The Skateboarding Scientist

GeneWEAVE founder Diego Rey, `04, talks about his undergrad days at UCSB

Engineering alumnus Diego Rey, `04, is the head of research at GeneWEAVE, a California-based startup he co-founded in 2010 while pursuing his doctorate in biomedical engineering at Cornell University. GeneWEAVE, acquired by Roche in 2015, developed “Smarticles” technology to detect the presence of drug-resistant “superbug” bacteria. Rey also serves as a mentor to many students and entrepreneurs at UCSB and through various organizations. In this Alumni Spotlight Q&A, Rey reminisces about his undergraduate years at UC Santa Barbara, Los Ingenieros and how he much he misses being able to skateboard through campus.

What made you decide to pursue your undergraduate degree at UC Santa Barbara?

I grew up in Palo Alto, CA, but am originally from Argentina. When I was looking for undergraduate schools, I wanted to stay in California. I visited several schools, including UC Irvine and Stanford. The number one thing that attracted me to the UC Santa Barbara was when one of the students – a family friend – showed me around campus. He gave me the whole tour! That personal touch and introduction to University, especially when he introduced me to organizations like Los Ingenieros, made me feel like I would have a group of friends right off the bat. It gave me that much-needed connection. (Los Ingenieros, once I joined the University, were a big help as I made that big jump from high school to college.) Before I started as a freshman, I did the Engineering Summer Program through the MESA Engineering Program where they put us into dorms for the three weeks, right before classes started. This was a really awesome program – and no longer around, unfortunately. We got the flavor of the hard engineering courses for our first year, plus we all really bonded. It was like a boot camp, this program, as we covered all of the first quarter coursework. When the school year started, I knew what to expect in our classes. I got to know what the University was all about. We really hit the ground running. Why did you decide to major in engineering? My dad was an engineer but he didn’t push me to do anything in engineering in particular. He emphasized that he saw us all having a great opportunity to go to university. As a child, I was interested in physics. It was something that explained how the world worked. It demystified the world to me. Engineering has a healthy dose of physics and the added purpose of building something – that’s what drew me into it. Basically, I liked knowing how things worked.

What did you enjoy most as a student at UC Santa Barbara?

Looking back at my university experience, I wish I could go back and do it all over again. It was so much fun. I had a great time meeting new people and making new friends. It was wonderful to live in such a great location, with the beach right here. I used to skateboard throughout the campus, every day. I still have the same skateboard and keep it in my office! I loved doing that. I remember skating between classes and lots of fun barbeques on Goleta Beach. After UCSB, I went to Cornell where you can only skate in one direction - downhill.

What was your favorite aspect of being a student at the engineering program?

I remember we would organize Science and Technology Days, when hundreds of students from middle school would bus in, and we would have all sorts of different educational demonstrations on STEM for them to do. This was a phenomenal experience for us as students.

Have you kept in touch with your fellow Los Ingenieros alumni?

We members of Los Ingenieros are scattered all over the world now. Becoming a mentor in the program, I have kept in touch with many of the students over the years. Many of them are also close personal friends and we see each other from time to time. It’s a very tightly-knit group.

What is it like to be at this point in your career now?

The most important part of building a start-up has to do with the culture. This is composed of the people you recruit. You are among people that you brought together. The camaraderie gets us through our busy, difficult days. When we started the company, in the beginning, it was just two of us working 24/7. We grew to 50 people and we’re now part of the 90,000-plus staff of the Roche organization. At each step of the way, we celebrated even the small successes together. One of our company mottos is “Celebrate Early and Often.” Being amongst smart, energetic people motivated to do the same thing – that’s the best.

What do you do on your days off?

I love to travel – throughout the country and internationally. Whenever there is an opportunity, I am out in the woods hiking. In the winter, I love both snowboarding and backcountry skiing. I’m always out there.


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