Students participate in a mining education activity presented by Pam Wilkinson, the outreach and education coordinator for UA Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources. The position is funded by proceeds from the American Mining Hall of Fame Awards Banquet & Fundraiser.

Mining Foundation of the Southwest

Even though Arizona’s role as a major copper producer is well-known, Pam Wilkinson spends long hours promoting what she calls the unsung workers — the miners — who make that happen.

“A miner is the first ripple when you drop a pebble in the water: it ripples out to every industry including agriculture and food, housing, transportation, communication and technology, lighting, heating and cooling, clothing, health and safety. Mining is a very small industry, but it is the one industry connected to every other industry,” said Wilkinson, a geologist and educator who serves as education and outreach coordinator for the Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources at the University of Arizona.

The position is funded by money raised by the Mining Foundation of the Southwest. Formed in 1993, the nonprofit organization is dedicated to promoting public understanding about mineral resources and mineral extraction in the past, present and future.

To facilitate that mission, Wilkinson has reached out to 34,500 people over the past five years; last year alone she worked with more than 8,000 students in classrooms at local middle and high schools and an additional 2,000-plus students and adults through presentations at clubs, special events and other venues.

She utilizes hands-on workshops, games and activities along with a traveling museum of about 40 rocks and minerals to cover a broad range of mining-related topics.

Basically, Wilkinson is promoting awareness about the rapidly-evolving industry, according to the foundation’s 2013 President Cori Hoag.

“For us, so much of our modern lifestyle comes from basic metals and minerals found in Arizona — whether it is copper wiring in appliances; or copper in photovoltaic cells and tablets and computers; potash in fertilizer for agriculture; or calcium carbonate (ground-up limestone) in toothpaste,” said Hoag. “Metals and minerals are used everywhere in our everyday lives and that is what Pam is teaching.”

Wilkinson said that many people she interacts are surprised when they find that the state produces 66 percent of the copper in the United States and six percent of the copper produced worldwide.

“Arizona is number two right now in the nation in providing mineral resources, so mining is a huge part of the economy. In addition to copper, there are more than 20 other rocks and minerals mined in the state,” Wilkinson said. “We do all of that using less than .25 percent of the land in the state. So all the acreage consumed by mining is far less than that used in farming. We actually farm one-third of the land in the state.”

Wilkinson said she also highlights the fact that environment protection is a priority for the mining industry.

To further that message, the foundation will stage The American Mining Hall of Fame Awards Banquet & Fundraiser at 6 p.m. Dec. 6 at the JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass, 3800 W. Starr Pass Road.

The annual event recognizes individuals and businesses that have made significant contributions to mining industries. 

Proceeds from the event will supplement student educational activities in the mining discipline and fund Wilkinson’s outreach position through the Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources.

Wilkinson takes great pride in the affiliation with UA.

“Ours is one of only 14 universities in the United States that offers degrees in mining engineering. Our students graduate with a degree and a job and many graduate for free because they have scholarships or internships and summer jobs with local mining engineering consulting firms. They get lots of wonderful hands-on experience,” she said.

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at ninch2@comcast.net