A student team from the College of Engineering has won for the third consecutive year first place in the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration (SME) / National Stone, Sand, and Gravel Association (NSSGA) Student Design Competition.

The team won a $2,000 cash prize, as well as school lab equipment donated by InfoMine USA. Part of the Department of Mining and Minerals Engineering, the team has consistently finished first or second in the six-year history of the event. The Feb. 28–March 3 competition was held in Phoenix, part of SME’s annual meeting and exhibit.

Comprising the winning team, the New River Aggregates, were

  • Blane Bowers, a senior from Fredericksburg, Va.;
  • Ben Fahrman, a senior from Appomattox, Va.;
  • Ricky Rose, a senior from Mechanicsville, Va.;
  • Scott Hutchins, a senior from Wirtz, Va.;
  • Dan Sadtler, a senior from Damascus, Md.; and
  • Susie Underwood, a junior from Marion, Va.

The students competed against student engineering teams from the University of Nevada-Reno, the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Montana Tech, Penn State University, and the University of Utah. This year's contest particularly was challenging and marked by tight competition, according to organizers.

"I have been involved with this competition since its inception and the bar just keeps getting higher," said Greg Adel, mining and mineral engineering professor and department head. "The competition is intense and the level of professionalism shown by all the teams is outstanding. To win the competition once is a great accomplishment. To win the competition three times in a row is just unreal. I could not be more proud of our team."

The academically-based competition consists of two phases spanning both semesters of the academic year. In Phase 1, students write and submit a comprehensive mine design based on real mine data provided by the competition sponsors. Phase 2, which takes place at the SME’s annual exhibit, requires students to give an oral presentation to the judges explaining a design modification in response to new a problem. This year, 12 teams participated in Phase I, with six finalists selected for Phase II in Phoenix.

The competition was developed to give mining engineering students an opportunity to demonstrate real-world engineering skills in a professional setting. While engineering knowledge is important in designing a working mine plan, teamwork and time management equally are critical skills in the competition, particularly in Phase 2, when students have only two days to solve design problems, according to event organizers.