1. Is it truly interdisciplinary?
Successful underground construction and tunneling projects rely on skills and knowledge from various disciplines—primarily civil engineering, geological engineering and mining engineering and, to a lesser extent, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, geophysics, geology and others.
A good UCTE program should bring together faculty from all these fields in a cohesive, comprehensive curriculum. Colorado School of Mines’ program, for example, has the added benefit of decorated earth sciences departments and faculty and a highly ranked civil engineering program.
2. Is it innovative?
Tunnel boring machines might average no more than 50 or 60 feet a day, but it’s a fast-paced industry. With greater demand for underground construction, there’s a premium for ways to dig faster, cheaper and more safely.
We tend to think of master’s degrees as industry-oriented, while PhDs are for those who want to enter academia, but companies welcome engineers who can bring new ideas.
“We promote a very applied research environment,” said Mines Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Mike Mooney, in an interview with Tunnel Business Magazine. “We really want to help advance solutions that will move the industry forward, tackle complicated problems, help grow the market for tunneling by developing solutions, knowledge and technologies that allow tunnel design and tunnel construction in environments that perhaps haven’t been advanced before.”
See if your program’s faculty are active researchers. Do they lead research groups? Are there names in news articles about the latest projects?
Mines faculty are, pardon the pun, constantly breaking new ground, often by collaborating with experts in other fields, such as data science, robotics and more (see No. 1). They lead research groups and research centers that focus on areas such as geomechanics, underground transportation, mapping and monitoring, seismic design, mining and petroleum infrastructure, to name a few.
Learn about the research Mines UCTE faculty and students are working on, including a project with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to design and demonstrate rapid tunneling technology
3. Does it provide opportunities for real-world, practical experience?
Underground construction and tunneling projects are often large, complex and expensive. Many are funded by public money. Companies need employees who will hit the ground running to minimize costs and delays.
Are internships an integral part of your program? Will you have opportunities to meet industry professionals, tour work sites, even perform design work for current projects, as Mines UCTE students had the opportunity to do with the Alaskan Way Viaduct?
4. Does it have proven industry connections?
Directly related to question No. 3 above, a program’s industry connections are even more valuable when it comes time to find a job.
Historically, Mines has had close connections to the oil and gas and mining industries, a quality that has carried over to its UCTE program. Alumnus Bruce E. Grewcock ‘76, chairman and CEO of Peter Kiewit Sons Inc., is a strong supporter of the university’s underground education and research efforts, endowing faculty chairs and funding student scholarships.
Mines is seen as an excellent source of tunneling professionals, with an average of two to three job offers for each UCTE graduate.
Make sure any program you choose maximizes your chances of career success after graduation.