Two events steered Vicki Yehl towards her life-long career in and commitment to geology. When she was nine or ten years old, she says, a crazy uncle gave her a tent. “As soon as I received it, I camped out in the back yard almost every summer. In Grade 11, I had the good fortune to take a geology class. When I got to University I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do but I knew it was science oriented so I enrolled in geology.” By the time Yehl completed her Master of Science degree, she laughingly says, “I had gone through about ten tents and had truly found my passion for geology.”
Yehl is adamant that geologists are the ultimate environmentalists, standing on the ground thinking, “What’s here? What’s the impact? How do we manage it?” She says the office work – coordinating the drilling and data collection activities, synthesizing the results into information for planning projects – is like being a science detective, putting together an idea and fleshing it out with hands-on real science.
But Yehl is clear – it’s the field work that invigorates her, “If I’m not let out on a regular basis, I go stir-crazy. I need to get my boots on the ground and get a little dirt on me. It’s part of the adventure; we have to personally go out and round up rocks. And we get to do that in some of the most amazing places in the world.”
Yehl has worked in Europe, North and South America and Africa, but the place that holds her heart is the Arctic. She takes a deep breath, “I stand in the Canadian arctic islands and I see incredible beauty. Life is vibrant there and the landscape is just so scenic. In some places I think, ‘Maybe my boots are on the ground where nobody else’s boot have been on the ground.’ That’s pretty awesome – I get to get to be on the frontier.”
Yehl’s professional industry commitments include a full-time position as senior geologist/manager-geology at Teck Resources Limited, sitting as a councillor on the Geology Association of Canada, and co-chairing the 2012 Association for Mineral Exploration BC’s Roundup conference.
Yehl has attended Toronto’s Prospectors and Developers Association Convention for 22 years and Vancouver’s Roundup since 1996. She says both are essential to the industry but admits to a fondness for Roundup. “The appeal,” she says, “is not just the technical workshops and presentations, it’s the atmosphere. You get the suits – the office and analyst types – mingling with the Stihl-chainsaw-suspender-wearing prospectors holding Tupperware containers of gold nuggets who look like they’ve never been in an office in their lives and the academics with scientific papers tucked under their arms to the students looking for summer work.” She says this eclectic mix creates a vibrant and down-to-earth event.
A team player (and recently retired hockey player), Yehl feels a close connection to the 2012 Roundup theme: Celebrating Our First Century of Global Discovery. She reflects on how mentoring is one way geological and exploration knowledge is passed on: “by giving back, you give forward.”
Honoring those who mentored her, Yehl reaches out to the next generation through the Mineral Resources Education Program of BC school program. Yehl advises students they need to know their rocks and minerals as well as they know the alphabet, but to be realistic. “If trudging over mountains slogging a load of rock samples and hopping in a helicopter as if it’s your bus does not appeal [to you], re-think getting involved,” she cautions them. She shares how her own career is filled with these adventures, scientific detective work and strong ties within a vibrant community.
All of her involvement comes back to her passion for geology. She relates this story to students on her school tours. “A friend of mine was sitting at the dinner table and he asked his child, ‘Where does the milk come from?’ and the child answered, ‘That’s easy Daddy, it comes from the cow.’ And he asked, ‘Where does the bread come from?’ and the child laughed and said, ‘Of course, from the farmers who grow the wheat.’ But when the father asked, ‘Where does the fork come from?’ the child could not answer.”
Her voice grows strong, “As an industry we need to do a better job of telling the community – and we’re part of the community – what it is geologists do and how what we do affects their lives. Cell phones and telephones and cars and the fork and knife on the table all come from what geologists do. We make a valuable contribution and we try to do it responsibly.”
To unwind, Yehl keeps contact with her fleet of god-children, spends a lot of time with her other half (who is also a geologist), plays golf, travels for fun and dabbles in history.
Arctic Girl at Heart, a profile of Vicki Yehl, was published in Mineral Exploration magazine, a publicaiton of the Association for Mineral Exploration of British Columbia, Winter 2011