Artisanal & Small-Scale Gold Mining (ASGM)

Our team used social science and engineering methods to address the international problem of ASGM. By involving engineering students, we helped to develop a global US engineering workforce. For the first time, US engineering faculty and students worked together with Colombian and Peruvian faculty, students, and mining communities to develop innovations that are socio-technical. In other words, we did not simply seek to improve technologies and techniques, but also support the development of social organizations and practices that lead to cleaner, safer, and more sustainable ASGM livelihoods.

Why is this project important?

ASGM systems are social, technical, and ecological at the same time. These systems involve miners and communities, geologic deposits, the environment, and technologies. To support ASGM in becoming a sustainable venture, we considered all of these areas by working together with miners and communities. We broke new scholarly ground by developing an integrated, community-centered approach that supports cleaner, safer, and more sustainable ASGM practices for people and the environment alike.

Our project made at least four important contributions, which are to:

  1. identify the local knowledge that miners and affected communities have about mining and mineral processing, on their perceptions of environmental and human health and safety risks associated with these activities, and on techniques for reducing or eliminating these risks;
  2. advanced engineering and social science research by understanding the importance of local knowledge in actively caring for the environment;
  3. widened the ASGM research in social science and engineering to include remediation; and
  4. tested the principles for Engineering for Sustainable Community Development in the real world. Our project tested how engineering students from two different types of educational models compare in how they: a) understand the social context of engineering, and b) worked with non-US peers and communities. The two types of educational models that we will compare include training in humanitarian engineering and an expanded program in humanities and social sciences.
What other effects did this project have?

This project is important in other ways:

  • The problem of reducing mercury use in ASGM is considered a priority critical challenge, according to the 2008 United Nations Environment Program and is enforced through the Minamata Convention which went into effect in 2017.
  • Our focus with US, Colombian, and Peruvian faculty and students fostered a more globally prepared engineering workforce.
  • Many of our students were from underrepresented groups in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics – STEM, and they had unique opportunities to do research with peers and communities from different cultural backgrounds.
  • The core Colorado School of Mines team included mostly women and a Latino, which promotes diversity in STEM and provided positive role models for students, by showing that a diverse team can tackle one of the most important environmental problems of our time.
  • Through the project’s affiliation with the Alliance for Responsible Mining, the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force, and the networks of its Advisory Board, the project expanded its impact into other countries and beyond gold mining into other minerals and gemstones.
The overarching Research Questions

Research Question

  • Identify risks, knowledge, perceptions and mitigation activities — factors shaping these
  • Identify strategies to collaboratively design, implement and evaluate socio-technical innovations


Student Year Thesis/Dissertation University Advisor
Yamil Isabelle Cabezas Casasabuenas 2020 A Sociotechnical Assessment of Mercury and Gold Losses in Artisanal and Small-scale Mining Operations in Colombia. Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO Advisor:  Dr. Nicole Smith
Rosalie O’Brien 2020 Enhancing Socio-Technical Integration of Early Remediation Efforts in Developing Countries by Redeveloping the Conceptual Site Model in Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining Communities. Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO Advisor:  Dr. Kate Smits
J.R. Velasquez 2021 Environmental and Health Implications of Mine Tailing-Based Construction Materials in Developing Communities: Current Practices and Ways Forward (thesis). University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX. Advisor:  Dr. Kate Smits
Gerardo Martinez 2022 Formalization, Certification, and Technology: The Complex Landscape of Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining Interventions in Peru. Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO

Advisor:  Dr. Nicole Smith


Jimenez Delgado 2022 Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO Advisor:  Dr. Elizabeth Holley
Felipe Rodriguez 2022 Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO Advisor:  Dr. Elizabeth Holley
Arielle Rainey 2022 Rethinking Engineering Education Through a Focus on Identity, Funds of Knowledge, and Belongingness. Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO
Cecilia Schroeder 2022 Barriers and Opportunities for Implementing Citizen Science Projects in Mining Communities of Andes, Antioquia, Colombia. Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO Advisor: Smith, J. Co-Advisor: Smits, K.
Nate Steadman, MS 2022 Sustainable and Inclusive Engineering: The Use of Mentors and Sustainable Remediation to Increase the Presence of Underrepresented Groups in Engineering. University of Texas Arlington- Arlington, TX. Advisor: K. Smits. Co-Advisor: J. Smith.

