Faces of UMSI: Hope Tambala

Hope Tambala didn’t plan on learning to code. When he noticed international healthcare organizations in the Dominican Republic wasting time with redundant paper runs, he changed his plans. 

Hope grew up in Indiana and wanted to stay close to his family for college. “I asked myself ‘what are the best universities close to Center Grove, Indiana?’” Hope came to University of Michigan.

According to Hope’s mother, he has always been interested in working in healthcare, at least after a brief stint of aspiring to be a cow as a toddler. Both of Hope’s parents are nurses, and they inspired him to work towards a career in health. “As a pre-med student, I started getting more into the informatics side of health, the tech side of health, programming development side of health, the support around the healthcare system,” Hope said. 

As an undergraduate, Hope majored in chemistry. After graduation, he served as a health volunteer in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic. “Some people come in with the expectation that they’re going to change the world,” Hope said. “I came in understanding that I don’t have experience in this realm but I’m very willing to accept what’s needed of me wherever I’m put and do the work that’s required.”

During his service Hope educated families about health and nutrition, taught teens about sexual health, and wrote a grant application to fund the construction of sixteen latrines in the community where he worked. All three of these projects were part of Hope’s service. He still wanted to do more. 

Hope worked as a medical translator for doctors who came into the Dominican Republic and didn’t know Spanish. Through this experience, he noticed that many Dominicans’ health records would be recorded on paper, and would not be accessible by local doctors or by the next medical mission that comes to the area. This problem inspired Puente.

Puente, which is Spanish for “bridge,” has been bilingual since its first incarnation. Before he even learned what UX research was, Hope (and his cofounders Scott Coppa and Paul Anthony) interviewed Dominicans about the information problems they face when outside health organizations come in to the Dominican Republic. “It was really important from the get-go to make sure Dominicans were on board,” Hope said. “That has always been our philosophy.” 

Hope worked for the Peace Corps in the day and on Puente at night. Before he could design the platform, he had to learn how to code. He went to Santo Domingo to download books and websites on how to code and took them back in his community, which lacked internet access. In spite of this challenge, Hope established the Puente interface, which he frequently updates as he learns at UMSI. 

As he worked on Puente, Hope realized he had found the perfect marriage between his interest in technology and his interest in health. Because Hope was entirely self-taught, he decided to pursue formal education that would help him expand the reach and improve the experience of Puente, which is now a 501(c)(3). In addition to working towards his MSI, Hope is earning a certificate in Health Informatics.

Hope came to UMSI initially planning on being a data analyst. He took SI 582 and discovered UX research and design. He enjoyed the combination of human and technological considerations in the field. What he learned in class he quickly applied to Puente, as he is the only one on the Puente team who can code. “UMSI definiently teaches you empathy, putting empathy in the design process, empathy in the software design process,” Hope said. 

At UMSI, Hope enjoys sharing his unique path to UMSI with prospective students as an admissions information mentor through office of Academic and Student Affairs. “I do that job because I love talking to people about their journey from wherever they are from to here because my journey was very different than coming here straight from undergrad,” Hope said.

Hope also works as a Data Visualization Consultant for the Clark Library, which enables him to further develop his design and data skills. He creates interactive data visualizations “to tell a story through data.”

In the summer of 2019, Hope will work as a Software Engineer in Data Visualization for In-Q-Tel, a company that works with startups to boost the technological capabilities of their customers. At In-Q-Tel, Hope will be able to further hone the data visualization skills he's earned at the Clark Library.  

Hope graduates in 2020 and plans on pursuing new projects with positive social impact. He will continue to develop Puente, which gains clients as Hope works towards his degree. Puente now hosts the health data of around 2,000 people, and will only continue to grow.