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Mine company funds rural schools

Resolution Copper aims to educate future hires with tech skills

  • Arizona State University engineering student Christopher Floyd is a benefactor of the company’s scholarship program. He hopes to work in the mines when he graduates.
    Elvina Nawaguna-Clemente/FlickrArizona State University engineering student Christopher Floyd is a benefactor of the company’s scholarship program. He hopes to work in the mines when he graduates.

SUPERIOR — It’s hard to imagine that this sleepy town would produce engineers and robotics experts in great numbers. But before he left to major in computer science at Arizona State University, Christopher Floyd and high school classmates had already built two robots on a team sponsored by Resolution Copper Mining.

Robotics is among the high-tech skills Resolution Copper will need to operate a mine it plans to bring into production near here in 2021. With that in mind, the company also gives scholarships each year to students like Floyd from Superior and other area communities to pursue degrees in engineering, math, science and business.

“Hopefully, I’ll become a great engineer in the future and I’ll be there programming the robots to go and mine the copper,” Floyd said.

Bruce Richardson, Resolution Copper’s communications manager, said the company is focused on hiring locally when production starts.

“We see the kids in elementary and middle school today as our potential workforce,” he said. “Today’s mine isn’t our father’s mine, and technology will continue to improve mining methods.”

Melissa Rabago, Resolution Copper’s community outreach coordinator, said the company spends about $75,000 each year sponsoring education programs in elementary and high schools in Superior.

The money supports science, math and technology instruction. For example, the company pays organizations such as the Rodel Foundation’s MAC-ro math program to help improve children’s math skills and AIMS test scores.

About 10 high school graduates not just in Superior but in Apache Junction, Globe, Hayden and other area communities receive $6,000 scholarships each year with encouragement to mayor in the sciences, engineering or business.

Now a freshman at ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, Floyd said he wasn’t sure what he wanted to be before he got involved in Superior High School’s robotics program. Many high school graduates in his town take labor jobs such as collecting garbage, he said.

“It’s actually providing a really good outlook for my future,” Floyd said.

Jan Snyder, coordinator of the Fulton Schools of Engineering Educational Outreach Program, said the programs initiated by Resolution Copper help stimulate interest in engineering and geology and encourage children to pursue higher education.

“It will at least capture the attention of these students who up until now have not had reason to even think about university,” said Snyder, a member of Resolution Copper’s education committee.

Subject to Congress approving an exchange of U.S. Forest Service land east of Superior, the company is planning to mine what it calls the largest untapped copper lode in the U.S. With the copper more than a mile beneath the surface, Resolution Copper plans to tunnel into the earth to remove the ore rather than creating an open pit.

“It’s a technical and economic marvel,” Richardson said. “We’re going to need really smart and qualified workers to operate it safely.”

When fully operational, the mine will employ 1,400, the company says.

About 500 workers are currently doing developmental work on site, including sinking vertical shafts, Richardson said.

Pete Guzman, Superior Unified School District superintendent, said Resolution Copper’s help offers children more than rural schools traditionally can provide.

“They’re being told that they have a good opportunity and if they work hard, they’ll succeed,” Guzman said.

Superior Mayor Michael Hing said the transferable skills in science and technology will prepare a workforce for more than mining. He said the town was devastated years ago when the mines closed and workers didn’t have the skills for other jobs.

“Here in America we’re trying to be competitive internationally,” Hing said. “All these kids will have these skills and be able to adapt to other industries.”

He said he hopes the prospect of better jobs will create a community where people want to stay.

“They have a chance to work here and raise their families here,” Hing said.

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