PhD student focused on making a difference in mining sector
May 26, 2014
By Mark Kerr, Senior Communications Officer
Anne Johnson didn’t give a thought to engineering when she was considering her post-secondary education options in the 1970s. Her father was a civil engineer, but she found art history was a better fit for her interests.
Now, with four Queen’s degrees to her credit, Ms. Johnson is studying for her PhD and co-ordinating a certificate program in the Robert M. Buchan Department of Mining. Her doctoral research explores ways the mining industry can build mutually beneficial relationships with Indigenous Peoples and local communities.
“My interests were not on the agenda in the 1970s,” she says. “After the Constitution Act of 1982, though, there has been so much jurisprudence that has changed the relationship between industry, government, First Nations and stakeholders from other areas. Mining is such an interesting way to pull all of these things together, and I hope to do something important.”
Pursuing that passion seemed out of the question for Ms. Johnson, whose journey along the path of lifelong learning led her into art history, education and computing science. She approached Laeeque Daneshmend, the head of the mining department at the time, and he agreed to support her application.
Ms. Johnson was originally admitted as a PhD candidate in the cultural studies program, but she felt her desire to solve problems made her a better fit for the mining department. She took mining courses and served as a teaching assistant for courses such as Open Pit Mining and Underground Mining. Her persistence eventually paid off as she was allowed to transfer to mining.
She argues in her thesis that mining engineers and professionals need to be open to worldviews held by Indigenous Peoples and other community stakeholders.
“Intercultural competency is not an add-on or a soft skill. It’s a critical mining engineering skill because in order to create appropriate mine designs and make effective and appropriate operational decisions, you have to know the social context you are working in because mining is so close to people.”
In addition to her research, Ms. Johnson co-ordinates the Graduate Certificate in Community Relations for the Extractive Industry. The program gives mining professionals the tools to engage stakeholders and assess the social impact of their company’s operations.
“There are some people in mining companies who are working hard to make a difference. The other piece of the puzzle is working to change legislation so that companies don’t take a financial hit when they move the social agenda forward,” she says.
Ms. Johnson considers Queen’s a special place having studied, taught and worked at the institution in various capacities for more than 30 years. Her husband did all three of his degrees at Queen’s and one of her daughters graduated from the institution.
“I think people who come here with an open mind of what they can learn can walk away on the cusp of fulfilling their dreams,” says Ms. Johnson. “I feel really privileged because I get to work with people who are excited about their research.”