.

Alex Carhart at work, Kennecott Utah Copper.

The Mining Open House last fall was an introduction to the public, including students looking for a major, but for two seniors in the University of Utah's Department of Mining Engineering, it was the final year of a harrowing undergraduate career. Harrowing not because of the rigorous training in Vulcan and Python software; or the upper-division math that (with one additional class) would have given them a minor; and it wasn't because of the summer internships in various cool mining environments simpatico with the on-boarding to mining engineering they were more than eager to engage.

No. It was because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We only had one mining class in-person the first semester," says Ian Sutcliffe. "It was rough." It took two years before his cohort was able to go on their first field trip to a mine, which usually happens as a second semester experiential.

For Alex Carhart, who is also a senior, getting ready to graduate this year, it was not only the pandemic that proved to be a hurdle but changing from one major in the College of Engineering to mining engineering in the College of Science. It was in their introductory mining class that the two became fast friends, a friendship that has taken them the distance through summer internships that proved, as it seems to for undergraduates, to seal the deal.

Ian Sutcliffe at work, TATA Chemicals North America (Green River, WY)

In the case of Sutcliffe, who grew up in Murray, his first-year internship found him driving a water truck on site. This "baptism by fire" for both (Carhart also got hands-on experience driving trucks and heavy equipment) gave them on-the-ground experience that complemented their classroom training.

"I was driving the old trucks and the water truck for a good half of summer," says Sutcliffe, and I'm really glad I did because the more mining classes I've taken, the more I've enjoyed it. My first internship really got me involved."

For Carhart, who is from Anchorage, the chance to work in long-range strategic mine planning gave him experience on the other end of operations—the big picture planning and logistics. Both credit these internships, as well as the travel opportunities with the department, for cementing their passion for the field.

The chance to visit Greenland as sophomores was a pivotal experience, recalls Sutcliffe. "I was kind of bouncing around chemical engineering and then I heard about mining and decided to try that instead." For Carhart, who also traveled to a trona mine in Wyoming and a coal mine in Utah, the field trips finally happened in his junior year when pandemic restrictions began to lift.

Now, with graduation looming, both have secured jobs in their field. Sutcliffe will return to the trona mine where he interned, while Carhart has accepted a position in the graduate development program at Rio Tinto Kennecott in Salt Lake City. There he will rotate through different areas of the operation over two years to find the right fit before settling into a permanent role. But before they start work they will travel with the department to Mongolia to visit one of the largest copper mines in the world.

Their undergraduate journeys, while filled with pandemic headaches, gave them technical knowledge through software, math and geology classes, as well as critical field experience at mines and with companies. Perhaps most importantly, it allowed them to forge a lasting friendship that helped motivate them through to graduation. They also earned perspective on the industry they will soon lead.

"It's an interesting thing that might be in my lifetime—space mining," says Sutcliffe, on innovations that may come out of demand for finite resources. Both see a path forward for mining, even with increased environmental regulations, through better technology, safer autonomous equipment, and reclamation plans built into project costs. But most of all, through educated young professionals like themselves entering the field with openness, optimism and care for the planet we call home.

Outside of classes and labs, Sutcliffe and Carhart find time for fun and adventure. Sutcliffe is an avid mountain biker who has explored trails all over the state. "I have a problem. I have three bikes," he jokes. Carhart prefers downhill skiing in the winter and swimming as cross-training for an active lifestyle. Hiking and anything outdoors are passions they share.

These hobbies align with their appreciation for the natural world, and reinforce their commitment to finding the right balance of resource development and conservation as future leaders in the mining industry.



by David Pace