George Luxbacher headshot


George Luxbacher


Deputy Associate Director for Mining at National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

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What are a few of your favorite career highlights?

I've been fortunate to be involved in SME at the national level for a long-time, beginning with the support of a supervisor at Island Creek Coal Company in the early 80s who couldn't make an all-section meeting and sent me instead. That led to a term on the SME Board representing the Eastern Region, involvement in the Divisions, and ultimately to my service as SME President in 2008. I didn't think I could ever top that, but I then had the honor of serving twice as AIME President, first in 2012 and then, in the 150th year of the Institute, in 2020. The privilege of bring those 150 years to life once again, highlighting the critical role of SME to our industry, continuing 150 years of service to our profession, has been a true honor.

What do find to be the most challenging aspect(s) of your job?

After a career in industry, in both engineering and management, I'm now involved in mining health and safety research at the federal level. While my current job has made me appreciate the foundation I have through my BS, MS and PhD degrees from Penn State, I've had to switch gears. Research takes time and has many constraints I wasn't used to in industry, where everything needs done on an accelerated schedule.

In what ways have you seen the industry change since you first began your career?

I've seen the transition from slide rules, manual calculators, and rules-of-thumb to mainframe computers to minicomputers to now PCs, sophisticated controls, modeling, simulations, and automation, although there has been one constant: the industry still relies on the expertise of its workforce.

In my very first job underground in the summer between my sophomore and junior year, I was put to work on the day one on a section crew mining coal. Talk about a practical hands-on learning environment - the start of a passion for lifelong learning. Although I've done all sorts of work over the globe in the last half-century, my heart still rests with underground coal.

How do you help improve the image of mining?

I'm proud to be associated with the mining industry and look for every opportunity to discuss mining with those that I meet. I believe we all have an obligation to our industry and profession to increase awareness to those in our circle of influence, letting it grow exponentially from there. We are all reliant on mining and, while the old pick and shovel images of mining immediately come to mind, they don't reflect the responsible and sustainable mining industry of today.

We as SME members are blessed in being able to talk about mining with knowledge and understanding that others don't have. In one of my SME President columns in Mining Engineering, I mentioned that I have a son and daughter-in-law that are both mining engineers and that, unfortunately, my other children are in more mundane careers – I really believe that! But I've done my best to educate them about the value of mining.

How have mentors played a role in your career?

I decided to go into mining (a field I wasn't considering despite having two grandfathers that were coal miners) after a long discussion with Tom Falkie, then found myself in graduate school where Bob Stefanko and Raj Ramani were critical in my progression – all three of these individuals served as SME President! At Pittsburgh Coal Company and then Island Creek Coal, I had bosses/mentors who took a young engineer and gave invaluable guidance and responsibilities beyond my limited expertise. I've grown immensely as both a person and an engineer through the interaction with these mentors and others and the faith they put in me – my only hope is that I've been able to give some of that back over the years to others.

What member benefit(s) was/were the main reason you joined SME?

I joined SME as a student member primarily because of the activities of our student section; of course, the discount on textbooks published and sold by SME more than made up for the cost of membership. I stayed active after graduation at the local section level as an opportunity to meet others in the industry and continue to learn. I've stayed a member and gotten even more involved because of the value I feel SME brings to our profession. I also can't overstate the personal value of the friendships I've made with those in other aspects of the industry I otherwise would not have had the opportunity to meet – miners are the nicest people on earth!