“I probably ended up at Mines because I wanted to play football,” said Bill Zisch ’79. “I already had the idea that I wanted to go into engineering, so when Mines said, ‘We’d like to have you play football for us,’ that really caught my attention.”
The offer also reinforced a strong family connection: Zisch’s grandfather, Joe Zisch, played varsity football for Mines in the 1910s. “Back then, we used to beat CU in football,” Zisch laughs.
The elder Zisch later became a pioneering chemist at the Climax Molybdenum Mine, and though he ended up in the sugar refining industry, ‘he always considered himself a Mines man.’
So, too, does Bill Zisch, who recently rejoined the CSM Alumni Association’s Board of Directors after a hiatus of more than a decade. A dedicated Mines supporter and donor for more than 30 years, Zisch served on the alumni board in the late 1990s but stepped down when his career took him overseas. Now he’s back in Colorado to stay, and he has a new job as president and CEO of Midway Gold and a fresh start on his service to the alumni board.
“The primary role of the Alumni Association is to create opportunities and relationships that support the school,” said Zisch. “There are so many Mines alumni out there in industry that this role is magnified. We can help the school understand the world that its students are going to live in, and help prepare those students to become leaders after they graduate.”
Zisch’s own path to industry leadership has taken him all over the world. After graduating from Mines with a degree in mining engineering, he spent 16 years in gold and coal operations with FMC Company, then became Newmont’s globe-trotting chief mining engineer for international operations. He eventually settled in Peru as the operations manager at Yanacocha, one of the world’s largest gold mines. He also spent much of the 2000s in West Africa as a regional vice president.
Zisch’s current job takes him to some of the most remote locations in North America. Midway Gold’s primary assets lie in the central Nevada desert on either side of U.S. 50, which is famously known as “the loneliest road in America.” Thankfully, he avoids that ‘loneliness’ by spending most of his time at the company’s Denver headquarters, and he welcomes the stability after so many years of far-flung travel. But, he said, he wouldn’t trade his international experiences for anything, and his global experience reinforces his belief that Mines has a key role to play in shaping the extractive industries of the future. ‘We’re going to have interactions with societies around the world, and the mining engineers of the future need to understand that role,’ he said. ‘They need to be environmentally sensitive, and they need to be in coordination with local communities.’
Zisch recalls that when he was working in West Africa, he dealt with a very different type of government. “I hadn’t gotten any preparation for that at Mines. I got a very sound technical foundation, and that’s even more extensive for today’s undergraduates. But what’s going to distinguish the leaders of the industry is the ability to work with people around the world and understand the global context,” he said.
Some of those issues, Zisch adds, may not have cut-and-dried solutions. Although higher living standards around the globe translate into demand for raw materials, they also can lead to cultural and environmental friction. Zisch believes Mines is uniquely positioned to prepare students for those challenges. ‘When I went through school, they had just started to incorporate environmental design into the core curriculum,’ Zisch says. ‘So my generation of graduates and subsequent generations understand the responsibility to be environmentally sound and socially friendly. It has come a long way since then, and it’s continuing to improve.’
In addition to the lessons he has learned in industry, Zisch gained perspective on the challenges facing today’s engineering students from his son, John, who is a recent Mines graduate (’09). While he understands the impact of adding environmental and social layers to an already-demanding scientific curriculum, Zisch has faith that Mines students are up to the task.
“I have a lot of confidence in Mines students,” he says. “Through all the years I’ve been associated with the university, I’ve always found a high quality of people. The industries that Mines serves are important to the nation and to the world. I know our students have the ability and the capacity to lead the extractive industries of the future.”