Most Eligible Engineer: Ryan Riddel

Ryan Riddel, electrical engineering major, is a man of many talents, skills and accomplishments. Riddel was recently nominated by Promod Vohra, the Dean of NIU’s College of Engineering and EngineeringTechnology (CEET) for the Lincoln Academy Student Laureate award. 

The Lincoln Academy Student Laureate Award honors an outstanding senior from each of the four-year degree granting institutions of higher learning in Illinois each year. Nominated students must demonstrate leadership and excellence in both curricular and co-curricular activities.

However, the humble engineer, does not measure his success by awards or recognition. In fact, in an exclusive interview, Riddel admits just the opposite.

What made you want to be an engineer?

“I just like science. In high school I played around with a lot of electronics, software, and math. Instead of doing school work like I was supposed to, I worked on things that were interesting to me.  Once, during a statistics class in high school, I was caught working on the problem of approximating something called the ‘gamma function’ when I didn’t hear a question the teacher asked me.  I was sent to the back of the class, instead of the front.”

How did you find yourself studying engineering at NIU?

“I didn’t want to be in debt after school for the sake of getting a ‘prestigious’ name on a piece of paper.  NIU had everything I needed, and was affordable.  What I didn’t know back then was that NIU was a better choice than any big name university I might have gone to otherwise, even if I could’ve afforded it.”

Looking back, do you think those “circumstances” landing you at NIU, ultimately happened for a reason? Do you think fate played a role in your situation?

“Yes! I like to think everything happens for a reason.  Or, at least, that we make our own reasons when we find opportunities for growth.  NIU turned out to be a great place for me to grow.  In a bigger, more ‘institutionalized’ school, I would never have been given my own lab.  Or had the opportunity to start engineering research (which NIU later patented) before I had taken any engineering classes.  I went from scavenging electronics parts from garbage to having a lab with every tool I ever wanted in the span of a month.  That kind of thing could only happen at a place like NIU.  And because the staff here has this ‘up-and-coming’ mentality, they care less about ‘how we do things at NIU’ and more about ‘how we *could* do things at NIU’.”

Tell me about Riddel Systems and how you started the company.

“It started before I had a lab at NIU.  During the beginning of sophomore year, I was working at Steak ‘N Shake and using tools I found at industrial garbage dumps to do experiments in my free time.  I needed a device called a ‘spectrum analyzer’ for one such experiment, but they cost more than I made in three months!  I found a local seller on eBay, met up with him, and we talked for about an hour.  I walked away with a mentor, a free analyzer and a job writing software in a language I didn’t know (yet).  From there, I just tried to meet people, listen to them about their technical problems, and do good work for the clients I already had.  Word-of-mouth is the most potent form of advertisement there is.”

Based on various awards and recognition you have received since then, Riddel Systems has come a long way. Do you feel a sense of accomplishment after receiving these awards and honors?

 “I do what I do because I enjoy it.  Awards are nice, and it feels good to be recognized by my peers, but a trophy or piece of cardstock is nowhere near enough to make all the hard work worth it.  Science means something very special to me, and if it didn’t I would have given up a long time ago, because it is hard work.”

For more information on Riddel Systems please visit

If you have earned an award, conducted research, or are just generally awesome, stop by EB 130 and share your story. #WHYENGINEERING
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