UWaterloo Rocks World Mining Competition

Gabrielle Klemt - 3N Geological Engineering
Posted on: November 14, 2018

15 teams, 36 hours, 1 plan crazy enough to work.

Picture this: it’s been more than 24 hours since you left your bed, you’ve been on too many planes, spent way too long in airports, and changed time zones. Yet rather than sleeping, you’re dressed in your business best, rubbing shoulders with teams from across the country and the globe, shaking the hands of sponsors from Nutrien and KPMG. So began this year’s World Mining Competition. Waterloo has long been a participant in the World Mining Competition – formerly the Canadian Mining Competition – which takes place yearly in that mining capital Saskatoon. You might think the city an odd choice for a mining competition, at least you would until you learned that Saskatchewan is one of the biggest exporters of potash in the world (it’s the stuff they make into industrial fertilizers, basically what civilization is based on today) as well as a major producer of Uranium. So, Saskatoon is kind of a big deal; now you know.

In the past, Waterloo’s teams at the WMC have been made up of Software Engineers and Systems Design students, the teams who win the consulting category of Waterloo’s Engineering Competition.
This means that while these students are smart and capable people, they don’t have a lot of experience with mining terminology. This year, we changed things up, disregarded the advice of the competition
chairs to bring a mixture of students in mining, geology, and finance, and brought a team made up solely of Geological Engineers. We were ready to show up and get our butts kicked majestically, in fact we four were quite excited to be shown up by the better prepared teams from other schools and to learn a lot about the mining world that we never knew.

The competition is a case study-based deal where you’re given a case including financial information on the company, geotechnical and geological details about the potential mine, and you’re asked to respond to many questions and, in the end, to recommend: is the project viable or not? You may be thinking, because we sound like mining-type people – the foolish sorts of people who think 36-hour case studies about mines are fun – that Geological Engineering prepares you for the mining industry. It does not, not in the way a program like Mining Engineering would. However, we were determined with our unique scrappy brand of UWaterloo determination that we would do the best we possibly could.

The first day was arguably the most exhausting. After stepping off our planes we spent several hours networking with sponsors and the other teams from Canada, Chile, Germany, the UK, and the USA. This was followed by a night event. At this point half our team of four had been up for about 40 hours, and although you may be yelling at your paper to “Go make Waterloo proud!” we did not make it to the second bar.

Day two started far too early for your humble home team. All of us are on the West Coast for co-op this term and the time difference did not work in our favour. All the same, we showed up brushed and
respectable to receive the case study. We then holed up in our windowless conference room for the following 36 hours, leaving occasionally to steal coffee from the photographers’ conference down the
hall or to pick up our take-out. Every time we returned to our room it smelled more strongly of curry, Vietnamese food, and that strange smell stress seems to carry. As time progressed, we became more
confident in our assessment that our mining venture would not only be a good idea, but a massive success: we were about to propose one of the world’s biggest iron mines. It was my job to prove investing in a mine in highly unstable Angola would be a great idea (no offense to any Angolans out these, but let’s be honest, the country has seen better times). However, by Friday night we had discovered several mistakes in our spreadsheets which changed completely our original estimates for the mine. Everything was falling apart; it was a disaster. We fell into bed sometime early Saturday morning hoping that with our couple hours of sleep we would find the solution we needed to make our mine profitable once more.

Saturday dawned, and things started to look up again… but not for long. We flip-flopped on the outcome we wanted to present. It just couldn’t be done, could it? In the end we decided that we had to come to a consensus so we could begin to create our presentation. We chose the risky path of recommending not to acquire the mine, at a mining competition. Ten minutes before the 10 pm deadline Saturday night, we submitted our PowerPoint. The next hour was spent eating another Vietnamese takeout while watching Brooklyn 99. Because treat yo’ self. We then practiced our presentation frantically for several hours before dropping into the sleep of the dead. We woke up what felt like only minutes later, but was in fact probably four hours, to continue practicing. Then we put on our suits and made our way to the University of Saskatchewan. We were in the first heat, meaning we got our presentation out of the way almost immediately and could relax for the rest of the day.

After lunch they announced the top five teams that would proceed to the finals. We were interested to see the other presentations and hear what they recommended. To our extreme shock and horror, we
made it to the top five. I went into shock and we laughed while repeating that someone had made a mistake as we were ushered through to the next presentation building. This was our worst-case scenario; presenting our crazy idea to a panel of judges was one thing, but to an entire room full of students and sponsors was quite another. The judges did not go easy, drilling us on topics we had not even considered during the unprotected part of our presentation, and we struggled to stay on topic and skillfully deflect the questions. We really worked as a cohesive team and picked answers up when others
weren’t as prepared on a particular issue. It was a dramatic 25 minutes and we finished just as the timer was counting down the seconds.

We didn’t come first, we didn’t even come top three, but out of 15 teams we were the only team to say no, and that was enough. The gala event was that evening and when we found out how the teams
placed in the top three, we were legitimately excited for the winning teams. We had all been through hell together and it forced us to make fast friends. I won’t easily forget this weekend, it was an amazing
experience and it felt like a true win for Waterloo all the same.

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