March/April 2012

Hooked from the get-go

Student maximizes his exposure to the world of mining

By Alexandra Lopez-Pacheco

Alexandre Burelle work term in Australia 

Fourth-year mining engineering student Alexandre Burelle has an insatiable appetite for learning about the mining industry. His curiosity has led him to an education outside of the classroom: from experiences operating heavy equipment, to working in engineering offices at a mine halfway across the world, to investigating mining frontiers on the seafloor and on the moon.

The 2011 recipient of the Caterpillar and its Canadian Dealers Scholarship did not initially want to work in mining. Instead, he wanted to pursue a career as a civil and mechanical engineer. That changed when he was shopping around for a university to attend and met professor Faramarz Hassani at an open house for McGill University’s Faculty of Mining and Materials Engineering.

“I had a long chat with him and some mining engineering students,” says Burelle. “It made me realize that mining is an attractive option – a good mix of civil and mechanical engineering, and of office and fieldwork. It also gives you a lot of opportunities to travel and see many operations.”

Burelle was hooked. Over the last four years, he has not only been recognized by his instructors as an outstanding student – particularly in the areas of industrial design and equipment automation – but he has also sought as much on-the-ground and varied mining experience as possible.

In 2009, he did his first work term in the Athabasca oil sands with Syncrude Canada Ltd. “I was a heavy equipment operator, which is a good way to start,” says Burelle. “I was able to experience the mine from the operator’s point of view and get a feel for the kinds of logistics that drive a mine, as well as for working nightshifts. It was a big eye-opener.”

Subsequent engineering internships included working for Xstrata’s zinc underground ore mine in Matagami, Quebec. “It was my first experience with an underground mine, and I got the feel of what a mining engineer does as part of their daily routine,” says Burelle, who recently completed his final work term at Xstrata’s McArthur River Mine in Australia.

This is not the first time Burelle has been honoured with a prestigious award: his numerous distinctions include receiving the Canadian Mining Industry Education Foundation Scholarship and the Xstrata Undergraduate Scholarship in 2010. Also known for his leadership skills, Burelle was the captain of McGill University’s Mine Design Team at the 2011 Canadian Mining Games. He also represented his university at the International Aeronautical Congress in Prague in 2010, with a presentation on mining on the moon. “I have always had a passion for space technology as well,” says Burelle, who sees developments in seafloor mining likely leading to research and technology that could be applied to lunar mining.

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