John Tomko learned how to code on a TI-84 calculator at the urging of a high school math teacher. Tomko took on the challenge—and now, the rudimentary programming method seems simple to Tomko, having earned a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering and nearing completion of the Master of Engineering and Management (MEM) program at Case Western Reserve University.
Tomko initially chose to come to Case Western Reserve for his undergraduate education because he could participate in varsity athletics on the swimming and diving team and pursue an engineering degree at a rigorous institution.
But Tomko chose to stay for an additional year to pursue his MEM degree. Now in the program’s final semester, Tomko’s understanding of the engineering field has evolved even more—and he recently was honored as one of the program’s top students with the Richards Fellowship.
Funded through an endowment made by Donald J. Richards (CIT ‘79, MGT ’81), a retired managing director at Accenture and member of the university’s Board of Trustees, the fellowship provides students with financial assistance to defray the cost of tuition and to give them coaching and guidance for their future careers.
The fellowship represents Tomko’s shift in interests over the course of his education. While his aspirations were initially more geared toward coding, over time, he realized he enjoyed working with people too. The MEM program gave him the opportunity to learn more about the business side of engineering and work with the people behind the technology.
Consulting, Tomko realized, was one way to turn that into a career. So when he heard about the Richards Fellowship, which is geared toward students interested in that area, he was immediately interested.
“Consulting is, by definition, working with people, and that’s where my interests align,” Tomko said. “But I don’t want to lose my interest in technology.”
Tomko vividly remembers the moment he found out that he had won the fellowship: He was walking to his car on Bellflower Road when he got a call from an unknown number.
He picked up, and on the other line was an individual from Accenture. As soon as he heard the name, Tomko knew what the call was about.
“I just could not believe what I was hearing because there are a lot of talented people in the MEM program, and there are a lot of people that also have strong interest in consulting—they have the background, they have the skills,” he said. “To know that I just received this, it was surreal.”
After receiving the fellowship, Tomko had the opportunity to talk with Richards. As an individual who has connections to both student life and university governance, Richards provided Tomko with a unique perspective.
“In my conversation with Mr. Richards, he was very thoughtful, asking a lot of questions about where I’d like to work, what I want to be,” Tomko said. “That kind of mental sorting is very helpful, especially when it’s done with someone who has as much experience and expertise as Mr. Richards.”
As part of the fellowship, Tomko also will receive $10,000.
“The opportunities [the MEM program has] presented to me—to any student that goes for it—is completely invaluable,” he said.