Casey Gibson, MS



2022 Theorizing the ‘social’ in sociotechnical, community-based engineering: Incorporating a rapid assessment procedure in educational and field-based studies on Colombian artisanal and small-scale gold mining.” Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO Advisor: Smith, J. Co-Advisor: Smits, K.
Michelle Schwartz 2022 Integrating Environmental Contamination Perceptions of Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining into Environmental Responses Across Spatial Scales. University of Texas – Arlington, Arlington, TX. Advisor: K. Smits. Co-Advisor: J. Smith

Mateo Rojas, MS



2023 Examining the role of agency in processing practices in Colombian artisinal and small-scale gold mining:  A sociotechnical analysis of local perspectives. Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO Advisor:  Dr. Juan Lucena

Jaymie Styer, MS



2023 Empowering women in low-income communities in Colombia by extracting values from construction and demolition waste through recycling concrete. Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO Advisor:  Dr. Juan Lucena

Alejo Delgado, PhD


2023 Operationalization of the sustainable livelihoods framework to the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) sector.  A contribution towards sustainable ASM-based livelihood. Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO Advisor:  Dr. Elizabeth Holley

Journal Articles

Total Articles- 25

Total Articles With Student Authors- 23

Total Articles with Graduate Student as First Author- 16


  • Gibson, C., Smith, J., Smits, K., Lucena, J., & Baena, O. J. R. (2023). Rapid Assessment Procedure as a Tool for Front-End Stakeholder Needs Analysis in Engineering Projects. IEEE Open Journal of Systems Engineering, 1–14.
  • Martinez, G., N.M. Smith, A. Malone. 2023. “I am formal, what comes next?”: A proposed framework for achieving sustainable artisanal and small-scale mining formalization in Peru. The Extractive Industries and Society
  • Rodriguez Novoa, O.F., Holley, E.A., 2023. Coexistence between large-scale mining (LSM) and small-scale mining (ASM) in Peru and Colombia. Resources Policy
  • Schlezak, S. L., & Styer, J. E. (2023). Inclusive Urban Mining: An Opportunity for Engineering Education. Mining
  • Schwartz, M., Smits, K., & Phelan, T. 2023. Quantifying mercury use in artisanal and small-scale gold mining for the Minamata Convention on Mercury’s national action plans: Approaches and policy implications. Environmental Science & Policy
  • Smith, Jessica M., Cecilia Schroeder*, Kathleen Smits, Juan Lucena, and Oscar Restrepo Baena. 2023. Smith, J., Schroeder, C., Smits, K., Lucena, J., & Baena, O. R. (2023). Pollution, obligation, and care: Perspectives from artisanal and small-scale gold mining and farming in rural Colombia. Tapuya: Latin American Science, Technology and Society
  • Smith, J., C. McClelland, and O. Restrepo. 2023. Sociotechnical Undergraduate Education for the Future of Natural Resource Production. Mining


  • Delgado Jimenez, A., Smith, N.M., Holley, E.A., 2022. Capitals in artisanal and small-scale mining in Marmato, Colombia: Using the sustainable livelihoods framework to inform formalization. The Extractive Industries and Society
  • Holley, E.A., Rodriguez, O.F., Smith, N.M., Redwood, S., 2022. Coexistence of Large-scale mining with Artisanal and small-scale mining – A guide for geologists. SEG Discovery
  • Martinez, G., N.M. Smith, M. Veiga. 2022. Voluntary gold certification programs: A viable mechanism for improving artisanal and small-scale mining in Peru? Journal of Rural Studies
  • Rivera, A., Smith, and J. Lucena. 2022. Humanitarian Engineering, Global Sociotechnical Competency, and Student Confidence: A Comparison of In-person, Virtual, and Hybrid Learning Environments. 2022 Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education conference (Minneapolis).
  • Schwartz, M., R. O’Brien, J. Smith, T. Phelan and K.M. Smits. 2022. Teaching students to incorporate community perspective into Environmental Engineering problem definition through iterative conceptual site models. 2022 Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education conference (Minneapolis).
  • Steadman, N., M. Schwartz, and K.M. Smits. 2022. Promoting STEM interest and career awareness in middle school girls through strategic engagement with college student mentors, 2022 Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education conference (Minneapolis).


