When James Comeau began studying undergrad engineering several years ago at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S. – a program that allowed him to start at St. Francis Xavier and finish his degree at Dalhousie University in Halifax – he was “a football player that was good at math.”
Then, two things happened. First, he was introduced to the mining industry when – almost at random – he picked mining as his engineering discipline.
“I really had no background information going in but then as soon as I got into it, I really loved the problem-solving aspects and the complexity of the issues with it,” Comeau says.
The other disruptive event came in the form of an injury.
“I herniated two discs in my lower back and that basically ended my career there. Up until that point I was a big boy, I used to play Centre – I was 320, 330 lbs. so I herniated my lower back and all of a sudden, football was over and I was really in rough shape.” Comeau got himself back to health and being pain free over the course of a year and half, and lost 150 lbs. while studying engineering and working a full-time job.
It was that story of perseverance, along with exceptional grades, and leadership roles as president of the CIM student chapter at Dalhousie, president of the Mining Society and captain of the Mining Games team, that landed Comeau the Peter Munk scholarship last November through Young Mining Professionals. Funded by Barrick Gold, the $10,000 scholarship is awarded to a student who embodies the entrepreneurial spirit of the gold giant’s founder.
Asked to comment on why Comeau was chosen, Barrick’s three-person selection committee said: “We’re impressed with James’s academic excellence, extra-curricular involvement, and his perseverance when overcoming his injury.”
Comeau will get the chance to interview with Barrick as part of his scholarship – a chance that he says would be exciting both because of the travel opportunities that come with working for a big mining company and for the chance to gain exposure to the “latest and greatest” advanced mining technology.
Originally from Alberta, Comeau says the unique challenges of underground mining – which he got to see firsthand during a 16-month co-op placement at Trevali Mining’s Caribou mine in New Brunswick, are what drew him away from the oilsands or conventional open pit mining.
“Every case is so specific and unique from the ground up, even the geology, that you really have to approach every scenario in a mine as a completely isolated incident. You can draw similarities but at the end of the day it’s really whatever you see in the data that you collect, and there never is enough data,” Comeau says. “I like solving problems where you have not a lot to go off of and then actually getting to see it unfold in person when you’re underground– it’s not month long timelines – you’re blasting that tomorrow.”
The level of technology being used in mining operations was a bit of a shock for Comeau, who as a 25-year old, has grown up immersed in technology.
“In some cases it was like the stone ages,” he says. “You’re writing on paper.”
Technology and the changes it’s bringing to the mining industry are what’s most exciting to Comeau.
“All the ways that we do things are going to change very quickly. I consider myself and people my age to be a new generation of mining engineers that, while we learn a lot from older engineers and people in senior roles, I think that the book is going to get rewritten here pretty soon with technology. We’re at a place where it’s close, it’s almost there – but I really think it will be people my age who have grown up with some of these things, (that make the change).”
Comeau will graduate with a business accounting degree as well as mining engineering in May.
This is the first in a new series CMJ is starting profiling some of the young people in mining who represent the next generation of the industry. If you have suggestions for our next profile, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.