The diverse members of the group planning the MEC K-12 Outreach Pilot Program come with different mining and outreach backgrounds. The group meets twice monthly, in partnership with the SME Colorado Section MEC Subsection, developing a pilot project to be implemented in two chosen Colorado public schools (Place Bridge Academy K-8, and Denver South High School 9-12). This initial small-scale program with presentations and pre and post student/parent/teacher surveys will allow for immediate feedback, leading to a more successful program.


Wendi Cooksey has over 25 years of experience in the minerals industry in engineering, construction, start-up, testing, and operations in various locations around the world. Wendi has a Bachelor of Science degree in Metallurgical Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines.

In 2009, she established “Your World Rocks,” a nonprofit organization of scientists and engineers dedicated to promoting education with a specialization in mineral science, reclamation, recycling, chemistry and engineering. She has reached over 8,000 students with a commitment to promoting appreciation, understanding and stewardship of the world around us. Wendi is active in SME and is  chairperson of the Minerals Education Coalition Committee.


Dr. Kathleen Altman is an accomplished metallurgist who has been a trailblazer for women in the field of mineral processing.  She has been an active volunteer with a focus on mentoring younger professionals in the mining industry.  Dr. Altman is currently the Chair of the Council of Education for SME.

Dr. Altman is a consultant currently working in Denver for her own firm AKA PROS, INC. She enrolled at the Colorado School of Mines (CSM) as one of only 19 female students out of a student body of about 1,500. With no specific mining knowledge, she chose CSM because her high school chemistry teacher was supportive.  After CSM, Dr. Altman attended University of Nevada-Reno where she is the only woman in history to graduate with a Ph.D. in Metallurgical Engineering. Dr. Altman was the first female faculty member in the Mining Engineering department at UNR when she was selected as the Newmont Professor of Extractive Mineral Process Engineering with the mandate to rebuild the Mineral Processing Program.  With her position at UNR, Dr. Altman achieved her goals of teaching at the university level in the field of mineral processing and sharing her practical experience as a female engineer.

Jodi Banta is Program Manager for the new School of Mining and Mineral Resources at the University of Arizona, leading the design and development of the school itself and its program areas including education and recruitment outreach, communications, academic programming, as well as program measurement and evaluation. In this role, Jodi has conducted market research to assess student perceptions, attitudes, knowledge and interest in mining and minerals, and has published and presented on the subject.

Prior to joining the University, she served over 10 years in several capacities for AIG. With AIG she oversaw the design and implementation of a campus outreach program designed to improve financial literacy of students across Singapore’s three universities. In addition to outreach program design and measurement, her responsibilities included program participant screening and training, as well as continuous quality assurance. Jodi has worked in over a dozen countries on six continents. She has a B.A. in Sociology from the University of Arizona.

Richard Beach, chair of the SME Colorado MEC subcommittee, graduated from the Colorado School of Mines with a professional degree in geological engineering.  Dick then served two years in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Virginia and Vietnam.  Dick worked as a geologist and physical scientist for the U.S. Bureau of Mines from 1972 until retirement in 1994.  At the Bureau of Mines, Dick assessed mineral resources on Federal and Indian lands, and analyzed restraints on mineral exploration and development, applying them to statewide studies of Federal mineral lands in several Rocky Mountain States.

Since retirement, Dick has continued to be actively involved professionally. Dick makes presentations in Denver Metro area classrooms and at other venues about mining and minerals, works with Scouts earning the Mining in Society merit badge, and judges science fair projects.

Joe Bindner is a geotechnical engineer and PhD student at Colorado State University studying engineering education, geotechnical engineering, and mining byproduct. Joe received his bachelor’s degree in Geological Engineering from the University of Missouri Science and Technology, and his master’s degree in Civil Engineering from Colorado State University. He has worked as an engineering consultant and is passionate about bringing practical engineering problems into the classroom. Joe’s outreach activities focus on tailings and mine waste education with emphasis on raising student awareness of mining’s role in producing green energy technologies.

