August 2009

From the ground up

The winner of the Order of Sancta Barbara is reshaping the public’s perception of mining

By R. Pillo

CIM’s Order of Sancta Barbara recognizes the important role played by women in the progressive development of Canadian mining communities. This year’s winner, Sheila Stenzel, has done more than her fair share to cement the bond between school teachers and the industry. Stenzel’s untiring efforts, as director of the Mineral Resources Education Program of British Columbia (MREPBC), have tremendously benefitted both the industry and its community.

The school program was created to assist teachers in the development of educational materials to support the teaching of minerals science, mining and geoscience from kindergarten to grade 12. It educates and informs the public and stimulates young people’s interest in mining careers. Now in its 18th year, MREPBC has assisted more than 7,300 British Columbia teachers and student teachers with mineral-relevant curricula and learning experiences. It is estimated to have reached more than 650,000 students.

In an interview with CIM Magazine, Stenzel discussed the scope of her work, her views on the industry and the challenges and rewards of her career.

CIM: How did you get involved with the school program?

Stenzel: I first became involved as a volunteer and it grew from there. I later became the coordinator, and when the program’s founder, Maureen Lipkewich, retired I was hired as director.

CIM: One of the program’s goals is to improve the image of mining among future generations. How can this be achieved?

Stenzel: Our industry must keep a lead on promoting itself through support for education. It is made up of such good people, that the more opportunities they take to engage the public — in our case, school teachers and students — the more headway they make in ensuring a more current and accurate perception of the industry.

CIM: What are the challenges you face as director of the school program?

Stenzel: The resource units are developed in accordance with the British Columbia Ministry of Education curriculum. As the curriculum is ever-changing, we have to look for new ways to both encourage teaching mineral-relevant topics at different grade levels and to provide teachers with the resources they need.

Recently, the Ministry transferred the first strong earth sciences curriculum from the primary to the grade 7 level. We have found it difficult to keep primary teachers interested in teaching about rocks — though children love the topic — when it is not formally in the Ministry’s prescribed learning outcomes.

CIM: How have you been able to address these changes?

Stenzel: We have developed, and will implement this fall, a new grade seven earth sciences resource unit to support teachers at that level. As with our other units, this will be distributed in conjunction with a half-day workshop, and each teacher will be given a kit with a binder, posters, rocks and mineral samples, and images to support their teaching.

To keep the program alive at the primary level, we have developed a half-day in-class workshop, also to be implemented this fall, for students to explore the many properties of rocks and minerals. This is great hands-on science exploration for the children. But our other goal is to inspire their teachers to address this more thoroughly in class, to lay down a good foundation in earth science, and to use the high-interest geology themes to build literacy skills, tackle math and to introduce social studies topics and careers.

CIM: How do you feel about being awarded the Order of Sancta Barbara?

Stenzel: It is a great honour. I have hung the plaque and medal on my office wall. It means a lot to have the industry recognize the school program’s accomplishments, which have been possible only because of our program’s dedicated partner-teachers and the support of our industry. Our success is thanks to the teachers and mining people who have worked together for 18 years to build a better understanding of our industry.

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