Junior student sparkles at BHP Billiton Diamonds Inc.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Nancy Collins, 4B English Communications Associate, on her work term with University of Waterloo Co-operative Education and Career Services

As one of the world's most sought-after natural resources, diamonds symbolize many things, including love, engagement and success. Here at CECS, we are proud of our own precious resource - our junior co-op students. Full of enthusiasm and motivation, they are always up for a challenge. Kyle Murray, a 1A Environmental Engineering student, is no exception. When a job was offered to him at BHP Billiton Diamonds Inc. Kyle said goodbye to his cozy Waterloo life and ventured nearly 5000 km northward to BHP Billiton's EKATI diamond mine, located 300 km northeast of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories.

BHP Billiton Diamonds Inc. is part of the world's largest diversified resource company, BHP Billiton Group. Its EKATI mine is North America's largest operational diamond mine, yielding 4% of the world's diamonds by weight and 6% by value. An estimated $1.7 million dollars worth of diamonds are extracted daily at this massive operation.

In EKATI's isolated tundra environment, where winter temperatures can reach minus 40°C plus windchill, Kyle spent his winter in the Environment Department where he worked on a 4/3 rotation, with 4 days working and living at the mine site and 3 days off in Yellowknife. As a member of the environment team, he assisted with a variety of field, lab and office activities, such as extracting water samples and documenting spills. While this type of work may sound routine enough, as Kyle pointed out, life in a tundra environment can turn even ordinary activities into new challenges.

"The clothing required to venture outside in minus 40°C weather is very bulky. Goose down filled parkas, large snow pants, as well as multiple pairs of mitts. Trooping up and down a few flights of stairs wearing this type of equipment can tire you out quite quickly."

The cold created another interesting challenge for Kyle, in the form of a special project. Working independently, he researched the effects of cold weather on the accuracy of field instrumentation, an effort which allowed him to mesh the practical aspects of his job into a unique research study. Project opportunities like this one are something that BHP Billiton's Environment Department always offers its students, as a means of supporting their development in the area of environmental studies. Jim Millard, an Environmental Specialist at the EKATI mine, emphasizes that the company is dedicated to providing students with enriching work experience. "What I see from BHP Billiton, especially from the Environmental Department, is 100% support of students," he said. "We really believe in supporting students to give them the experience they require to become good environmental scientists or engineers."

This support extends to students at all levels. As a first work term student, Kyle was the most junior Waterloo student to have filled the Environment position at BHP Billiton. Regardless, his positive attitude and motivation allowed him to excel and, according to Millard, attitude is what counts the most in a student. "If somebody has a really good attitude, it doesn't matter if they're first year, or second year, or third year," he said.

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