University is gateway to a golden career



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Mining a new field of knowledge at Birmingham led Ioannis (Yannis) Tsitos into a  career taking in 32 countries, one miraculous moment, and the search for gold.

Although his career in the mining  industry spans almost three decades,  it is an event from his days as a  young geophysicist that still marks  Ioannis Tsitos’s proudest moment. 

Working in Africa, he was  sent to a small village whose  inhabitants had to walk eight  miles to get dirty water to drink.  Then the team found a source of  clean water underground.  Ioannis  remembers: ‘We put a pump down  and fresh water just came pouring  out. The children were jumping and  playing in it – their joy was incredible  and it’s never left me.’

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Ioannis (MSc Geological Sciences,  1986) now lives in Vancouver,  Canada and is the President and  CEO of Eagle Mountain Gold Corp.,  a Canadian gold exploration company focused in Guyana, but his passion for  all things scientific didn’t always go to plan. 

Born and raised in Athens, he nearly set the family home on fire aged  eight when one of his many chemical experiments went awry.  But, enthusiasm still aflame, he went on to complete an  undergraduate degree in physics at the University of  Athens before heading to Birmingham for a Masters  in Applied Geophysics.

‘The transition was tough in the beginning,  especially with the language barrier, but  everyone was so welcoming I settled in  quickly,’ he says. ‘I also had no clue  about geology as I came from a  physics background so I asked my  professors for help and, in parallel  with the Masters and English  language training, I did modules of  an undergraduate geology degree.

I would study up to 2.00am, as my  father was paying half his pension  for me to be there so I had to focus.  It had its challenges, but it was a great  experience and without it, I wouldn’t  be where I am today.’

Ioannis also has fond memories of the  Lapworth, one of the oldest specialist geological museums  in the UK sited in the Aston Webb Building. ‘I remember  finding amazing maps, fossils, minerals and models – it was  incredibly diverse. Having that in the place you were  studying was fantastic and really unique.’

After his Masters and two years’ national service in the  Greek navy, Ioannis joined the University of Athens as an  assistant lecturer but knew he wanted to apply his industry  knowledge. He took a job with mining giant BHP Billiton  in South Africa, where he moved with his wife Ioanna; and  went on to stay with the company for 19 years, working  around the world.

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Now, his focus is on Eagle Mountain’s current explorations  in Guyana, a country of around 750,000 people on the  northern coast of South America. Although the company  has no extraction operations yet, great care is still needed  to manage ethical considerations and the effects on the  local environment and community.

‘My first priority is social and environmental issues, so  we work closely with the Guyanese government. If a  tree has stood for 150 years, I don’t want to  cut it down, so we have been working in  partnership with our local teams to avoid  that happening.

‘As a big company, we rightly have  to give an account of ourselves and  report back about our activities. We  are accountable for good methods  of exploration, like state-of-the-art  technology that isolates harmful  chemicals and removes them from  the environment. That is part of our  investment and the buck for that stops  on my desk.’

The father-of-two hopes the company  will reach extraction of gold in the next ten to  12 months, and it is obvious that exploration still brings him  a buzz of excitement. He believes his time at Birmingham  developed his exploratory nature and gave him the  understanding to apply his ideas.

‘If I had to write a book of my life, one chapter would have  to be about university because it is so important. In Guyana,  we are helping bright children who would not otherwise  have access to higher education. I want to give them what I have had.’