News

October 5, 2009

Ivo Ucovich ’65 helps Peruvian Students Find Way to College Hill

Alumni admissions rep also leads mining company to prosperity

Ivo Ucovich ’65 remembers interviewing a student who had written a letter to Lafayette explaining why he wanted to attend the College. That letter, written 15 years ago, reminds him why he continues to serve as an alumni admissions representative (AAR).

“He was a teenager who had lost his father and inherited the business and had to manage it,” recalls Ucovich, who has been an AAR in Peru for 20 years. “The maturity with which he expressed himself in that letter and the correct English used were astonishing to me.”

Helping Peruvian students find a home at Lafayette mirrors Ucovic’s own experience as an undergraduate student. Faculty support helped ease his cultural and academic transition.

“The experiences of an alumnus are necessary to help students make the change from high school to college and from one country’s culture to another less painful,” says the metallurgical engineering graduate. “I explain to students that it was hard for me to adapt to the new environment, but with the help of the College counselors and new friends, the process was less painful.

“At the end of my first semester at Lafayette, I had problems with both calculus and religion and went to talk to Mr. [Larry] Conover ’24, who was head of the electrical engineering department, where I enrolled originally. He advised me to take religion later during my senior year and to have a faculty member tutor me in calculus. It made student life easier to handle.”

Ucovich doesn’t help only those interested in his alma mater. As chairman of the board of mining company Compañía Minera Milpo S.A.A., he has spearheaded an educational program financed by his firm.

“The expectations of the people high up in the Andes Mountains are mainly monetary, but they do not spend money wisely so it does not help them in the future,” he says. “The educational program prepares the younger generation for the challenges of the globalized world. Mainly, it gives them a good academic base so they can go through a higher educational level. We first tested all the students in a comprehension level that gave us a baseline to later evaluate them. At the end of the program, we gave exams and as a result, had a 25 percent improvement over the baseline.”

When Ucovich took over the mining company, he faced serious financial problems and conflict among shareholders. Over the last decade, he has used innovation to grow production and sales at least tenfold. Protecting the environment is a challenge he continues to encounter. He’s particularly proud of using the desalinization of sea water to process minerals.

“Water is pumped from the sea up to an altitude of 8,700 feet and to a distance of 40 miles,” he explains. “Then we recycle the water from the tailings, or waste material, and use it again in the flotation process. The tailings are deposited in the mine to fill the cavities in the mountain solidly to avoid possible cave-ins. No water is returned to the environment; it is constantly reused after a cleansing process. The reason we desalinized sea water was to avoid taking the agriculture water from the river, which is dry many months of the year. This way we had a 100 percent water supply during the whole year.”

Whether helping locals lead better lives or students preparing for an entirely new environment, Ucovich says his undergraduate years showed him what a key role education plays in future success.

“Lafayette gave me a broader view of the world, especially 45 years ago. My experience gave me the solid base to be what I am today,” he explains.

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