Kneeling beside a sluice box in a creek near Hoosier Pass, Colorado, 12-year-old Dave Cole swirled a pan vigorously, watching black sand sift away to reveal a magical sight—a streak of gold in the bottom of the pan. His eyes took in the glimmer as he proudly showed the treasure to his father.
“I definitely had the gold bug,” says Cole (Geology, ‘84), who has been an exploration geologist for the last 30 years and is the founder and CEO of EMX Royalty Corporation.
Enamored by tales of Colorado’s mining history, Cole grew up on the Front Range, where his grandfather ran the Black Hawk Placer Company. His father was a scoutmaster and research soil chemist while his mother was an avid collector of rocks and minerals. For Cole, geology isn’t just a vocation; it runs in his veins, propelling him toward a dream career that’s taken him from the Rockies to Central Asia’s Tien Shan Mountains and back again. That dream found footing in the Fort Lewis College Geology program, which boasts unparalleled access to the Colorado Plateau.
FLC Geology program: The perfect foundation
“There’s no better natural laboratory than Southwest Colorado,” says Cole. “It’s a phenomenal mix of geologic formations and processes ranging from the San Juan calderas to canyon country, and my favorite, the Vallecito Conglomerate.”
After graduating from FLC in 1984, Cole earned a master’s in Economic Geology from Colorado State University. He worked for Newmont Mining Corporation, melding his field geology skills with keen business acumen, and carving out a niche for his economic geologic expertise.
In 2003 while prospecting for gold in Austria, Cole was chatting with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s chief geologist, who enlightened Cole about an impending worldwide uranium supply shortage. After seeing the trends and projections, Cole contacted his friend and fellow alumnus, Bill Sheriff (Geology, ‘81), who also worked in gold and uranium assets. Seeing the potential for the largest mining- claim rush in U.S. history, Cole and Sheriff founded separate companies, Standard Uranium and Energy Metals Corporations, respectively, with the same goal.
“I’ve never been a uranium guy, but this fell into our laps,” says Cole. “We founded that company with a $1,000 check, and a little more than three years later, it sold for $1.8 billion.”
These days, Cole focuses on nickel, zinc, and copper, which are required in electronics, cell phones, and refrigerators, among other things. Around the globe, the middle class is growing, increasing the demand for these luxuries, says Cole. Meanwhile, the electric vehicle revolution is just beginning.
“Everything that’s happening consumes more metals,” says Cole. “With mineral geologists involved in every phase of the process—from discovery to development, mining to reclamation, and monitoring the property post-closure—there’s a world of opportunity for earth scientists and economic geologists in the current environment and for the foreseeable future.”
To support FLC’s burgeoning geologists, Cole is proud to provide internship opportunities, a lecture series hosted by experienced geologists, and numerous contributions to Sitter Family Hall and other state-of-the-art facilities on campus.
"Outdoor sensibility combined with scientific capability makes for a good field geologist. That’s an FLC Geology grad in a nutshell."
“Outdoor sensibility combined with scientific capability makes for a good field geologist,” says Cole. “That’s an FLC Geology grad in a nutshell.”