Mitchell Leverette ’85 grew up sitting on a gold mine. Literally.
As a child living in McCormick, S.C., Leverette was always curious about what lay below the ground. After all, McCormick’s town slogan is “We’re Sittin’ on a Gold Mine,” a reference to the gold that was discovered there in the 1850s. There’s even an annual gold rush festival to celebrate the town’s golden history.
“I would read a little bit as a kid about the underground gold mines and I was always fascinated and curious about how gold had developed underground,” Leverette says.
So, it isn’t all that surprising that he ended up making a career out of studying and managing minerals, climbing the ranks of the Bureau of Land Management. But as a CofC freshman in 1981, he was unsure what his future profession might be.
“During that first semester, I was just kind of thinking of what I should major in and I was thinking maybe pre-med,” recalls Leverette. “It took several semesters before I took geology as a science course. I remember taking it and liking it. Thinking about home, I thought, Why not try this as a major?”
Leverette, who was the College’s first African American graduate from the geology program, went on to earn his master’s in geology/geochemistry at Sul Ross State University at the encouragement of a CofC professor who had a connection to the West Texas institution.
In 1987, Leverette began his career with the Bureau of Land Management, a federal agency within the Department of the Interior. He started as a geologist based in Sacramento, Calif., and went on to hold a variety of positions, doing everything from interpreting guidance and policies from bureau leadership, to drafting and co-authoring mineral reports and completing mineral exams, to conducting site inspections and program reviews.
In 2004, he rose to the rank of deputy division chief for solid minerals (making the move to Washington, D.C.) before taking the post of division chief in 2008. In that role, Leverette oversees five programs, including mining law, coal, non-energy leasable minerals (such as sodium, phosphate and potassium), mineral materials (sand, gravel, rock, stone, etc.) and oil shale and tar sands. Much of the division’s work involves the development of policies that are to be used in regulating and providing oversight of private mining activities on BLM lands. Over the last five years, the division has generated more than $4.5 billion in royalties, rent and bonus payments to the U.S. Treasury and state governments.
Nearly 30 years into his career, Leverette says he’s still passionate about the far-reaching impact minerals have on everyday life.
“From the car you drive, to the house you live in, to the toothpaste you used this morning, to the eyeglasses you have on, to the electricity that powers your home, to the minerals that are in your cell phone – the list just goes on and on,” he says.
In recent years, Leverette has reconnected with the College, serving on the Alumni Association Board of Directors and the School of Sciences and Mathematics Advocacy Board (and as an Alumni Association mentor), among other College organizations. In 2013, the College awarded Leverette the Eddie Ganaway Distinguished Alumni Award, which recognizes alumni who are trailblazers and loyal supporters of the school.
Leverette credits the rigor of his geology studies at the College with preparing him for his future career, noting that he would periodically visit
his old geology professors Jim Carew and Robert Nusbaum during trips to Charleston.
“I think the College of Charleston, being a liberal arts and sciences school, helped to shape me to be a better manager in my profession, and also helped me in my ability to communicate technically those things I need to communicate in my job,” he says.
It seems Leverette has struck oil and found gold on his way to the top of the geology world.
Photos by Gately Williams.