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Engineering a New Mentorship Opportunity

Tom Ulrich has been with Tandem Diabetes Care since the company began. And, from the get-go, he’s always cared about creating a positively different experience for team members and customers.

During the last year Tom transitioned into the role of Engineering Fellow working with the Scientific Computing Group, where he’s focused on developing algorithms for Tandem products. He’s been working with non-profits since the 1990s and has now built a family foundation with his wife, Cathy, to create a positive impact within local communities.

“There’s a statistic in the United States that compares the amount of income people make per year and their percentage of charitable giving,” said Tom, noting research from the USC Price School of Public Policy. “The more people earn, the less percentage and amount of money people tend to give — I want to help change that.”

There are two local organizations he’s currently working with: A Step Beyond (ASB) in Escondido, Calif., and a mentorship program at Cal State San Marcos where his Tandem team members also volunteer.

“I’ve worked with start-ups throughout my career,” Tom said, “so we naturally focus on nonprofit start-ups.”

When one of his coworkers expressed a desire to volunteer, Tom asked the president at A Step Beyond if his team could introduce S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering, math/medicine) to the students.

“Many of these kids have never known an engineer, so they never think about it as a possible career,” Tom said. “I wanted to bring a bunch of engineers to show them how much fun we have, and what we can make together. If you can see it, you can be it.”

Making a Positive Difference Within Local Communities

Through their foundation, Tom and Cathy support A Step Beyond — a creative youth development organization. A Step Beyond serves students and families living at or below the poverty level with free after-school dance classes, academic support, and social services. (While Tandem encourages all employees to be proactive and charitable with their time, Tandem is not directly affiliated with A Step Beyond.)

What’s unique about A Step Beyond is that in order to create deep, meaningful, and lasting relationships, the organization makes a 10-year commitment to support participants from third grade to beyond high school.

“Kids are expected to come at least twice a week for two hours at a time,” Tom said. “During one of those hours, ASB helps with homework. During the other, ASB teaches kids how to dance. The organization also works with students to get grants for college. But, not every kid is meant to go to college, so for those, ASB helps get them into a career.”

Now in its 10th year, A Step Beyond is preparing to celebrate its first graduating class. Tom and Cathy — who met in an upper-division math class at UC Irvine — just outfitted the organization’s computer lab with all new laptops.

“This group of kids is unbelievable,” Tom said. “These kids are bright and engaged. They are saying, ‘I’m going to work for something. I’m going to be something. I’m going to be the first kid in my family to finish high school. Then, I’m going to be the first in my family to finish college or start a career!’”

Bringing Real World Experience to College Students

Another place Tom and his team are helping out the community is through a local college. Tom talked to the Dean of Engineering at Cal State San Marcos, who was more than happy to have a Tandem employee assist on two senior capstone projects, especially as their engineering program was fewer than two years old at the time.

Ryan Cardenas, Senior Algorithm Engineer with Tandem, leads one of these capstone project groups by mentoring a team of four CSU San Marcos seniors. A capstone is a comprehensive research project that typically lasts a year. This approach is designed to connect students with industry professionals to give them experience solving real-world technology problems.

I’m really enjoying working with the students. Seeing their enthusiasm for learning and for building a helpful software product makes me even more excited to be a part of their work!

Ryan Cardenas, Senior Algorithm Engineer

At Tandem, Ryan develops automated dosing algorithms by using state-of-the-art mathematical models in computational biology to simulate how different body types will respond to different algorithms and features. He’s replicated processes at Tandem for the students to experience the company’s collaborative spirit firsthand.

“I think a big part of promoting a healthy S.T.E.M. workforce is helping people find meaning and fulfillment in tech work,” Ryan said. “When I share about the kind of work Tandem does, the people who we serve, and how our technology is improving lives for the better, these students perk up. I like showing them how the skills they’re learning in computer science can make a positive difference for real people.”

Stay Awesome

Tom has offered anyone participating in A Step Beyond or Cal State San Marcos programs the opportunity to visit the Tandem campus to see the company in action.

He’ll continue trying to create a positively different experience for everyone at Tandem and within the community.

“Bring yourself. Be yourself. It’s that variety, that different perspective, that is a strength — it’s not a weakness,” Tom said.

Thanks to Tom and his team for helping to make a positively different impact on our local communities.

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