Debut Geologist on GCE Team Creates New Professional Development Course

Sept. 18, 2023
McNabb Headshot

James McNabb, Senior Engineer of Research and Development at the Geotechnical Center of Excellence, has mining heritage in his family but didn’t know he’d one day work in the mining industry.

After growing up in the Flagstaff area, McNabb graduated from the University of Arizona in 2011 with a Bachelor’s in Geoscience. He then went to Oregon for Graduate School, obtaining his Master’s in Geology. McNabb spent some time in Houston, Texas working in the oil industry, and eventually came back to Tucson, where he worked at Call and Nicholas, a mining consulting firm.

“I wasn’t really seeking to get into mining… it’s a great career when you’re a geologist in Tucson,” says McNabb. His father is a jeweler and he learned that his great grandfather was a miner in the Superior area.

From Education to the GCE

McNabb was drawn to work at the Geotechnical Center of Excellence (GCE) partially by its place as an intersection between academia and industry. The GCE is funded in part by member companies from the industry, and at this point features over 20 members. The companies meet with the GCE to discuss opportunities for research and development in the industry. The companies can help provide problems that need to be solved, and the GCE can direct research and resources to solving these issues.

McNabb showing students the drone at the Summer Engineering Academy

McNabb showing students the drone at the Summer Engineering Academy

In discussions with these companies, an issue that came to the forefront was that of the critical gap in knowledge regarding structural geology which is a vital topic to know as a geotechnical engineer in a mine. Structural geology is right within McNabb’s wheelhouse as a geologist.

“Structural geology deals largely with faults and fractures– deformations of Earth’s crust,” says McNabb. Mines are weakest at the faults, folds, and fractures within the Earth, and slope failures often happen along these features. It is important as a geotechnical engineer on a mine site to understand where these features occur and ways to manage these aspects and how it involves a mine. Mineralization occurs often along faults and other formations, so mines need geotechnical engineers with backgrounds in structural geology to counter these issues.

Courses Offered by the GCE

There are three courses currently offered by the GCE to help provide individuals in the industry with professional development opportunities and ways for them to seek further education and knowledge within their field. While the courses generally take the same format, feedback from past attendees is used to inform the creation of the new courses.

The course format is online with both asynchronous components and synchronous opportunities for engagement. The courses feature hours of video content and other material released in sets of presentations that occur in modules and submodules. Each course has a different number of units and presenters. In the synchronous section of the course, participants are able to join a live Q&A with presenters to ask more about the material being presented.

The courses are offered once per year as a live session, but the material remains online for individual reflection and independent study. The presenters come from a variety of backgrounds, not only from the academic world, but also industry professionals who are experts in their respective fields. Industry professionals have found it important to go beyond the fundamentals of a subject, exploring how it pertains to hands-on application in the field, showing professionals real life skills they will need to succeed. While building a course, presenters and course creators are guided by technical advisors who are subject area experts and can give context and guidelines for the content.

The Structural Geology Course will cover such topics as fundamentals of structural geology, fundamentals of structural data collection and modeling, real-world case studies, modern technologies for structural geology such as drones and machine learning, and more. The courses presented by the GCE may not offer University credit, however, attendees receive a certificate of completion. The GCE courses have been taken by over 1500 individuals worldwide. The Structural Geology Course will start in October. Learn more about the course.

The GCE is always looking for ways to get students involved with their projects and work being done. Students are the future of the mining industry so their input and experiences are valuable in their journey to entering the industry. Are you interested in finding new opportunities to expand your knowledge and skills as an Undergraduate or Graduate student? Reach out to James McNabb or another team member at the GCE for more information on ways for you to get involved. There’s a lot of opportunities out there, whether it’s data crunching or creating a new GCE project!

James McNabb