For starters, Brett is from Chicago where coal mining was a fairly prominent industry in the 19th and early 20th centuries; however, coal mining operations had left the “City of the Big Shoulders” by the 1960s—long before Brett was born.
Second, Brett’s primary interest growing up was working on cars and trucks. After high school, he turned his passion into a career as a mechanic, earning certificates to work on automotive diesel, hydraulic and transport refrigeration trucks. So how did a mechanic from Chicago end up in UK’s mining engineering program?
“While I liked doing the work of a mechanic, I discovered that the saying ‘don’t make your hobby your job’ is true,” says Brett. “I needed to find a new career.”
Brett began taking classes at a community college. He knew he wanted to focus on engineering, but wasn’t sure which engineering field suited him best. That summer, he found his answer.
“I was vacationing with my family in Minnesota and the weather was awful. We found an advertisement for tours of the Soudan Mine not too far from us and decided it beat sitting around indoors. I went underground, looked around and said, “This is so cool! I could see myself getting into this.”
When his family returned home, Brett visited a career center. He wasn’t sure if mining engineering was a program offered by universities. After learning that only 13 universities in the entire nation offered mining engineering, he began applying. Over the next few months, he was accepted by the University of Missouri-Rolla (now Missouri University of Science and Technology) and the University of Kentucky. In the end, Brett chose UK largely on the basis of one individual—Dr. Braden Lusk.
“I had heard a lot of good things about Dr. Lusk, so I decided to come here,” Brett explains. “I was interested in his work with explosives and he helped me get an internship with the powder crew at Nelson Brothers based in Birmingham, Ala. I appreciate that Dr. Lusk is so easy to connect with on a personal level. He doesn’t make you feel stupid for asking questions and he doesn’t act like he’s above everyone else just because he has a Ph.D.”
Brett’s work with Nelson Brothers gave him a firsthand look at the demands of working on a blasting crew. After proving himself capable with simple tasks, Nelson Brothers gave Brett more responsibility, including letting him crunch the data with mining engineers and check blast patterns on actual surface mines in West Virginia.
“I loved it,” he recalls. “It’s hard work. I don’t think anyone realizes what those guys go through until they’ve done it.”
To continue his research in explosives engineering, Brett plans to pursue a master’s degree with Dr. Lusk after he graduates. In the meantime, the two are working together on the University of Kentucky Explosives Research Team (UKERT). As Brett reflects on his time in the mining engineering program, he strongly recommends it to students considering an engineering degree.
“Mining engineering touches on all of the other disciplines. If you like the chemical engineering side, you can work on the leeching operation. Electrical engineers are needed because the mines have their own power grids. Civil engineers and geotechnical engineers are indispensable to mining operations. Whatever you enjoy, you can apply it to mining.”