Women at Mackay


Historically, the Geosciences and related engineering programs have been viewed as being male-dominated. Below are highlights of a few of the women faculty, students and alumna of the Mackay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering who have chosen a career path in the Earth Sciences. These women had an interest through exposure, curiosity, or knew themselves well enough to know what they wanted and then went after it. Continue reading to learn about what inspires these women in the Geosciences. 


Wendy Calvin
Dr. Wendy Calvin
Department of Geological Sciences & Engineering Chair and Professor
As a Geophysicist, Dr. Calvin’s research specialty is the optical and infrared spectroscopy of minerals and ices, using remote sensing data sets and laboratory analysis to identify and map the surface composition of solid planets in the solar system. She has been involved with several major discoveries from ground-based telescopes, orbiting satellites and landed rovers on Mars. As an undergraduate, Wendy earned a dual degree in Physics and Math, and minored in Geology. Her Ph.D. was in Geophysics. She finds planets "absolutely fascinating" and "likes understanding how they were put together and evolved over time and what Earth processes can tell us about how things work on other objects in the solar system." She likes being her own boss and making her own choice about what research to do. Wendy teaches Geophysics and Geodynamics, Earth Resources and Energy, Advanced Optical and Infrared Remote Sensing and the Introduction to Geophysics course for new students.


Jill Heaton
Dr. Jill Heaton
Department of Geography Chair and Associate Professor
Dr. Heaton is a biogeographer who studies threatened and endangered species in arid environments. Within the last year, Dr. Heaton was awarded a Fulbright Specialist Grant where she promoted reptile teaching and research capacity as a scholar in Namibia. Her research interests include desert ecology, habitat modeling, reptiles, GISystems and GIScience, spatial modeling, ecosystem functioning, and decision support systems. Dr. Heaton also teaches several upper level Geography courses. Her path started in Biology, with a B.S. and M.S. degree from the University of North Texas. She then went on and completed her Ph.D. in Geography from Oregon State University.


Melissa Harmon
Melissa Harmon
Alumna, Mining Engineering B.S. ‘00
Melissa recently became the Mine Manager for Newmont Mining Corporation’s Twin Creeks’ mine, near Winnemucca, NV. Although neither of Melissa’s parents had a mining background, she was still cognizant of mining as a career because she grew up in Elko, NV. When finishing high school, she knew she was interested in engineering because of her interest in math and science. Upon researching the different engineering fields Melissa found that in mining, she could work outdoors. Also, in a male-dominated industry, Melissa wanted the challenge of succeeding in that environment. Melissa has had a fulfilling career working for Newmont since graduation from Nevada. Newmont paid for her M.B.A. degree she earned while working and raising children. She had the opportunity to relocate to Ghana for 3 years and welcomed this opportunity to learn about a new culture and expand her and her family’s worldview. She spent many years working outside of Elko and did a stint at the Corporate Office in Denver, CO. At Twin Creeks, Melissa has plans to expand the mine site on both the surface and underground.


Claudia Betancourt
Claudia Betancourt
Alumna, Mining Engineering B.S. '14
Claudia Betancourt graduated in 2014 from the Mackay School with a B.S. in Mining Engineering. She learned about mining when one of her local high school teachers suggested she look at the Earth-based engineering programs in the College of Science. That same high school teacher ended up quitting his teaching job and went back to school for a B.S. in Mining Engineering as well! Then, Claudia's sister also came back for a 2nd degree in Mining Engineering! While in school, Claudia interned for the Newmont Mining Corporation. She now works at Newmont's Twin Creeks Mine in Winnemucca, Nevada as a drill & blast engineer. Her main responsibilities consist of designing drill patterns and timing shots. She also shares duties with the short-range planner and ore control engineer, where decisions are made regarding pit sequencing optimization and routing ore/waste based on drill hole assays.


Annie Kell
Dr. Annie Kell
Alumna, Geophysics, Ph.D. '14
As a child, Annie lived in a community just outside the Johnson Space Center in Houston where most residents were NASA employees. She was very lucky to have exposure to Earth Science from a young age, though that exposure did not necessarily give her confidence as a scientist. What she learned when she started her undergraduate degree was that interest in the sciences is enough! The curiosity alone gave her the motivation to pursue and excel in her studies of applied math. She received a B.S. in Physics and then continued to get a Ph.D. in Geophysics. Now she works in research on earthquakes using much of what she learned as an undergrad and then refined as a doctoral student. Annie participates in scientific work that has a direct application to the communities where she lives and visits -- it's really fun! As a female in science, it is common to be told the profession is "male dominated" but she finds that is not true and only contributes to the stigma of math education for girls and young women.



Merrily Graham
Alumna, Geography, B.S.
An interest in science can begin in subliminal ways at an early age. Merrily’s mother was a meteorologist during WWII, and her father was a flight instructor, so she grew up looking at clouds from the ground and looking at the ground from the sky. These two disciplines would eventually come together. Growing up in Reno and Carson City, the science classes in school had very little impact on her career ambitions. It was outside of the classroom that her interest in science began. Although at the time, she did not realize it had anything to do with science. For women to exceed in science it is important to build character and self-confidence. At age 14, Merrily started taking flying lessons with her father, and she began to see the earth from a different perspective. Questions arose in her mind, like how the drainage patterns and other features were formed. At the same time, flying instilled a sense of confidence and in a mostly male dominated environment. She enjoyed the camaraderie among other pilots and did not think of herself as having any limitations or being different. Her father used to say with his many years of teaching flying that some of his best students were women. All of this helped prepare her for what lay ahead, entering the University of Nevada in the fall of 1968 and ready to explore the possibilities. Like so many freshmen, Merrily chose to take an introductory course in Physical Geography, just to get the science requirement out of the way. It was midway through that she began to put the puzzle pieces together and realized that this was truly something she wanted to study. She declared Geography as her major. It was the beginning of understanding what she was looking at from altitude, the evolution of landforms, the connection with meteorology and climate (erosion processes) and the association of flight charts with map projections in cartography. The Mackay School of Mines, as it was known in those years, was male dominated and no different from the "hangar flying" discussions at the airport. It was the right place to be, and it still is as she serves on the Mackay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering Executive Advisory Board.


