Mining Feature: Stephen G. Sawyer, Jr., Ph.D., Selected as New Director of PMRD

Friday, June 18, 2021

photo of Stephen G. Sawyer, Jr. wearing formal clothes

Stephen G. Sawyer, Jr., Ph.D.

On June 7, 2021, Dr. Stephen G. Sawyer, Jr., became the Director of the Pittsburgh Mining Research Division (PMRD) of the NIOSH Mining Program. Steve feels that PMRD’s biggest mission is to “use the pool of creativity we have to conduct applied research and effectively communicate the results to help the mining industry.”

To accomplish this, he will engage with NIOSH partners and collaborators to “align the goals and objectives at PMRD with the needs of the mining industry and other stakeholders.” He will also “champion PMRD employees in the great work they do” and promote professional development and research collaboration with internal and external stakeholders. To Steve, both are essential to PMRD’s continued success.

Steve brings a mine rescue perspective to his position as PMRD Director. For the past year, he worked in PMRD’s Human Systems Integration Branch as a general engineer on the virtual reality mine rescue initiative, which he terms as “an incredible means of bringing technology to aid in effective miner training.”

Prior to joining NIOSH, he spent 16 years in the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) Technical Support program area. Steve worked in MSHA’s Mine Emergency Operations Division (MEO) for 13 years, where he was the Engineering Support Branch Manager and an active apparatus-wearing member of MSHA’s Mine Emergency Unit. Before arriving at NIOSH, Steve served as the Acting Mine Emergency Response Coordinator for MSHA.

A photo of Steve Sawyer kneeling to perform an investigation after an underground mine explosion.

Steve investigating after an underground mine explosion.

During his time with MSHA MEO, Steve responded to over 12 mine emergencies and participated in over 10 surface and underground explosion investigations as a team member or team leader. He led the surface mine effort to evaluate new methods for mine rescue team searches, command center information management, and short-cycle decision making.

Steve served as a technical expert on the regulatory committee that crafted the Code of Federal Regulations Final Rule on Sealing of Abandoned Areas. Based on that final rule, Steve helped create and oversee the program area responsible for the receipt, tracking, review, and final MSHA approval of all submitted seal designs. He also led the creation of a program area responsible for researching and validating new sealing materials and construction techniques prior to approval.

Steve delivered presentations to a variety of audiences, including mine industry personnel, trade organizations, and congressional staffers, and he was a featured presenter at the closing ceremonies for the DARPA Subterranean Challenge.

A photo of Steve Sawyer walking with colleagues during a training exercise

Steve (left) at mine rescue training at the National Mine Health and Safety Academy in Beaver, West Virginia.

As the new PMRD Director, Steve’s initiatives for PMRD “will recognize the complexity and interconnectedness of both health issues and safety issues miners face on a day-to-day basis across all sectors, and we can never forget our need to prepare for and protect against the low probability but high risk emergencies.”

Mineworkers are central to PMRD’s work, and Steve says, “I am continually motivated by the efforts of miners as they perform work that is critical to society, and I am always aware of the accompanying sacrifices they and their families make.”

Steve grew up south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the Peters Township area of Washington County. He holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh, an M.S. and a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, and an M.B.A. from Duquesne University. He is also a registered Professional Engineer (P.E.) in Pennsylvania.

He was inspired to pursue an engineering career by his father, Stephen G. Sawyer, Sr., who also has a Ph.D. in Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University and a long career in the field of mine safety and health.

Steve and his wife, Rosey, enjoy focusing much of their time and effort on their three elementary-school-age daughters. When the opportunity presents itself to spend time on his favorite hobbies, Steve enjoys fishing and coaching his daughters’ basketball teams.

A photo of Steve Sawyer's daughters in front of a mine opening

Steve’s daughters at the Bruceton Research Center on Bring Your Children to Work Day in 2019.

Page last reviewed: June 21, 2021
Page last updated: June 21, 2021