  • Martinez, G., O.J. Restrepo-Baena, M. Viega. The myth of gravity concentration to eliminate mercury use in artisanal gold mining. The Extractive Industries and Society
  • O’Brien, Rosalie M. and Smits, Kathleen M. and Smith, Nicole M. and Schwartz, Michelle R. and Crouse, Dustin R. and Phelan, Thomas J.. (2021). Integrating scientific and local knowledge into pollution remediation planning: An iterative conceptual site model framework.  Environmental Development40  doi:
  • Rivera, Angelina, Jessica M. Smith, Juan Lucena, Robin Bullock, Tom Phelan, and Kate Smits. 2021. Making the most of virtual community engagement for international projects during the COVID-19 pandemic. Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education conference (virtual).
  •  Schwartz, Michelle and Smits, Kathleen and Smith, Jessica and Phelan, Thomas and Restrepo Baena, Oscar Jaime. (2021). Incorporating positive deviance into comprehensive remediation projects: A case study from artisanal and small-scale gold mining in the municipality of Andes, Colombia.  Environmental Science & Policy. 123   doi:
  • Schwartz, Michelle and Smits, Kathleen and Smith, Nicole and Phelan, Thomas. (2021). How lessons from an evolving comprehensive approach for water and sanitation can improve artisanal and small-scale mining environmental initiatives. Journal of Cleaner Production282   doi:
  • Smith, Jessica M., Juan Lucena, Angelina Rivera, Thomas Phelan, Kathleen Smits and Robin Bullock. 2021. Developing Global Sociotechnical Competency Through Humanitarian Engineering: A Comparison of In-Person and Virtual International Project Experiences International Engineering Education
  • Velásquez, José R. and Schwartz, Michelle and Phipps, Laura M. and Restrepo-Baena, Oscar Jaime and Lucena, Juan and Smits, Kathleen M.. (2021). A review of the environmental and health implications of recycling mine tailings for construction purposes in artisanal and small-scale mining communities.  The Extractive Industries and Society.  doi:


  • Holley, Elizabeth A. and Smith, Nicole M. and Delgado Jimenez, Jeison Alejandro and Cabezas, Isabel Casasbuenas and Restrepo-Baena, Oscar Jaime. (2020). Socio-technical context of the interactions between large-scale and small-scale mining in Marmato, Colombia.  Resources Policy67  doi:
  • O’Brien, Rosalie M. and Phelan, Thomas J. and Smith, Nicole M. and Smits, Kathleen M.. (2020). Remediation in developing countries: A review of previously implemented projects and analysis of stakeholder participation efforts.  Critical Reviews in Environmental Science and Technology
  • Smits, K.M., L. McDonald, N.M. Smith, F. Gonzalez, J. Lucena, G. Martinez, O.J. Restrepo, S. Rosas, 2020, Voces Mineras: Clarifying the future of artisanal and small-scale mining collaborations. Extractive Industries & Society J., https://doi:10.1016/j.exis.2019.12.003.


  • Smith, N., Lucena, J., Smith, J., Baena, O.J.R., Aristizabal, G., Delgado, A. 2018. A Framework for Research and Education on Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining in Latin America. International Journal of Georesources and Environment. 4(3): 99-104.

Conference Presentations- United States


News Articles

“In the midst of global pandemic, Mines Humanitarian Engineering continues community development work – virtually,” Mines Newsroom.  Published 8 September, 2020. Link

“Civil Engineering Graduate Student Gets Creative to Complete Foreign Fieldwork in Midst of COVID-19 Pandemic.” Published on 27 August, 2020.  Link 

“Desechos mineros se convertirian en materiales de construction” Published on 31 July 2020.  Link

“In Mining Project, Engineers Bridge the Scientific and the Social.” Link 

“Humanitarian Engineering students co-create with communities in Colombia on topic of urban recycling.”  Link

“Humanitarian Engineering program celebrates two decades of transformative impact.”  Link


Videos and Online Presentations