Isabel Peñaloza Araujo brought an impressive list of accomplishments with her to the University when she came to study her Masters in Metallurgical Engineering, and she is adding a lot to that list while she is here. Peñaloza studies critical mineral processing in the Department of Mining and Metallurgical Engineering at the Mackay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering and is a graduate researcher and teaching assistant in the Pengbo Chu Research Group.
“Critical minerals are essential to the United States economy, especially for net zero climate goals by 2050, low carbon technologies and clean energy transitions,” she said. Peñaloza’s passion for mining began in her undergraduate career and took her all the way to the United States.
Find mining, find community
Growing up in Ecuador, Peñaloza was born and raised on her parents’ Fairtrade banana farm. She helped her parents and took on a leadership role in the business. When Peñaloza decided what she wanted to study at university, studying languages was her first choice. Her father wanted her to be fluent in English, so she took private lessons and practiced at school. She also learned French at school and excelled at it, but studying languages was only an option at private universities. Financially, going to a private school was not an option for Peñaloza and his family. Peñaloza instead went to a public engineering university and decided to study mining engineering, as she heard it was a very good career. While the engineering degree was difficult as a first-generation student and due to high student demand, Peñaloza loved it and was very successful.
“In the mining sector, I found my passion,” she said.
Although she couldn’t study languages in college, Peñaloza still finds ways to practice. During her undergraduate studies, she obtained a scholarship to study abroad in Brazil, where she learned Portuguese while studying mining engineering. In Brazil, she never felt homesick because she felt part of the culture. In the United States, it’s a different story. In December, she plans to return home to Ecuador. She will have spent a year and a half without seeing her family.
“I started feeling homesick from my first semester. It’s different isn’t it? It’s a different environment. It’s a different culture,” Peñaloza said. She only knows a few Ecuadorians in Reno, and none of them are in the mining industry or share common interests.” I don’t really know how to define my community, but I’ve always said I’m Latina, and I totally accept that .” Peñaloza strives to connect with other Hispanic students in the mining sector, as it is important for Peñaloza to share his experiences within his community.
“I’m proud of my culture and my heritage,” Peñaloza said. “Being a woman in STEM and a woman in mining, sharing what I do every day, sharing that it is possible to have a good job, to have a good life, to enjoy it and to ‘be passionate about it. I saw early in my career how difficult it was in South America to be a woman in mining. So during my time at home, I made sure to build the path for young people. I really wanted to see more women come into mining, so I started joining several organizations that represent women in mining, and I still contribute from here.
Being a woman in the mining sector was not easy in Ecuador. Peñaloza said she constantly had to prove herself.
“Inclusion and diversity was not a thing in Ecuador,” Peñaloza said. She needed to adapt to gain some credibility (and respect) from her classmates, professors and colleagues.
“If I weren’t so passionate and in love with my industry, I would have left it the first time I got into mining. Her parents always supported her and told her: “No matter what, do what makes you happy, we will always be proud and we will support your decisions.”
But Peñaloza persevered and came to the United States delighted with the opportunities she would have here. She was grateful to her parents who helped her complete her undergraduate degree during COVID, and even then she started working at the largest underground gold mine, Fruta del Norte, as a mining engineer. junior.
One thing that is very important to Peñaloza is being able to provide for her parents as they did for her. She is still involved in her parents’ work at home. She and her mother run the farm and she sends money to her parents whenever she can. “Thanks to them, I am the woman I am today, it would not be human to turn your back on them. I want them to experience what I am experiencing here.
Ensure your own success
Peñaloza will graduate with a job already lined up for her at her dream company, Rio Tinto, where she interned during the summer in Utah.
“Bingham Canyon is one of the largest copper mines in the world, accounting for more than 16% of total U.S. copper production,” Peñaloza said. She will hold various positions within the company, including at the mine, concentrator, smelter and refinery.
Peñaloza is also very active in the mining community. She helped reinvigorate the John Mackay Club on campus after the limited activities of the COVID-19 pandemic and engaged alumni and industry on campus for students to network. She is delighted to see the club continue to grow under her peers. Many of the scholarships she received were from the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration. In addition, she will give a talk at the end of the week to the Women in Mining chapter of Utah.
“I had all the opportunities I always wanted here, and I’m very grateful for that,” Peñaloza said. She is also a big contributor to her success at Pengbo Chu, a professor of Nevada gold mining in the department of mining and metallurgical engineering. When they talked about Peñaloza coming to work in Chu’s lab, she told Chu that she needed financial support so she wouldn’t have to depend on her parents and still be financially independent here in the United States. Chu provided recommendation letters for his scholarships, and he had never seen a student get so many scholarships in such a short time.
“And he always motivates us to apply for more. He is an excellent teacher,” she added. The four graduate students working in Chu’s lab are all international students, hailing from Iran, Cameroon, India and, of course, Ecuador.
“He’s the best. I’m so grateful,” Peñaloza said.
Peñaloza knows exactly what she wants when she finishes her master’s degree. She plans to start a consulting group after a few years of experience in the national and international mining industry. Peñaloza will continue to pay for insurance in Ecuador until she turns 65, even if she retires in the United States at 45 as she plans, so to supplement her insurance costs she hopes to have an investment portfolio. solid and will have the possibility of continuing to work if she wants.
“She’s very determined and she’s very inspiring,” Chu said of her student. She took advantage of the opportunities she had at the University.
“That’s why I left my job, my amazing job that I loved, and came here, because I knew there were much better opportunities, because this really is the land of opportunities. , for people who really want to enjoy it.” , and for that you need decision and commitment,” said Peñaloza.