Meet Our Expert Speakers

The SME Minnesota Conference is proud to present speakers who are experts in their respective fields with a focus on industry developments, trends and innovations specific to the Midwest.

Sustainable Mining: The Past Reveals Our Future

Master of Ceremonies: LaTisha Gietzen, Market Manager-Mining North America, Kalenborn Abresist Corp.

LaTisha Gietzen is the Market Manager- Mining North America for Kalenborn Abresist. Kalenborn Abresist, a division of Kalenborn International, is a leading provider of wear protection solutions. In this role, LaTisha focus is on sales, business development, and brand promotion for Kalenborn’s mining products. Kalenborn Abresist customers include the mining, power, cement, building products, steel, pulp and paper industries as well as the food industry.

LaTisha is a fourth-generation miner and has over 25 years of mining experience in both ferrous and non-ferrous mining. Prior to joining Kalenborn in early 2024, LaTisha was most recently the Manger Public and Community Relations for PolyMet/New Range Copper Nickel a position, among a few, she held for nearly 16 years with the company.

Before joining PolyMet, LaTisha worked at Cleveland Cliffs as District Manager of Public Affairs in Minnesota. Previously she has also worked for National Steel Pellet Company as Manager of Environmental and Governmental Affairs and continued in a similar role with U. S. Steel after it acquired National in 2003.

Advocacy and community involvement fuel LaTisha’s passion to serve others. She currently serves as President of the Board of Directors for United Way of Northeast Minnesota. She’s always been deeply involved with her community, dedicating her time and energy to many organizations over the years, including MiningMinnesota, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, Iron Mining Association, Better in our Back Yard, and Iron Range Engineering to name a few.

LaTisha holds a Masters of Arts in Management from College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota, a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering with environmental emphasis from the University of North Dakota and an Associates of Science degree from Hibbing Community College.



Tuesday, April 16, 2024 | 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM
Opening Plenary

Reclaiming Minnesota’s Mined Lands: Lessons From Minnesota’s Mining Past

Peter Kero, VP and Sr. Environmental Engineer, Barr Engineering

A critical aspect of sustainable mining is the mitigation of impacts to mined lands. The opening plenary will examine the development of state-of-the-art conservation, reclamation and repurposing practices over the past 120 years of Minnesota’s iron mining history. From lean ore stockpiling techniques to the creation of award-winning mountain bike parks, this talk will demonstrate that innovation in mining can go beyond technological improvements to promote community betterment and the social license to operate.

Pete Kero is a Vice President and senior environmental engineer with Barr Engineering Company in Hibbing, Minnesota. He has over 29 years of experience in mining and industrial site cleanup and redevelopment. His work includes mine planning, permitting, remediation, water management, reclamation and repurposing at more than two dozen mine sites across Minnesota, Michigan, Arizona, Arkansas, Wisconsin and California. Pete was the visionary behind the award-winning Redhead Mountain Bike Park in Chisholm. The project repurposed several former iron mine pits and stockpiles into a destination-quality regional park for mountain biking, hiking, water recreation and all-terrain vehicles. The project has been featured in Outside Magazine and the nation-wide documentary film Biketown. In May 2023, his book Minescapes: Reclaiming Minnesota’s Mined Lands was published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press.



Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation: Our History And Future

Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation: Our History And Future

Ida Rukavina, commissioner of Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation, will present “Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation: Our History and Future.” Ida leads a state of Minnesota economic development agency located in Eveleth which is about one hour north of Duluth. The agency works to strengthen the businesses, communities and workforce in northeastern Minnesota. It was created over 80 years ago to diversify the economy of a region largely dependent on a natural resource based economy – primarily iron mining.

Ida Rukavina serves as the Commissioner of Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation. As Commissioner, Ida leads an agency charged with investing resources to foster vibrant growth and economic prosperity in northeastern Minnesota by enhancing livable communities, maximizing collaborations and partnerships, and strengthening business and worker education. Prior to her appointment, she served as the executive director of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools (RAMS). Ida has primarily worked in government and the labor movement, representing public and private employees in northern Minnesota and working with government at the state, local, and federal levels. Ida Rukavina was born and raised on the Iron Range. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Government and American Politics with a concentration in Race and Ethnic Relations from Clark University and a Master’s Degree in Advocacy and Political Leadership from the University of Minnesota – Duluth. Ida and her husband Jesse enjoy living on the Iron Range with their two daughters. She is passionate about the great north woods and enjoys spending family time camping, skiing, snowboarding, hiking and fishing.

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Wednesday, April 17, 2024 | 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM
Closing Plenary

United States Steel and Cleveland-Cliffs will provide corporate updates that highlight their vision for a sustainable future.

United States Steel Updates

Michael T. Bakk, Director – Operational Readiness

Michael T. Bakk currently serves as Director - Operational Readiness for Minnesota Ore Operations - Keetac. Mike began his career at U. S. Steel in 1997 as an engineer intern in the Minntac Concentrator. Upon earning his undergraduate degree in 2001, he joined the company full time as a management associate in the Central Maintenance Department at Minntac.

From 2001 through 2014, Mike advanced through positions of increasing responsibility in mine and plant maintenance at Minntac and Keetac. He was named Director – Reliability Centered Maintenance in April 2014, where he had responsibility for the development and implementation of the reliability program at both Minntac and Keetac. Mike was appointed to his current position in August 2022, where he is overseeing operational readiness activities for the Keetac DR-grade pellet project, as well as providing support for plant operations and maintenance.

Prior to joining U. S. Steel, Mike spent one summer working at Cargill/North? Star Steel’s mini-mill in Saint Paul, MN. Mike holds a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from Michigan Technological University and a Master of Engineering from the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Mike is a licensed Professional Engineer and a Certified Six Sigma Black Belt.


Cleveland-Cliffs Updates

Nicholas Beukema

Nick Beukema serves as the general manager of United Taconite. In this role, he maintains leadership for United Taconite’s operations in Eveleth and Forbes, MN and oversees a workforce of 565 employees.

Mr. Beukema joined Cleveland-Cliffs, Inc. in 2005 as a mine engineer at Cliffs’ Northshore Mining. Prior to his current position of General Manager, he held multiple leadership roles at United Taconite including supervisor, mine manager, asset manager, and plant operations manager. Additionally, he spent time in Cliffs’ Technical Group and provided engineering support for multiple operating sites in Minnesota, Michigan, West Virginia, Alabama, and Canada.

Mr. Beukema earned a bachelor’s degree in Mine Engineering from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. Prior to joining Cliffs, he worked as a mine engineer in an underground mine in New Mexico and a project manager at an underground operation in South Dakota. Throughout his time with Cliffs he has served on non-profit boards, has been heavily involved in coaching of youth sports and is an avid supporter of a wide variety of outdoor activities and programs.


Panel Discussion on Sustainable Mining Moderated by: LaTisha Gietzen


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