Alumna Julie Lucas: Helping Grow Minnesota's Economy
“Studying environmental ethics changed my life. Doc Mayo is the reason I decided to pursue a career in environmental work.”
When Julie (Klejeski) Lucas left UMD with her undergraduate degree in biochemistry ’00 and her master’s degree in water resource science ’05, she didn’t even change telephone area codes. “I’ve lived my whole life in area code 218. I'm here because I have the freedom to stay here,” she said. “It is a beautiful place to live, it plays a huge part in the global marketplace, and I never want to leave.” Lucas is the environmental manager for Hibbing Taconite, which is managed and partly owned by Cliffs Natural Resources.
Mining and the Economy
From her hometowns of Moose Lake and Barnum to her current home in Side Lake, Lucas is passionate about the beauty of the northland and the significance of northern Minnesota’s resources. “Mining is tremendously important to the economy in Minnesota,” she said. “Every job in the mining industry creates about two jobs in the community.” Most of the iron ore that's extracted from the Iron Range is used to make steel for products like vehicles and appliances in the United States. Iron mining’s total economic impact on the state and region's economy is $3.1 billion. “Globally we rely on iron ore to produce materials that we use everyday,” she said.
Iron ore deposits were discovered in 1866. The mines on the Message Mesabi Range first extracted pure red iron ore. “Now we mine taconite, a rock containing a low-grade iron ore," Lucas said. The taconite is upgraded through a process that produces 65-percent iron-containing pellets which can be used by our customers to make steel.”
As the environmental manager, Lucas oversees any environmental impact, such as air and water quality, from the Hibbing Taconite’s mine and plant operations. “We reuse the water,” she said. “As we dig the taconite out of the earth, pit lakes are created. The water from those pits is pumped back into the plant to be used for processing.” The water is also used for drinking water, fire safety, and scrubbers, which are devices that clean the air by removing particulates from plant emissions.
“We are always looking for more sustainable ways to operate,” said Lucas. The plant is always improving its sustainable practices. “When new hires arrive at the plant, we hear a lot about the sustainability measures at universities like UMD,” said Lucas. “They bring many new ideas to consider at our operations, and I think that’s a positive result of sustainability programs at the university level, particularly at UMD.”
Science at UMD
Lucas is a James I. Swenson Scholar, and is grateful to UMD. “Without the help of the Swenson family, it would have been difficult to go to college without a lot of debt.” Her graduate scientific research is still used. She wrote, “An Evaluation of Nutrient Budgets for Two Urban Lakes in Virginia, Minnesota,” in the water resource science program.
Many faculty members inspired her. David “Doc” Mayo taught philosophy. “I took his class just for kicks,” she said. “Studying environmental ethics changed my life. Doc Mayo is the reason I decided to pursue a career in environmental work."
Tom Johnson, from UMD’s Large Lake Observatory was another influence in her life. “I met Tom when I was an undergraduate and he got me interested in the study of water and lakes,” Lucas said. “He encouraged me to do a research project with the City of Virginia. The project’s goal was to support the re-opening of a beach on Silver Lake. My research and the work done by other students in the program led to the re-opening of that beach last year. It’s nice to know that graduate work was actually used for something that benefited a community.”
Getting the Job Done
Lucas has a lot of respect for her co-workers. “I work with some very tough people,” she said. “In order to keep the plant running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, they have to dig taconite out of the ground in summer and winter. They work 12-hour shifts on 95-degree days when there is high humidity. If a truck breaks down in the middle of January, in the middle of the night, it’s got to be fixed.” She is clearly proud to be part of the team.
Written by Cheryl Reitan, June 2012