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Puru and Vismit step into a virtual classroom (and back in time)

August 19, 2020

Vismit Joshi (left) and Puru Kumar, engineers-in-training (EIT) in Technology and Innovation at Base Metals respectively, recently led a panel discussion about engineering careers in mining with a group of Toronto high school students. Photo: Vale Archive.

Have you ever wished you could go back in time and give your high-school self some advice on how to better prepare for a future career?

That urge is what inspired two young engineers in our Global Trainee program to do the next best thing: share their insights with today’s high school students via an online panel discussion. Puru Kumar and Vismit Joshi, who are engineers-in-training (EITs) in Technology and Innovation at Base Metals, recently took the time to connect on Google Classroom with a group of Grade 9 students in the MAST (Mathematics, Science and Technology) program at Danforth Collegiate and Technical Institute in Toronto.

Both young engineers jumped at the chance to share their insights when asked by Chelsea Hill, analyst, Talent Management, who managed our Global Trainee Program in 2019 and who normally works out of our downtown Toronto office.

This kind of activity gives insights into the real world for students, and engages them.

“I was instantly interested when I got the email from Chelsea,” said Vismit, a graduate of the University of Waterloo’s Nanotechnology Engineering program whose work in Technology and Innovation focuses on the processing side of our company’s operations.

“When I was in Grade 9, I was deciding which direction my career would take. I’ve always loved volunteering and this is a great way to give back, share what I’ve learned along the way and encourage students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).”

For Puru, whose Mining Engineering degree from McGill University is put to work in developing new technologies and innovation in our mining operations, the discussion presented an opportunity to demystify mining for high school students. “I think opportunities to share mining insights and experiences are important because students may not know what it is that we do,” he said.

Panel process

High school students had been attending classes online from home for three months before the discussion took place on June 18, and the idea of a panel discussion about engineering careers in mining offered them something different from the ongoing teaching sessions that follow the regular curriculum. A total of 16 male and female students chose to participate, logging in from home to take part in the optional event.

To ensure that things went smoothly, “we had the opportunity to prepare answers for a few questions ahead of time, mostly about what we had studied and our current experiences at work,” Puru explained. “The teacher, Paul Weight, asked us those questions on behalf of the students, and so we were able to have a dynamic conversation,” Vismit added.

Next, the teacher invited the students to ask questions, putting the panelists in the hot seat. “Some questions showed how ambitious these students are,” said Vismit. “Things like, ‘what do I need to do now to get into my program of choice?’”

“As a student, I can remember having some of the same questions – what is the most rewarding or hardest part of your job, what types of careers are available in STEM, what did you do apart from your studies to get where you are,” added Puru.

T-shaped skill set

“We had a conversation about how safety in mining has come a long way, and how new technology coming into the mining industry contributes to that. We also covered the impact of technology and innovation on production and cost reduction, and the students were fascinated to learn how technologically advanced our industry is.”

Vismit emphasized the importance of developing an awareness of other fields of study while pursuing a path in engineering. “It’s important to have a multi-disciplinary perspective – technical knowledge and soft skills,” he said. “It’s the concept of a ‘T-shaped skill set’ – the vertical line is the focus of your training in one specific area, and the horizontal line is a broad experience in neighbouring fields, so you have breadth and depth of experience. It’s challenging to develop, but it is highly sought-after by employers.”

Set goals by working backwards

Both of our engineers pointed out that it’s helpful to know what you want to do early on, so that you can make a plan to get there. “It’s okay to spend one or two years to decide, but once you know, you can have a goal and determine a path to achieve it,” explained Vismit. “You choose your courses, plan your extracurriculars, and work backwards from where it is that you want to be.”

The feedback from the students, and their teacher, has been overwhelmingly positive. “The students seemed to be listening attentively and gave good feedback,” said Vismit. Puru added, “This kind of activity gives insights into the real world for students, and engages them.” Everyone involved agreed that the discussion was a success and that they would organize a repeat session with the Grade 9 STEM students this coming school year.

Both Puru and Vismit also enjoyed the experience. For Puru, the opportunity to shed some light on the world of mining was welcomed. “People, and especially kids, don’t see the mining industry much in their everyday lives,” said Puru. “But I see mining as the base that makes all our other industries possible. It’s good to expose younger people to that.”

Vismit felt as though he was transported back in time to his years in high school. “It brought back a lot of memories of being in Grade 9,” he said. “Connecting with the students, helping them to achieve their goals, it was like going back in time. I’m glad to have had the chance to pay it forward for the next generation coming up in science.”

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