Mining Feature: Meet R.J. Matetic, the New Director of the Pittsburgh Mining Research Division
Friday, August 5, 2016
On June 13, 2016, Dr. R.J. Matetic became the Director of the Pittsburgh Mining Research Division (PMRD) of the NIOSH Mining Program.
As director of PMRD, Dr. Matetic’s top priority is “to build a multifaceted research portfolio that is relevant to the needs of the mining industry—a portfolio that will directly impact the industry and offer mine workers new technologies, best practices, and training products in health and safety.” He continues: “We cannot do this alone and we value the support of our stakeholders to provide us with valuable input for our goals—working closely with them in making our Mining Program relevant, impactful, and focused on eliminating injuries, illnesses, and fatalities within the mining industry."
Most recently, Dr. Matetic served for four years as Director of NIOSH Mining’s Division of Mining Research Operations at Pittsburgh’s Bruceton Research Center, where he directed research for both the Pittsburgh, PA, and the Spokane, WA, facilities. Dr. Matetic has spent 32 years at the research site. In June 1984, he began working at the research site as a mining engineer with the United States Bureau of Mines (USBM) in the Ground and Methane Control Branch. This first position in the mining industry led him to other roles within the Bureau of Mines, and then later with NIOSH when the Bureau was closed in 1995 and its functions were transferred to other agencies.
During his initial 10 years at the Bureau, Dr. Matetic was principal investigator for many ground control projects, including research projects on multiple-seam mining and the effects of mining on groundwater systems. Throughout Dr. Matetic’s career, he held multiple research and supervisory positions, among them various team leader roles, section chief of the Engineering Controls Team in the Mining Injury and Prevention Branch, branch chief of the Hearing Loss Prevention Branch, and branch chief of the Electrical and Mechanical Systems Safety Branch. Through these positions, Dr. Matetic developed numerous research programs—machine and electrical safety, mine illumination, hearing loss prevention, and communication and tracking systems—that led to advances, nationally and internationally, in improving the health and safety of mine workers.
Dr. Matetic has authored more than 65 technical and programmatic publications—among them two notable publications in 2005 on hearing loss research—and has delivered more than 200 technical and programmatic presentations to a wide variety of audiences promoting the research portfolio of the NIOSH Mining Program. He has also held significant roles on various partnership committees on noise, rock dust, proximity detection, and refuge alternatives, among other national and international committees. Dr. Matetic currently serves as the portfolio manager for both the mining sector and the hearing loss cross-sector programs.
Growing up in Johnstown, PA, Dr. Matetic was surrounded by miners and the mining industry in the mountains of western Pennsylvania where mining was, and still is, a prominent industry. He says his exposure to the talk and concerns of miners set the stage for his future decision to become a mining engineer. With Penn State University, a top engineering school, only an hour and a half from his hometown, he attended the University Park campus located at State College, graduating in 1983 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mining Engineering. While working full-time for the USBM in the early 1990s, Dr. Matetic attended the University of Pittsburgh, earning a Master of Science degree in Civil Engineering in 1992. He later continued his studies at West Virginia University, attaining a Ph.D. in Mining Engineering in 2006 while working full-time at NIOSH.
Becoming a mining engineer was quite different from Dr. Matetic’s original dream to play football and baseball in college and then to play major league baseball. As a student at Richland High School in Johnstown, he played baseball, football, basketball, and ran track. Recruited at age 17 by Glendale College in Arizona to play football and baseball and with hopes of eventually playing these sports for Arizona State, he was weeks away from leaving home for football camp at Glendale College when he suffered a severe, catastrophic knee injury (completely tearing three ligaments) while playing American Legion baseball in Johnstown. The injury was severe enough to require complete reconstructive surgery of the knee, forcing him to abandon his spot on Glendale College’s football team and his dream of playing football in college. Despite this derailment of his dreams, Dr. Matetic still managed to play baseball for three years as an undergraduate at Penn State.
Dr. Matetic and his wife, Deborah, an employee of the National Energy Technology Laboratory at the Bruceton Research Center, have one daughter, Morgan, who recently graduated from The George Washington University and played on the school's women’s softball team.
With his passion for sports, Dr. Matetic has stayed intensely involved in sports by coaching young people for the last 25 years. Coaching serves as an outlet for him away from the world of mining, and his motivation is “to help young people attain success in life through sports by achieving a common goal with teammates. This focus in sports helps young people become better students and better people, learn life lessons, and reach their athletic and academic goals.” Dr. Matetic currently coaches a gold-level softball team that draws elite players from the tristate area (from eighth graders to high school seniors), helping them to showcase their skills to college recruiters with the goals of playing softball in college and obtaining college scholarships. As a high school student, Dr. Matetic was a member of the Big 33 All-Star Football Team, participated in the War Memorial Invitational Basketball Tournament (an event drawing regional and national teams), and played baseball through the All American Amateur Baseball Association (AAABA), representing the city of Johnstown.
Dr. Matetic supports mentoring as an important component for young people’s success in attaining life goals, and he equates his work with young people in sports to helping young researchers at PMRD attain their research goals. Mentoring young researchers, he says, “will help to ensure that the PMRD mining program will be relevant, impactful, and successful through the next 30 to 40 years, maintaining sustainable growth by way of a viable succession plan in the hands of capable researchers."