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As a bulldozer bearing the "Cat" logo prepped the grounds for a new exhibit on the UA Mall this week, Caterpillar Inc. leaders gathered inside Old Main with University of Arizona faculty and staff to inaugurate Mining 360, an online graduate certificate program for high-level company employees.
"We've had touch points with the UA in the past, but this new certificate program marks a deepening of our relationship," said Thomas Bluth, Caterpillar's vice president of surface mining and technology. "The UA feels like a natural fit."
Bluth is leading Caterpillar's new Surface Mining & Technology Division in Tucson. The Fortune 100 company's decision to relocate its surface mining operations from Peoria, Illinois — and other locations — to Tucson was announced earlier this year and could create $1.9 billion in economic benefits to the region, with a $600 million economic impact over the next five years, according to state and local officials.
John Kemeny, professor and head of the UA Department of Mining and Geological Engineering, played a key role in developing Mining 360 and said the department's and University's reputations and long-standing relationships with the mining industry helped bring Caterpillar to town.
"Caterpillar's move to Tucson is one of the biggest things to happen here in the last 25 years," Kemeny said. "The research, educational and economic opportunities — for our department, college and University, as well as our community — are limitless."
In this first student cohort, 12 Caterpillar employees, with titles such as engineering technical lead, product support supervisor, mining sales manager and large mining truck marketing manager, are looking to better understand the mining industry and better serve their customers.
The yearlong program, offered by the UA College of Engineering, UA Online and UA Continuing and Professional Education, includes three online courses and four weeklong site visits to the UA and other locations.
Participating faculty include seven in mining and geological engineering, with Victor Tenorio, a professor of practice in the Department of Mining and Geological Engineering, serving as lead instructor. Also, four faculty members in geosciences and one in global mining law are participating. Topics to be covered include exploration, design, production, regulation, reclamation, safety and sustainable resource development.
Students who take the course for credit earn nine UA credits and a certificate in the fundamentals of mining operations and economics.
In the first week, students were on campus learning fundamentals of geology and ore deposits, attending guest lectures, doing hands-on workshops and touring the ASARCO Mission Mine and the UA's San Xavier Underground Mining Laboratory, one of only a few student-run mines in the country.
In welcoming the students, other assembled Caterpillar representatives and also UA faculty and staff, College of Engineering Dean Jeff Goldberg said he envisioned many more collaborations with Caterpillar, noting an additional partnership already in the making.
Caterpillar has signed on to sponsor six capstone senior design projects this year.
"This will give our students outstanding opportunities to work with and learn from Caterpillar engineers," Goldberg said, "while Caterpillar will gain a chance to test-drive some of our top students as future employees and get their help developing prototypes and moving them into the marketplace."