Theresa Centola is an environmental engineer and master’s student at Colorado State University studying subsurface contamination and sustainable remediation. Theresa received her bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering from Colorado State University, during which she held the Outreach Coordinator and President positions for the CSU section of the Society of Women Engineers. She has worked as a mentor for students of underrepresented identities, and working with Denver youth in their communities to educate them about environmental health and provide resources to support their educational and professional goals.


Chris Earnest is the Education Outreach Coordinator for the School of Mining and Mineral Resources at the University of Arizona. Since joining the program in fall of 2019, he has traveled extensively throughout Arizona to introduce K-12 students to mining and mineral resources while expanding the program into the digital space. He works closely with the recruitment outreach coordinator and departments across the University to help young learners see a place for themselves in mining and mineral resources. Before joining the University of Arizona, Chris developed his passion for elementary education while teaching science and English as a foreign language to K-6 students in Gunma, Japan. Over eleven years he worked across cultures to help students realize their own potential and communication abilities. Chris graduated from the University of Arizona with a B.S. in Geosciences.  In his free time, he enjoys camping, rockhounding, photography, and has volunteered as an assistant scoutmaster with the Boy Scouts of America and the Scout Association of Japan.

Karen Jass is a graduate of Mining Engineer of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology (SD Mines). She has been employed by the US Dept of Labor – MSHA (Coal) as an underground inspector specializing in Ventilation, and with the US Dept of Interior – OSMRE as a Mining Engineer in the Western Region specializing in engineering, permitting, and cost estimation and where she was an instructor for the underground coal mining (inexperienced new hires) and bond/insurance contracts courses for over 20 years.

Ms. Jass has been active with the Colorado Section, as Section Chair, Treasurer, and MEC representative (formerly GEM) committee for about 35 years, having participated in the Denver and  Seattle National Science Teaching Association conventions as a volunteer. She believes MEC is SME’s only means to share information about the industry-in-general, explaining what & how (extraction, processing and reclamation), the minerals it produces and how consumers directly benefit from these U.S. extracted minerals, and for young folks to plant the seed for a career in the industry.

Heather Lammers is a Senior Mining Engineer at WSP-Golder with over 15 years of consulting experience in the mining industry, specializing in multi-disciplinary analysis and design.

Heather’s international project experience includes mine closure and reclamation, heap leach, tailings storage, and waste rock facility design. Her expertise includes multi-criteria analysis and decision evaluation applied to mine waste and water management strategies.


Sarah Lizarraga is the Outreach and Recruitment Coordinator for the Earth and Resources Programs (Mining, Petroleum, Geophysics, and Geological Engineering) at Colorado School of Mines. Sarah’s role centers around recruiting young minds into the Earth system and resources industries, educating the community about humanitarian resource needs, and inspiring individuals to plot their future as geoscientist and engineers.



Mario Muñoz is the Recruitment & Outreach Coordinator for the University of Arizona’s Mining & Geological Engineering department and School of Mining & Mineral Resources. Mario has been recruiting and conducting programs for the University of Arizona’s Mining & Geological Engineering department and School of Mining & Mineral Resources since 2019. Mario’s role comprises of designing and executing a dynamic recruitment program to excite and inspire students to pursue careers and degrees in mining and mineral resources. This past year, the recruitment outreach program participated in over 120 recruitment events, including presentations, career fairs, college fairs & workshops, and reached over 3,200 high school, community college, and university students.

Mario has also provided personalized attention to prospective students and their families through one-on-one meetings, department, and San Xavier Underground Mine tours, and connecting them to resources to meet their needs. He attained his B.S. in Mining Engineering and B.A. in Spanish with a Portuguese concentration from the University of Arizona in 2016.

Dr. Abani R Samal holds a PhD from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, DIC and MS from Imperial College, London and M Tech (Mineral Exploration) degree from IIT (ISM) Dhanbad, India. He is the principal and owner of GeoGlobal, LLC. Dr. Samal provides consulting services to exploration and mining companies, government agencies and major financial institutions worldwide. He provides strategic advice to governmental agencies for development of mineral resources and offers professional development programs to industry professionals and academic researchers worldwide.

