Isabel M Peñaloza headshot


Isabel M Peñaloza


Metallurgical Engineering MSc at University of Nevada, Reno

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Hello. My name is Isabel PeƱaloza and I'm originally from Ecuador, South America. I'm a mining engineer, graduated in 2020 in my home country, and I'm actually a graduate research assistant at the University of Nevada under Professor Pengbo Chu. I’m currently in my second year of my master's program in metallurgical engineering. And counting those years when I started my career until now, it has been a journey of around eight years.
I have been since last year as a master's student, and recently I finished an amazing internship at Kennecott, Rio Tinto operation in Utah. I've been a member of SME for around five years now and I'm excited at still being a member because I can see all the benefits that it has brought to my life.
At first, I knew that my home country was not the only place I wanted to end up working with my degree in mining at that time. I would say I always manifested seeing myself out of the country, learning new languages, getting into new cultures. So while I was studying in college, an SME chapter was opened and I even though I was not an officer and I never needed a title for it, I was always volunteering myself to the activities, trying to get involved, putting my name out there.
I think one of the biggest benefits that SME at that time offered me was the strong and amazing network among members, right? That I could connect. When I was in Ecuador, I could connect with somebody from Africa. I could connect with somebody from the United States. And also call my attention to all the career paths and opportunities like scholarships, papers, magazines.
I decided to take all of those opportunities together and put in the balance; like, do I really just want to focus on my career or I really want to open myself for the world to go out? And SME was presenting me that opportunity. So I took it and as I always say, I remain loyal to it. So since my chapter was started in my home university, every year I was paying my membership because I knew it was really worth it.
I used to work with my parents on the farm. So something that I knew at that time was that I like fieldwork. I like to be out. I like to be exploring. I like to get dirty. I like to be sweaty. I like to feel exhausted at the end of the day and feeling like I have accomplished something new.
That was the first step. I always knew that I wanted something outdoors. The second one was that at that time there was much demand for people who were professionals in the earth sciences. But I kind of considered not going to the oil industry, neither to civil engineering, neither to geology. So my last option was mining. So I said, well, let's go to mining. What can actually happen?
And as soon as I got to my first class of introduction to mining, I said Isabel, you are not leaving this place. You belong here. I really felt that connection. I really felt that I was entering into an industry that hasn't been explored too much at that time, and that I had the opportunity to be a pioneer here, that to be a, you know, a successful woman in mining; because people were not used to see women in mining.
Moreover, I chose mining. And now I realize that with mining I'm able to help my parents back home. I can offer them a better lifestyle because it's one of the most industries or careers that are well-paid.
I'm happy I didn't follow their path, even though I worked with them. I was in charge of the management with the safety, social, environmental governance, because those things are the basis of mining. And that also helped me. My career helped me to help them too. So I'm happy that I could get into this new career which was mining at that time and now metallurgy and being able to help them, being able to them a little bit like relax, stop a little bit. I got you.
One of the things that I know about this industry and I really highlight it every day and every time I have the chance to, is that it is a constant learning. I just learn about everything at the university with my professors. I learn during internships, doing research, in events, conferences, field trips...
It is amazing for me that this industry is not static. It's a dynamic industry and being able to see the evolution that mining has had for the years turning more sustainable and diverse, showed me that I'm in the correct industry. So I'm very passionate about the industry I represent. So I always tried to motivate and to share all the benefits that the mining industry brings and puts on the table.
I can see through the years being in the mining industry is has a mixture between passion and also ambition. So regarding the first one, when I say passion, it means that you really need to know that you will require certain schedules. You will need to also know that you will be remote sometimes because the mine sites are not located where we want to. It is actually where the geology says it should be. Like, it should be a mine up there.
Also mental health and physical wellness, which is something that I have seen during the past years that have been taking a lot into account that is so important in our business, in the mining business, the mining industry. Moreover with COVID.
So on the other hand, when I talk about ambition, it means that different career paths that the mining industry offers experiences and salary advantages.
At the end of the day, you need to have the passion to know what you are sacrificing, but also that at the end of the day you will be rewarded, absolutely rewarded for doing what you like.
If I wouldn’t be as passionate as I am for this industry, I think I could have given up many years ago. Since my first internship when I thought I was not able to do because I was a woman. So those are things that I really think, its passion and ambition. I really wanted a good future for my family, for my parents, and now I'm able to do it.
As a professional from South America because I was born and raised in Ecuador. My parents are small banana farmers. I was born and raised on a farm and I'm so proud of it. They turned me into the woman I am.
In the mining industry, being in South America, I have evidence of a huge revolution during this year in mining. Towards diversity and inclusion, but also the adoption of new technologies, improvements in safety, and importance nowadays given to mental health and physical well-being. Those topics are crucial for us to discuss nowadays. I have seen an evident evolution of them.
The current generations have also role models and mentors that can guide them to a successful career in mining industry making smoother their path of mining and also a faster way to adapt technology. Actually, this is started with my family back home, as I told. I come from a very small banana farmer family and I used to teach them that all the raw materials that we used in the farm, like fertilizers, equipment, and machinery come from mining. Without them, we won't be able to be profitable, to be productive, and to keep running the business.
Later, through my career, at the beginning of my career and to now, I have been part of several organizations that promote mining, especially women in mining, education, in schools and high schools. And with my arrival to the United States since last year, I have put even more effort in mentoring, giving the opportunity that I had when I was a student serving as a role model to the present and future generations of mining, providing them with the tools and tips to become successful professionals, better humans, and also sharing my passion and creating great impact in them.
Recently, I was a mentor for NevadaFIT which is a program at the University of Nevada. All my mentees work for mining, metallurgy, geology. It’s amazing to see a woman in mining, to see a woman that's successful in mining have a chance now to work in great companies, but also study and also learn the new culture and new technologies and all those improvements that mining puts on the table.
Mentors in my life have created a huge impact. Starting from my home university in Ecuador, where I had two amazing women who I saw as a role model, they were professionals in the mining industry with several experiences and several different areas of mining. They were my mentors and they taught me to become a confident woman, to never give up.
We are still in a male-dominated industry and that's for real. But they also showed me that the most important about this industry and about the advantages of being a woman in the industry is, I can turn into a capable person and also motivate others. And it's a constant learning, following my passions and never giving up.
Esmilka and Samantha, thank you so much. You made a huge impact in my life as a professional. And while here in the United States, my advisor, Professor Pengbo Chu, he has been a great mentor for me, for his choosing me from another background, because I'm a mine engineer and I was working in Ecuador as mine engineer, but also he has supported me in every step of my master's program with a lot of patience and helped me explore this new area, which is metallurgy and mineral processing. So thank you, Professor, Chu for your support. I'm so grateful.