Rosa Maria is a bilingual senior mine engineer, entrepreneur, consultant, and project manager with 15 years of professional experience working for global mining companies such as BHP, Freeport McMoRan, and Barrick Gold in diverse commodities in South and North America, in higher mining education at the University of Arizona, and in technologies, development, and mining consulting at the UofA Mine Intelligence Research Group (MIRG) and Eclipse Mining Technologies. She has successfully developed, led, and managed engineering projects, supervised mine operations, mining research and development, software development, and professional development initiatives. She has collaborated with multidisciplinary and multicultural teams in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics], always promoting synergies, excellence, and trust.
Rosa was honored to be the first South American recipient of the Mining & Exploration Division’s Outstanding Young Professional Award of the U.S. Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration (SME), and the first US-based South American and first Peruvian engineer to be featured as one of the 100 Global Inspirational Women in Mining (WIM 100) by WIM UK.
Rosa also has a calling for service and has founded three non-profit organizations in Peru and USA that promote STEM education and professional development. She has mentored several international and domestic students and has great personal satisfaction in contributing to student initiatives.
She is currently an Independent Director at Arizona Metals Corporation, independent consultant and coach and is a board member of the SME Structure & Governance committee.
By Kathy Sole
How did your interest in Mining Engineering come about? Did you always know it was your passion?
I was fortunate to live in a mining camp in my teenager years. At the end of the ‘90s, my parents joined the team of Barrick’s Pierina Mine in northern Peru, in the areas of accounting and community relations. I must confess that at that time I had no intention of studying mining engineering, I had no great knowledge of mining.
I discovered my passion little by little. I started college in Peru (PUCP) in 2001, with a major in Systems Engineering and then I made my transfer to Industrial Engineering. A year after that I took an elective course on “Introduction to Mining Engineering”, mostly out of curiosity. It was there where I fell in love with the career and decided to change my major. This course motivated me to think that I could be part of an industry of vital importance to cover the most basic needs of our modern society—the process of extracting minerals and their processing—and fascinated me from day one. Today, almost twenty years later, I can reaffirm that it is my passion.
Engineering – and particularly Mining Engineering – is highly "masculinized". Did you, personally, feel that your career was more difficult because you were a woman?
From my personal experience, yes. I would have to tell many anecdotes and experiences in this regard. There was no equal access to opportunities. For example, I was not able to enter an underground mine as a mining engineering student back in 2003; however, I later interned at an underground mine in 2005, so not everywhere was the same. The mining industry is an industry dominated by men, to a lesser or greater degree worldwide, and this will be very difficult to change if we do not retain and advance female mining engineers into higher spheres of leadership in industry, government, and academia. It is also necessary to provide support and flexible work schedules (whenever possible), which is what I am experiencing in recent years.
Since my time as a student, I had to work very hard, not only to acquire the knowledge of the career, but to forge my character and demonstrate my ability and contribution to the industry. I had to overcome many prejudices as a young female engineer in the mines. I have worked in mining operations in underground and surface mining. The workers, particularly in underground mining, were not used to having a female supervisor. It was hard work, but I learned a lot from the good and the bad that went into the work. For me, more than a career, it became a personal and life challenge, to be able to stay in mining operations to generate change from within. Particularly, in the mining industry of South America, I found myself in many situations where I was prejudged by my appearance and age – and not by my technical and leadership skills. I had to learn to overcome these obstacles and continue in the race. I was the only female mine supervisor in my C crew at the Escondida Mine (BHP Billiton) in Chile, the largest copper mine in the world, with supervision of 20 male operators, among the 300 male workers. I had to stand firm in the face of different challenges, but I learned a lot from my former colleagues, and some of them mentored me. At that time there were no organizations like International Women in Mining and one had to learn to stand up for oneself.
With this experience acquired I was able to continue growing in my career, in mine engineering, mine planning, ore control, dispatch, digital transformation in mining, and R&D in reengineering of supervision in mines by applying data analysis and information technology that we implemented in a U.S. coal mine.
