Golden Bear Alumni Spotlight: Thomas Vega ’16

In the summer of 1989, the mother of a 16-year-old high school dropout put her son on a Greyhound bus to Springfield, Mass. with the hope that the move would save him from the dangerous influences of the poverty-scarred South Bronx.

When he arrived to live with his aunt and uncle, Tom Vega had no idea that the journey would take him far beyond Springfield’s John F. Kennedy Middle School.

“I knew this was my chance,” he said. So, he seized the opportunity.

Now 51, Vega, a 2016 honors graduate of Western New England University College of Business, holds a top position in a growing field at CVS Health, where he is senior product and delivery manager.

“It has been quite a journey,” Vega admitted, adding that he couldn’t have succeeded without mentors along the way and the flexibility that his studies offered when he enrolled as a part-time student in 2008. But back in the fall of 1989, his future was unsure. He was in middle school again, making up for lost time. “I didn’t want to disappoint my aunt,  who was also raising two of my cousins while working at a Westfield-based wire factory, and my uncle, who worked for Digital computers,” he said.

“So, I focused on what the teachers told me to do to distract from the anger I felt toward my mom for taking me away from my friends,” adding that he wasn’t the type of kid to act out in destructive ways by turning to drugs, alcohol, and violence — the standard coping mechanism in New York. Vega had already lost his brother to a drug overdose, and he came from a neighborhood riddled with crime, gang violence, and drugs.

Older than most of his peers at Kennedy, Vega focused on studies, not social life. He made honor roll at JFK and at Holyoke’s Dean Vocational High School, where he studied carpentry, later obtaining his associate’s degree from Springfield Technical Community College, again with honors. From there, he enrolled in online classes at what was then Western New England College, juggling a series of full-time jobs including stints at Universal Forest Products, where he was human resources manager and director of safety, and Baystate Health, where he honed his IT skills as a process improvement manager. Later, he held similar positions at MassMutual and The Hartford before landing at CVS Health, where he is currently working on cutting-edge technologies that focus on workplace improvements and enhance the lives of patients.

Through his work experiences, along with his participation in the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), Vega gained valuable leadership and technical skills that served him well. Participation in MEP’s conflict resolution program taught him, among other things, “how to listen actively and with intent” to better communicate with employees in the workplace.

Vega’s real-world work experience gave him valuable transferable skills that allowed him to share his experiences with peers and professors in business classes at WNE. The University’s flexible degree program enabled him to focus on his grades while balancing work and family time with his young son Alec, now a 21-year-old college graduate.

“I was fortunate to have teachers, professors, and a few good business leaders to help put me on the path to success.” - Thomas Vega ’16

“At WNE, I had fantastic professors, and I was able to pace myself with courses while navigating life’s challenges,” he said. Those challenges included a layoff from Universal Forest Products when the homebuilding business was hit by the housing crisis. Despite the setback, Vega continued to keep his eye on the prize. “I just kept chipping away, course by course, aided with employer-financed grants and scholarships.” He expanded his skillset with a class on interpersonal skills, which helped him develop strategies for leading teams to meet shared goals — skills that he still uses to this day.

Along his journey, Vega enlisted in The National Guard, noting that military service “taught me about leadership, self-confidence, loyalty, teamwork, and perseverance in the face of what had seemed like insurmountable challenges.” He was named to the President’s and Dean’s Lists and achieved many academic accolades, including the Part-time Undergraduate Student Award at the 2016 College of Business Awards. In 2014, while still pursuing his Bachelor of Business Management, he bought a house in Deerfield, Mass. where he and his wife Heather, a business analyst at Baystate Health, continue to reside.

After leaving The Hartford, a colleague at the insurance company referred Vega to CVS Health, where he was hired on the spot after his job interview. He was promoted to his current role within his first year at the company.

Vega said CVS Health is “redefining the healthcare experience in America through its commitment to making healthcare simpler, more convenient, more affordable, more accessible, and more focused on the patient.” He collaborates with stakeholders from various parts of the company to implement improvements to healthcare delivery systems. “We work to bring those improvements to life by using the latest technologies possible,” he said.

Vega meets with business leaders, technology teams, data scientists, patients, pharmacists, and providers to understand their concerns with any underlying processes, and then makes recommendations for a plan. If the group approves of the recommendation, Vega brings in a technology team to execute the plan.

“We know that the use of AI in healthcare is nothing new,” Vega noted. “But we are now at an inflection point ... AI has the potential to truly transform how healthcare is delivered and how it helps people live better lives.”

CVS Health is committed to utilizing AI and generative AI responsibly and safely, Vega explained. “AI is being used to focus on analyzing historical data and making numeric predictions, while generative AI allows data-driven computer models to create outputs and information that can be indistinguishable from human-generated things such as text, images, video, and audio.”

Vega believes that, with the aid of strong relationships and mentorships, anyone can overcome early obstacles in life and pursue an education and a fulfilling career. “Learn to market the best thing about yourself,” he said. “I was fortunate to have teachers, professors, and a few good business leaders to help put me on the path to success.”

Web Extra: Thomas Vega Interview