Paige dePolo
Paige dePolo
Alumna, Geological Engineering and Geology ‘16
Paige is the daughter of two Mackay School of Mines alumni – Craig (NBMG) and Diane. Paige was involved in the Honors Program and tutored at the Tutoring Center. For her Honors thesis, she worked with Dr. Paula Noble (Professor of Geological Sciences) on collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. The team created three-dimensional models of the ichthyosaur bones found at Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park using terrestrial LiDAR, Artec 3D scanners and photogrammetry. Paige is the recipient of Mackay’s top undergraduate scholar award, the Scheid award. She was also recognized by the College of Science as a Westfall Scholar and recipient of the Durham Prize. These awards are helping Paige pay her way for a MScR in Paleontology and Geobiology from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. She is currently studying dinosaur tracks on the Isle of Skye


Alex Wheatley
Alex Wheatley
Alumna, Geography B.S. ‘16
Alex began her studies as a microbiology major at UNLV. After a study abroad experience in Costa Rica, she changed her major to Earth and Environmental Science. She decided to transfer to the University of Nevada, Reno’s Mackay School due to the breadth of scholarship and other opportunities. She decided on Geography as her major because she wanted to be more familiar with GIS technology. Of her experience at Mackay, Alex said, “It turned out that transferring to Nevada for the Geography program and Mackay was one of the best decisions I have ever made.” Alex now works for Nevada Energy as a GIS Analyt.


Megan Wheatley
Megan Wheatley
Student, Geography (Geotechnology) and Geology B.S.
During her junior year of high school, Megan became interested in physical geography after taking a course with an excellent professor at College of Southern Nevada. She acknowledges the diversity of the geography field, and notes that there are both cultural and physical aspects within the discipline. Megan’s advice for success is to dedicate the necessary time and effort to achieve results. She is currently working for the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology while completing her undergraduate coursework. She anticipates a summer internship in Geography for more exposure and hands-on experience and would like to direct her studies more towards Geographic Information Systems, similar to that of her sister, Alex.


Victoria Jackson
Victoria Jackson
Student, Geological Engineering B.S.
Victoria is a junior in Geological Engineering (GE). She transferred here from CA and has come to love everything about the University. As one of the closest schools with an accredited GE program, Nevada was her top pick. “The general public is not familiar with Geological Engineering,” Victoria says. She has become accustomed to talking about her major and explaining what it is. “Oh! You study rocks!” is a common reaction. What most people do not realize is that Geological Engineering is so much more than just rocks. It is applying numeral principles from different disciplines like engineering, physics, chemistry and earth science. GE applies these principles in an attempt to understand and then help to mitigate geological hazards. As a child, Earth science was always Victoria’s passion, something her mom and two sisters (all Business majors) could never understand. For Victoria, there wasn’t anything more interesting. According to Victoria’s mother, Victoria inherited her love of science and engineering from her father, a chemical engineer, who passed away when she was still very young. No one in the family could share her passion and it was tough. At family dinners when questions about school came up, she got many blank stares. A professor at Victoria’s junior college introduced her to Geological Engineering and she realized this was worth considering. She researched the program and it became more apparent that Geological Engineering was definitely the field for her. “This path allows me to not only study earth science, but it also allows me to work with my hands and pursue the challenging field of engineering.”


Emma Baker
Emma Baker
Student, Geological Engineering
Emma is anticipating graduation in the Spring ’18. Originally, she was studying Geology, but became interested in engineering during her sophomore year. She is currently the first female president of the Mackay Muckers in known memory. The Muckers are the intercollegiate mining team that competes internationally in old time mining practices. Emma won the State title in Women's Single Hand Mucking at a competition held at the State level in Summer 2015. With her father having graduated with a degree in Mining Engineering, she is a legacy of the Mackay School . Emma has taken advantage of many great opportunities, especially with summer internships in the mining industry. She worked with the Abandoned Mine Lands Program through the Nevada Division of Minerals helping to close abandoned mines throughout the State. She also worked as a geology intern with Barrick North America outside of Winnemucca in summer 2016. She is a student member of the Geological Society of Nevada (GSN) and the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration (SME). Emma wants to continue learning about the many facets of the mining industry through her studies and internships to better decide upon a future job opportunity.


Rachel Pober
Rachel Pober
Student, Geology B.S. and Anthropology B.A.
Rachel is a dual major in Geology and Anthropology with minors in Music and Hydrogeology; she will be graduating this Spring. She has had a phenomenally successful undergraduate career, particularly due to mentoring by faculty who saw her passion. Due to her hard work, Rachel has funded most of her entire undergraduate career with merit-based scholarships. She’s also worked at the Desert Research Institute doing luminescence dating and completing a senior research project dating an archaeology site using this method. After graduating, Rachel aspires to pursue a career in geoarchaeology research. She hopes to achieve this by either furthering her education in the field, or securing an internship for more experience before graduate school.


Geological Engineering 487 Group Photo
Spring 2017, Geological Engineering 487. This is the senior design class where students pick a current Geological Engineering topic and conduct research, design a solution and present it as a report. Notice the lack of male students