During Women’s History Month, we asked Michele Santos-Cranford, an instructor at the National Mine Health and Safety Academy, to tell us about her career and what advice she has for women thinking about working in the mining community.
What is your current role at MSHA and how did you get there?
Right now, I am instructor at the National Mine Health and Safety Academy. Being an instructor is something that I wanted to do for a long time. I am teaching roof control and long wall. At some point, I want to join the health team because my MSHA background is primarily in health.
My MSHA career began when I joined the Roof Control Division of Tech Support, at Pittsburgh Safety & Health Technology Center. Tech support is like a big think tank, where different engineers and scientists work. When mine operators have a problem, they can work in partnership with tech support to learn more about the issue to develop solutions.
I transitioned to MSHA’s regulatory element as a health specialist in the Northeast district, now called the Warrendale district. My responsibility was to conduct health inspections, work with mine operators to evaluate health-related hazards in mining and be a resource for people to help solve problems.
What is your proudest career achievement?
I am most proud of joining this agency. I am proud of the work I did, the people I helped and the solutions we developed.
I’ve become a resource; I developed relationships with many different people who will contact me with questions. Even this morning, I took a call to help a mine operator. I still work with mine operators and inspectors to solve new challenges, and to spread best practices across the mining community.
What is your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part of my job is working with people to engineer solutions – so that a problem doesn’t happen again – and then share it with others. Some of my best experiences were in tech support when I worked in low-seam coal mines. That involved crawling around on your hands and knees in a mine that is somewhere around 30 inches high, and I had never done that before.
When we went into those mines it was the last chance to fix the problem or the mine could be ordered closed. These were very emotional and tense visits. I remember the mine operators who were honest, hardworking and sat down with us to help solve problems so they could stay open.
What advice would you give young women about a career in mining?
My career field is a mine engineer, so I would tell them that there are some great schools out there to pursue a job I have enjoyed for the past 37 years.
It is wonderful to see more women attend the mine academy. It’s a lot of work and dedication, but it is worth every minute.
Who is the most influential woman in your life?
That’s my mom. She started as a clerk typist back in the day when you typed in cards to feed into the computer. She just always persevered; she earned an accounting degree and ended her career running a finance division for the Army National Guard.
She showed me all things are possible if you have a goal and work hard.