Later in my career, the challenges were different, but still related to unconscious bias, such as mansplaining, manterrupting, among others, as an immigrant BIPOC [black, Indigenous, and people of color] female mine engineer, and I do not say this in a negative way. I would say that people are sometimes not aware of their own biases: we all have them, so we all have to work on it, and from our side not to take it personally, but stay focused and strong in our work and contributions.
You have worked on multiple causes related to the inclusion and diversity of women. What inspires you to be part of these initiatives? What inspired you to create the WIM Arizona (AZ) chapter?
My main inspiration is to contribute to make the mining industry a welcoming place for everyone, regardless of our gender, age, ethnicity, culture, and demographic – where all of us can thrive. It is for this reason that I have been part of the leadership of different global mining organizations since my student years in Peru, such as the SME [Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration], and later on at WIM [Women in Mining], RIM [Network of Female Mine Engineers in Peru], YMP [Young Mining Professionals], and IIMP [Mine Engineers Institute of Peru], in different seasons, for over a decade.
My vision to create the WIM AZ chapter, along with Kylie Boyce, Liz Diaz, and Melanie Lawson, was to create a space where mining professionals, such as mining engineers, geologists, metallurgists, among others, could have a safe space to share our experiences and challenges in an open way and enhance our skills to stay and advance in the mining industry, in addition to reinforcing a sense of belonging in our industry, and knowing that we were not alone on this journey. In today’s U.S. mining industry, and according to the latest statistics from government agencies, only 13% of the mining workforce is made up of women: most of these are administrative positions and not in technical positions in the mines, such as engineers, so there is a lot of work to be done even in that regard.
Our vision as WIM Arizona was/is to be a non-governmental organization to attract, retain, and advance professionals in the mining industry, as well as educate our members and the public on the various aspects of mining. We are an inclusive organization; everyone is welcome to participate. Just within a year of our constitution as a chapter, we reached around 200 members, from just the state of Arizona, becoming the largest WIM USA chapter then.
On the academic side, I feel great satisfaction to have done research, along with Fatemeh Molaei, in “Assessing the Effectiveness of Diversity Initiatives and Policies in the U.S. Mining Industry”. With the support of the SME Board of Directors, we did a live climate survey at the 2019 SME Annual Conference that was sent online to all attendee members and the US mining community to quantitative assess their perceptions in the effectiveness of how Diversity & Inclusion initiatives, at their respective companies, have improved the work environment, retention, and advancement of professionals in mining. This research established a baseline and precedent for future research on this topic, as there is almost no research that has been published on this specific topic and demographic.
I am also very grateful to have contributed to the ramp up of the Network of Female Peruvian Mine Engineers as executive advisor of the organization. The reality and challenges of female mine engineers and women in mining varies in different parts of the globe, as you know, and we should always contribute to support other WIM and similar organizations. South America is near and dear to my heart.
The barriers we have as female mining engineers, after motherhood, are multiple in mining operations. I had the opportunity to experience both, working by the shift system, “going up” and “down” the mine every four days, before having my family; and living in a mining town with my family, which allowed me to live my stage of motherhood and develop my professional work in the mine itself without major problem. It all depends where are we located and the policies of the company we are working for, family, etc.
Which of your personal traits/qualities are you proud of and that you think help you to succeed?
Passion, perseverance, resilience, grit, solidarity, and the ability to fail forward. Forgiving myself my mistakes, as part of my personal development, but considering the lessons learned.
As an immigrant BIPOC professional, many times, our competency is examined on many levels. All this make us more resilient, but also it may also make us feel that we do not belong, that we are not welcomed. So, in my case, I had to become more self-aware and realize why I was feeling that way, work on myself to not feel that way. Focusing on my self-acceptance, self-love, and self-care gave me a lot of peace and coping mechanisms to manage these situations better. Things are changing for better and bringing awareness about these issues helps all of us and our community. We need to focus on more compassion and less judgement, to give the very best of ourselves. To all you out there: you are capable and you are enough, keep thriving!