When community-minded Blue Hens give back in hopes of inspiring others to pay it forward, they don’t necessarily expect the next generation to step in so quickly. But that’s exactly what happened in the case of Tom McCormick, EG81, and Theo Fleck, EG20.
As a research-driven and entrepreneurial undergraduate in the College of Engineering, Fleck was able to make his time at the University of Delaware unique by pursuing enrichment beyond the traditional classroom, from participating in robotics competitions to dedicating time for summer research.
It was the kind of experience that helped Fleck standout as an electrical and computer engineering student – and as a professional, graduating with a job at W.L. Gore and Associates. That impressive trajectory was possible thanks to the funding Fleck received as a student through the generosity of McCormick, who supports student enrichment in the college. Through McCormick’s philanthropy, talented and outstanding engineering students with an interest in study abroad, summer research or another kind of experiential learning opportunity are able to connect with the necessary funding to make their academic dreams possible.
“I see all the great things that Theo has done, and I look back on my time at UD, and I realize I didn’t do 20 percent of what this young man has done already,” said McCormick, who is now founder and president of his company American Electrical, Inc., while also consulting to encourage startups. “I learned it all later, but I am impressed by what a fresh start and advantage he has – and what great things he’s going to do.”
Although decades apart in their UD experiences, Fleck and McCormick are kindred spirits when it comes to engineering, entrepreneurship and philanthropy. Both are Delaware natives and come from Blue Hen families and have entrepreneurial spirits.
Fittingly, thanks to McCormick’s philanthropy, Fleck was able to explore engineering and entrepreneurship through his research with Richard Martin, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. Fleck experimented with electronic vibration therapy technology as part of a research team dedicated to assisting people with Parkinson’s Disease walk more steadily and smoothly.
Fleck now aims to make a philanthropic impact of his own. The recent graduate decided to step in to make his own gift to UD following graduation and supported two students this past summer as they similarly explored research and experiential learning opportunities.
“Philanthropy made such an impact on my experience at UD and my career going forward, and I was really fortunate to gain a job opportunity that allowed me to give back. It’s on me to pay it forward so the next person can have that opportunity,” Fleck said.
Over the summer, Fleck met with the two students his gift supported and passed on advice. He encourages current students to pursue whatever learning opportunities they can: “Employers see value when you demonstrate not what you know, but what you can do.”
While Fleck admitted he could not have envisioned as a freshman being in this position, the spirit of giving back has long been emphasized in his family. It’s no surprise that McCormick was similarly encouraged by his family.
“My parents told me there are two kinds of people in the world, givers and takers, and you can choose to be a giver,” McCormick said. “I’ve been very fortunate with my career and I’m blessed, but it’s always been first-nature for me to give because of my mom and dad.”
Fleck has similar words to live by, paraphrasing an Eagle Scout saying: “I therefore charge you to be among those who dedicate their skills and ability to the common good of man.”
To find out more about philanthropic support and alumni engagement within the College of Engineering, contact Heather Barron, senior associate director in the Office of Development and Alumni Relations, at firstname.lastname@example.org.