WVU mining engineering professor Keith Heasley, right, and recent graduate Kevin Rakes digitize a map of an abandoned mine. With deaths in the nation's coal mines at a five-year high, WVU is taking a critical step toward making the industry safer by offering a dual degree in geology and mining engineering.
MORGANTOWN -- Syd Peng, a well-known figure on the state, national and international coal mining scenes, is stepping down as chair of the West Virginia University Department of Mining Engineering after more than 28 years on the job.
Chris Bise, chair of Pennsylvania State University's mining engineering and industrial health and safety programs, will assume the post.
Peng, who will step down at the end of August, joined the WVU faculty in 1974 as an assistant professor in what was then the WVU School of Mines. Four years later, he was named the department's chair. The Mining Engineering Department is now part of the WVU College of Engineering and Mineral Resources.
An internationally recognized expert in longwall mining and ground control systems, Peng has supervised more than $13 million in research grants and contracts and authored or co-authored three textbooks and hundreds of journal articles and research reports.
Peng said stepping down does not mean he is retiring; instead, he plans to focus on scholarly research and writing.
"Many years ago, I accepted the challenge of leading this department, and I have enjoyed it," he said, "but I have four books in the works and a lifetime of research that I want to wrap up, and I am excited about entering the next phase of my career."
Gene Cilento, dean of the college, said Peng has been an asset to his profession, to his department, and to the college and University.
"Syd Peng is simply a tireless individual who is passionate about mining engineering," Cilento said. "I have enjoyed working with him, and I look forward to his continuing excellence in teaching, research and service to the mining industry."
Peng earned his undergraduate degree in his native Taiwan, and then worked in coal mines there for five years. He came to the United States in 1965 and earned his doctorate in mining engineering at Stanford University. He worked at the U.S. Bureau of Mines in Minneapolis before coming to WVU.
He organized the first international conference on ground control in mining, which takes place every year in Morgantown with attendees from around the world. The conference will mark its 25th anniversary in August.
After 30 years on the faculty at Penn State, Bise, who will take over as department chair after Peng steps down, decided it was time for a change.
"I decided to accept this position at WVU because of the opportunities and support that West Virginia in general and West Virginia University in particular provide for mining-engineering education and for the mining industry," Bise said.
A Philadelphia native, Bise earned his bachelor's degree in mining engineering from Virginia Tech and his master's and doctoral degrees in the same field from Penn State. In 1998, he added a master's degree in environmental health engineering from Johns Hopkins University to his list of degrees.
Bise is the author of the Society of Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration's textbook "Mining Engineering Analysis" and edited the organization's textbook "Coal Mining Technology: Theory and Practice."
He also is a registered professional engineer, certified mine safety professional and board-certified forensic engineer. He served as chair of Penn State's Faculty Senate in 2003-04 and is editor-in-chief for technical papers of SME's "Mining Engineering" and "Transactions of SME." He served as a resident engineer for two Consolidation Coal Co. underground coal mines in eastern Ohio.
"Chris Bise has the broad knowledge and experience needed to uphold the high standards and commitment to excellence that Syd Peng established for this very important department at West Virginia University," Cilento said. "We are very excited and look forward to having him join our team."