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Rock Solid Experience

Geology Students Learn Hands-On from Hecla Mining Company Professionals

Slim cylinders of rock 2 feet long and weighing as much as a truck jack lie on tables at the Integrated Research and Innovation Center (IRIC) on the University of Idaho Moscow campus.

Students outfitted with hand lenses, tools and notebooks examine the slender rock columns before making notes in logbooks.

The sections of rock are core samples, and the exercise — called core logging — provides students with a hands-on look at the day-to-day activity of mining geologists.

“We wanted to give students practical experience, and core logging is one of the entry-level skills every mining geologist learns,” said Professor of Geology Jerry Fairley. “Analyzing different sections of rock samples to see what minerals are there and logging what you see is an important skill for students to learn going into the workforce.”

By teaming up with Nick Furlin, ’08, Hecla Mining Company chief geologist, Fairley and his department are providing a different kind of education to U of I geology students. The workshop brings together students, geology professors and Hecla geologists to supplement academic science with hands-on instruction.

“In this workshop, students are learning what they will see in the real world,” Furlin said.

Growing up in Kellogg in the heart of North Idaho’s Silver Valley, Furlin attended U of I after learning about mining and miners from family members who worked in the industry. Earning a geology degree and working as a mining geologist seemed a logical progression.

“Mining is one of the largest industries in Idaho and it provides good-paying jobs and careers,” Furlin said.

He considers himself lucky to earn a degree that allowed him to return home to work.

“I’ve always loved rocks, so what can be better than that?” he said.

Liam Knudsen
Graduate geology student Liam Knudsen exams a section of core provided by Hecla Mining Company with a hand lens during a core logging workshop in the IRIC building.
Hecla Mining Company Workshop
Hecla geologist Ben Henderson talks with more than a dozen students about mining techniques at the core logging workshop, a partnership between Hecla Mining Company and the University of Idaho’s Earth and Spatial Sciences.

Core Logging Workshop

Vandals got their hands on geologic core samples in a workshop hosted by professionals from Hecla Mining Company.


Learning from, and networking with professional geologists attracted undergraduate geology student Robert Kane, a senior from Fruitland, Idaho, to the Hecla workshop where he learned to use core samples to make a geological map. The map, or log, shows what minerals and metals lay under the Earth’s surface at the site where the core was extracted.

“When we’re in a regular classroom, we learn a lot of academic geology, but here, working with the professionals, you get a new understanding of how to do practical, hands-on geology,” Kane said.

Liam Knudsen, of Moscow, who is studying for a master’s in geology, said the workshop gave him perspective.

Knudsen hadn’t considered a mining career, he said, but the workshop provided him with tools that can be applied to hydrogeology, a field in which he hopes to work. Hydrogeology also uses core samples to map water flowing under the earth’s surface.

“Part of the brilliance of the Hecla workshop is that it provides students with real-world experience,” he said. “It makes the connection between what students are learning in the classroom and how it’s used in real life.”

Collaborating with industry partners through active participation has always been a priority for the university, Fairley said, and the core logging workshop fits the long-standing model.

Based in Coeur d’Alene with silver mines in Alaska, Mexico and the Silver Valley, Hecla is the largest primary silver producer in the U.S. Every year, Furlin said, the company hires interns and geologists who often don’t have rudimentary skills needed for entry-level mining geology jobs.

“It takes a while to onboard them,” Furlin said. “Giving students the experience ahead of time — like they learned during this workshop — helps them develop skills and confidence, and it helps match us with potential employees.”

Article by Ralph Bartholdt, University Communications and Marketing.

Photos and video by University of Idaho Creative Services

Published April 2021.

Jerry Fairley
Using a steel scribe, Jerry Fairley points out a fault line in a core sample to graduate student Liam Knudsen and faculty member Thomas Williams.
Student finding minerals
Using techniques learned at the workshop students logged rock and mineral layers in samples of core provided by Hecla Mining Company.


Department of Earth and Spatial Sciences

Physical Address:
McClure 201

Mailing Address:
875 Perimeter Drive MS 3021
Moscow ID, 83843-3021

Geography: 208-885-6216
Geology: 208-885-6192