Two teams from Virginia Tech's Department of Mining and Minerals Engineering in the College of Engineering have reached the finals in the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration (SME) / National Stone, Sand, and Gravel Association (NSSGA) Student Design Competition to be held during SME's 2009 Annual Meeting and Exhibit in Denver, Colo., in February.

This is the second consecutive year that Virginia Tech has placed two teams in the finals, making it the first school to do so in the history of the competition.

The members of the team are:

  • Caroline Relyea of Columbus, Ohio;
  • Alek Duerksen of Waynesboro, Va.;
  • Andrew Storey of Richmond, Va.;
  • Aaron Noble of Lenoir City, Tenn.;
  • Ricky Rose of Mechanicsville, Va.;
  • Robert Stieber of Harrisonburg, Va.;
  • John Bowling of Linden, Va.;
  • Bridget Mead of Fairfax, Va.;
  • Holly Fitz of Richmond, Va.;
  • Nick Sprague of Blacksburg, Va.;
  • Dan Sadtler of Damascus, Md.; and
  • Scott Hutchins of Wirtz, Va.


The competition was developed and is sponsored by the SME and NSSGA to give mining engineering students an opportunity to conduct and demonstrate real-world engineering skills and recognize them for their abilities. Since its inception in 2005, the student design competition has grown from four to over 15 participating teams.

The competition is an academic event in which student teams must solve a quarry design problem based on actual data from an aggregate company. The first round of the competition begins in the first academic semester and requires teams to solve a quarry design problem and submit their solution as a formal written report. Submitted reports are judged by a group of industry professionals who choose the top six teams to participate in the final round held at the SME’s annual meeting. At the meeting, finalists are presented with an additional design problem, typically related to the first, and attempt to solve it within two days. This solution is then presented orally to the judges and a larger audience at the SME meeting.

Virginia Tech’s mining students, advised by Erik Westman, associate professor of mining and minerals engineering, have had a string of successes since the competition was initiated four years ago. Virginia Tech’s teams won second place in each of the first three years. In 2008, however, two Virginia Tech teams made the finals at the SME Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City, walking away with first and fourth places.

This year’s Virginia Tech teams, “Old Dominion Crushing” and “Mischief Mining,” will face tough competition from a number of prominent mining and minerals engineering schools, to include the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, the University of Nevada, the University of Kentucky, and the Missouri University of Science and Technology. Competing teams will make their final presentations on Sunday, Feb. 22 at the SME Annual Meeting in Denver.