When Ryan Bennett reconnected with faculty and fellow graduates of the Geological Engineering Program a couple of years ago, the growth and resilience of GLE surprised him. After all, Bennett experienced the program when it was just beginning as a small, interdisciplinary venture between geology and engineering faculty. In 1990, he earned his BS in geological engineering with the first-ever class to do so at UW-Madison.
Bennett recently made a $50,000 gift to help GLE recruit new faculty—in part because he’s learned that a GLE program must offer a diverse curriculum to attract new students with skills that meet the demands of the mining industry.
He’s impressed the UW-Madison GLE program has grown, yet still offers undergraduates the same intensive experience he had—and boasts a 100-percent job-placement rate. “I get the sense, interacting with GLE faculty today, that they understand students’ interests and needs,” Bennett says. “The program still has a very intimate environment, despite being part of such a large institution.”
Bennett began his career as a mining engineer for Caterpillar and as a geologist at the U.S. Bureau of Mines, and continued to be involved in mining as he took on new roles in the investment side of the business. He is currently senior partner at Denver-based Resource Capital Funds, which invests heavily in mining companies. Even though he now deals with mining from a private-equity angle, he still relies on his technical background. “GLE provided me with a diverse set of skills that I still use today,” he says. “To get that geological experience, as well as the rigor of a conventional engineering education, was a great blend.”
In making his donation to the program, Bennett wants to help GLE recruit more faculty who can teach mining-related subjects, and interest new undergraduates in mining careers. (As an undergraduate, he enrolled in GLE because his first choice, the mining engineering program, had been discontinued.) That’s a big concern, because new workers’ interest in the mining industry fluctuates with the industry itself. “Recruiting is a big challenge for us, and it starts in the academic environment,” he says. “One of the main concerns I had was the program’s sustainability, and making sure there’s enough faculty.”
He also realizes that geological engineers will be increasingly in-demand in areas ranging from renewable energy to water. That’s why he hopes his gift will help draw a variety of faculty—so that even when industries like mining and petroleum go through rough times, GLE’s enrollment remains strong.
While Bennett found it exciting to participate in the GLE program during its infancy, his ties to the College of Engineering run even deeper than his degree: His father, Philip Bennett, was a professor in the Department of Engineering Professional Development for 34 years.