Mike Ulrich '11, M'16: Faith-Filled, Fortunate and Always Flexible

Coming out of Father Judge High School in Northeast Philadelphia, Mike Ulrich ’11, M ’16 had his life planned out. He would attend Albright College in Reading, PA to play football, obtain a degree in education, teach history, and coach football. Sounded like a solid plan for a happy life. 

A tear of his right Achilles tendon at the start of his sophomore season stopped Ulrich and his plans in their tracks.  Pivot to plan B, when Ulrich enrolled at Holy Family, admittedly bitter from leaving football and friends behind, but deciding to continue on his path to a degree in education.

“I will admit that I didn’t know what college was all about, and I had no idea to navigate it,” Ulrich said.  ‘But my parents, who had to hustle all of their lives without college degrees, reinforced in their three sons that education was something that nobody could take away from us, that we shouldn’t chase the short-term success, but do things the right way so we didn’t have regrets. I got connected to Tim O’Driscoll in the admissions department, who encouraged me to get involved with student government.  I meet Mike McNulty-Bobholz and got involved with Habitat for Humanity and other student engagement activities.  It was interesting to me, and I knew that working in higher education could be a professional track for me.”

A less-than-ideal student-teaching stint had Ulrich questioning whether education would be his calling at all. Still, he decided to enroll at St. Francis University in Loretto, PA, four hours away in picturesque “Pennsyltucky” to pursue his master’s in education.  While in graduate school, he worked as a residence life coordinator where he was responsible for event planning and supporting student activities.  He liked the work, and returned to Holy Family to work for McNulty-Bobholz in the student engagement office for three years while earning an MBA. 

And then, armed with three degrees, Ulrich pivoted again and now finds himself as a systems engineer with CBIZ CompuData, Inc., where he has worked for the past eight years providing networking, anti-virus and firewall services to small businesses.

“I have learned that your trajectory is never a straight line,” Ulrich said.  “I used to beat myself up because I wasn’t teaching, because I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to do.  But I have learned, there is no such thing.  What you are supposed to do is what you are doing right now. What did I gain from my time in education?  My ability to teach, my ability to break down concepts, my ability to document things. All of that is exceptionally powerful in the world of IT. Taking a broad, technical project and breaking it down for someone who is signing the check is a very important skill to have in this arena.”

Ulrich has learned to trust his instincts and has gained invaluable insights that he is happy to pass along to people who may be unsure about their own career paths.

“My advice would be to try to navigate your career as it comes to you, to always be flexible,” Ulrich said.  “Maybe you are going to find yourself unhappy or unfulfilled in a career.  That doesn’t mean that you can’t change and pivot and take those skills that you gained into another arena.”

There is still a teacher in Ulrich’s family, his wife Nicole (Keller) Ulrich ‘12, M’15, whom he met at Holy Family and with whom he is raising his two children. 

“I have so much gratitude for Holy Family University because it served as a catalyst for a big transformation in my life,” Ulrich said.  “I had people around me who were motivating leaders, who set me in the right direction. The closeness of the staff and the student body was priceless. Meeting my wife, getting closer to my younger brother (Doug Ulrich ’12), becoming lifelong friends with like-minded individuals, learning the value of servant leadership, and getting to learn from experienced and talented faculty , grounded educators who were able to meet students where they were in their respective academic journeys, meant so much to me. 

“Holy Family truly showed me what it meant to attend a Catholic college,” he said. “There is an aura that covers that campus, that makes it a loving, truly family, environment. It is special place with a unique spirit that has given me a great deal of value. If you give that school everything you have, it will give you back tenfold.”


Jan Giel