Dr. Samal serves on the editorial boards of two international journals: Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration journal (MMEX) and Natural Resources Research Journal (NARR) and Mining Engineering Journal (MEJ).

Bruce Yoshioka is the Laboratory Coordinator for the Department of Mining Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines is a very active participant in mining recruitment and educational outreach activities on campus and throughout the Rocky Mountain Front Range. Bruce’s background is quite diverse, ranging from serving for eight years in the U.S. Army, a Field Analyst testing Intercontinental Ballistic Missile systems, and District Sales Manager working with representatives in four states. At the age of 43, he decided to follow his dream of obtaining his bachelor’s degree and obtained his B.S. in Land Use Geology from the Metropolitan State University of Denver, where he also worked as a Laboratory Coordinator in support of geology, environmental science, geography, and meteorology.

A service minded individual, Bruce regularly meets with prospective students and their families, provides facility tours to visitors, and coordinates meetings with current students. He enjoys working with students and is a strong advocate for balanced academic, leadership, social, and mental development during their time at Mines and their subsequent progression into the mining industry.

Michelle Holmes was born and raised in a small town in upstate New York. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Education from Arizona State University in 1990. She taught 5th grade for seven years and also worked as a junior high school teacher for six years in the Phoenix metro area. After moving to Southern California, she volunteered in her children’s elementary school and also volunteered as a Girl Scout co-leader from 2009 to 2014. A job transfer brought her family to Denver in late 2014 and Aurora is where she now calls home. Today she is a single mom and in her free time she enjoys spending time with her two children, Shea, 20, and Nicholas, 16 and her two Shih Tzus, Louie and Suki. She also enjoys going to the theater a good movie or a play), music, dinner out with friends and a drive up to the beautiful Rocky Mountains.

Michelle is currently the SME Foundation Assistant and her role encompasses various SME Foundation special events and programs associated with the Foundation, including the MEC.

Akudo Nwokeukwu is SME’s Minerals Education Coalition Outreach Coordinator. She joined SME in December 2021, to help expand the outreach efforts of the SME Foundation through Minerals Education Coalition initiatives. Akudo coordinates MEC‘s outreach activities and events, represents MEC at local and national conferences, and co-manages MEC’s Move Mining and Move Mining Next Gen competitions. She brings a unique cultural perspective and many years of experience in outreach and advocacy, community development, and volunteer management, and uses her relationship building and communication skills to strengthen rapport with committee members, volunteers, schools and organizations.

Prior to joining the SME Team, Akudo was an outreach coordinator at Place Bridge Academy, in the Denver Public Schools District, where she led community and family engagement projects that improved student achievement, deepened relationships with families, school district, governmental agencies and community partners while providing students and parents with increased access to community resources. Akudo graduated from the University of Colorado at Denver with a Master’s in Public Administration.

Rebecca L. Smith is the Minerals Education Coalition curriculum coordinator, leading MEC curriculum development and content, such as teacher guides, posters and lesson plans and their correlation with state and national standards. Prior to coming to SME, Rebecca managed the Visitor Programs Department at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science for 11 years, overseeing a million-dollar budget and staff of more than 20, after serving as earth science educator/program manager for 9 years.  She contributed to countless major exhibitions, discovery centers, shows, demonstrations, tours, teacher workshops and volunteer trainings at the museum during her 20 years there. Rebecca also served as Board Member and then Vice President of the West Arapahoe Soil Conservation District and then the Plains Conservation Center over 17 years. At the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, she led an outreach program to train teachers in rural schools to use local natural resources to teach earth, life and environmental sciences, and was teacher trainer and curriculum developer before that. Rebecca has an M.A. in Biological Anthropology from the University of New Mexico, and Honors Program B.A.s in Animal Biology and in Physical Anthropology from the University of Utah.