How an internship emphasized the versatility and opportunities in Mining Engineering

Posted on January 09, 2023


Dalena Vo didn’t plan to go into Mining.

She grew up in Sudbury, which is among Canada’s most recognized mining communities, and longed for something completely new when she arrived at Queen’s. “My thinking was, if I’m getting out of my hometown for university, I want to make myself different from my hometown while I’m at it.”

“I chose Computer Engineering initially, because I was really interested in coding,” she says. She did well in her first-year coding course. But then COVID hit. “I was in my room, doing my online courses. And I thought, ‘I love this, but I don’t love it enough to do it forever.’”

So she explored Mining Engineering.

“The best thing about Mining is how versatile and holistic the program is. You take courses in coding, geology, math, physics. Depending on what stream you’re in, you can do mechanical. Or you can go toward processing, which has a more chemical emphasis.

“There’s also a big emphasis on the social and environmental aspects of the field. I love how there is a little bit of everything, but there's still a common goal. And the industry is looking for young people, especially young women, to enter the industry. That was the biggest thing for me in making the switch.”

Dalena began a one-year term as a Mine Projects and Costing Intern this past summer at Canadian Natural Resources Limited in Calgary.

“My internship experience has been wonderful,” she says. “I think part of that has to do with being in Calgary and experiencing a whole new city, as well as getting experience in the office and on site.”

When she started, Dalena produced accountability reports, which were sent to engineers and upper management. It was a good fit for her; in addition to her knowledge of mining, Dalena also has a background working with numbers. For three years, she volunteered as her clubs’ treasurer. In second year, she was a finance coordinator for the Queen’s Chapter of Women in Science & Engineering (WISE) and a finance officer with the Engineering Society.

When she was exploring her internship possibilities, Dalena had a few interesting options. There was an internship in underground mining in Timmins and another in B.C. doing drilling and blasting.

“But something really attracted me to this company,” she says of Canadian National Resources. “I talked to some Queen’s alumni who had interned here, and they said that this company really values putting in the initiative. You’ve got to ask for what you want.”

“If there’s a day when you don't have any work to do, if you ask, they'll find something for you. And if you keep producing quality work, they'll keep giving you more. It'll kind of set off a positive cycle.”

Knowing this, a couple of months into her internship, Dalena felt she had hit a learning plateau. “I had been doing some projects related to costing,” she says. “I talked to my boss and said that I’d love to learn more, whether it was with our team or other teams. Geology, geotech, or planning. And now I have about eight minor projects under my belt. I’ve made presentations to upper management. My reports are presented to the senior VP. It’s really cool to have the opportunity to make that impact as an intern.”

At Queen’s, Dalena had worked on a research project investigating gender and career trajectories in the mining industry. “And while it was a cool project, it also set this idea in my head that being a woman in the industry is tough, being a person of colour and a queer person in the industry is tough. I felt this otherness, and some fear, going into the industry. I thought that no matter how fulfilling the job is, this is always going to be something that I will have to fight against.

“But actually working here has given me a new perspective. As much as some things are out of your hands, some things are also what you make of it. If you establish yourself as a competent person who communicates well and brings value to the company where you’re working, people will respect you.”

“What I've also learned is how creative and artistic engineers are, in the ways we're able to visualize problems outside of just the mathematics of it all. I think a lot of people who go into engineering are dreamers, because they are okay with the fact that the profession is so wide and vast. You can define what your career looks like.”

After graduation in 2024, Dalena wants to experience as much of the industry as she can, from open pit hard rock mining to project management. “But no matter what area of engineering that I go into, I want to make sure that I use my experience to uplift others who are also coming into the industry, to help people who may not feel like they have a place in engineering and in mining engineering particularly. That's my passion.”


Queen's Engineering students are supported in their internships by QUIP, the Queen's University Internship Program. Learn more about QUIP, and other internship supports, here.


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Dalena Vo (right), photographed on site with fellow Queen's Mining intern, Megan Ierino.

 

 

This article is relevant to the following Strategic Actions as defined in the Queen's Engineering Strategic Plan:

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