Yukon College student first Yukon student to win mineral processing scholarship

WHITEHORSE— When it comes to Yukon minerals, most people think of gold. That’s not the case for Elliott Merkley, a second-year student in the Geological Technology program at Yukon College.

Merkley’s interest in mineral processing and aggregates (processing the rocks required to recover gold or build highways, for example) is what helped make him the first-ever Yukon College recipient of an annual scholarship offered by the Canadian Mineral Processors BC/Yukon branch.

Merkley, who moved to Whitehorse for the program from London, Ontario, says he’ll use the $1,800 prize to pay for his last semester of school, which he’s currently completing.

This is the second year in the scholarship’s history that it has been awarded to both a senior-level and a junior-level student.

The senior scholarship is generally given to an undergraduate student in the later years of a four-year degree. The junior is given to a student starting out in the field.

David Minson, member of the executive committee of the BC/Yukon branch for the Canadian Mineral Processors Society (CMP), said Merkley was one of roughly 15 applicants.

He stood out because of the initiative demonstrated by his plan to travel to Ottawa to attend the Canadian Mineral Processors’ Conference from January 17 to 19.

Merkley’s name was put forward by program faculty to receive travel support for the conference.

“In our industry, we suffer from a shortage of new talent, so the scholarship is aimed at getting young Canadians involved in this field,” Minson said. “Mining is a critical industry that supplies our world with most of the essential materials we all use from day to day. We need young talent to help us find new ways to recover these minerals in a safe, responsible, and sustainable way.”

Dr. Joel Cubley, Merkley’s instructor at the College, agreed.

In his letter of support, Cubley wrote that Merkley is driven and committed, with the potential to be highly successful. 

Cubley said he recognized these qualities in the classroom, and when Merkley worked with him as a laboratory technician last year.

Cubley said Merkley helped design and implement new lab protocols for various analyses, and that his attention to detail, and openness to constructive criticism, made him an asset in a lab setting. 

That setting is what Merkley was looking for after he finished a geography degree at Wilfred Laurier University a few years ago.

At the College, Merkley has been able to try his hand at metallurgical testing, which optimizes the process of physically and chemically extracting ore minerals from mined rock. This helps separate the valuable minerals from the worthless ones.

“I wanted something more hands-on,” Merkley said of his education. “This program gives me all the hands-on, practical applications of all this stuff I’ve learned and delved into.”