November 8, 2019


QL+ mentor, Jim Riley, is working with students at three of our university partners. At the Universit of Colorado, Boulder, he is helping students with the Blind Skier Vibrotactile Guidance. The goal of this challenge is to create a non-verbal vibrotactile remote guidance system for blind skiers. He is working with students at the University of Dayton on the Kayak See Behind Challenge for Team River Runner (TRR) paddlers who have PTSD. He is also working with students on the Kayak Balance Assist Challenge for TRR paddlers dealing with a traumatic brain injury or who may have balance issues.

Jim recently retired from a 45+ year career in electronics and IT / software development in a variety of business sectors. As an alternate/retirement career, he teaches adapted kayaking to disabled veterans and community members.

How did you get into your line of work?  After serving in the Marine Corps, I used my GI Bill benefit to attend technical school with a concentration in computer logic electronics. My first job was with Burroughs Corp on Wall Street as a field engineer repairing computers and check sorting equipment. While working as a computer field engineer, I attended night school taking computer science classes on programming, business analysis, project design, and management. This allowed me to make a career jump to software engineering and project management. This aspect of my career spanned medical, banking/finance, retail, and education fields. Between all of that, I also owned and operated a small retail electronics sales and service business for four years.

Did you like your job?  Most jobs and coworkers I really liked. For the few I didn't, I was fortunate to have a skill set that allowed me to move on without downtime. Overall, I can say that I had a very interesting and high-growth career in many lines of business.

What lessons has your work life taught you?  Life is short. Ask questions; believe in yourself; keep moving forward, and discard that which pulls you backward.

Who has been the most significant influence on your life? What lessons did that person teach you? There were many people and organizations that influenced me in positive and profound ways. My father taught me how to plan and build woodworking projects carefully. The Marine Corps taught me to earn pride through self-discipline and teamwork. Friends and coworkers mentored and advised me with friendship and patience. Being a father of two beautiful daughters taught me that there is always something greater in the world than myself. I was truly blessed to be exposed to such a wide range of people who believed in me. And in turn, that allowed me to believe in me.

Describe your experience working with QL+ students. I'm new to QL+ as a mentor, so I am still learning the ropes. My only challenge thus far in working with students is to balance being an advisor/mentor without being a hands-on team member. That's just my alpha, get-it-done nature coming through. I'm learning that my role is to guide students to come up with their own designs and solutions. This is how they' own' their projects, maximize their learning, and take pride in their accomplishments.

What kind of student were you when you were in school? C+ average in high school. After serving in the military and deciding on a technical school, my motivation to build a career was more mature and focused. I then made the Dean's List every semester. The military helped me discover that I was smarter and more capable than the person I thought I was going in.

If you could pass on a critical message to our QL+ students, what would it be? From my experience, successful outcomes to engineering projects start with a clear mission statement. This statement should be referenced often during the project design stages. Before creating that statement, ask-ask-ask questions about why, how, who, where the project will be used. Involve the end-user and work through the inevitable fog of issues until you reach clarity. Also, do not allow the scope of the mission to creep. Hitting a moving target makes your job nearly impossible when there are time constraints (there will always be deadlines!). That's my two cents on starting an engineering project.

We are grateful for Jim's willingness to share his skill set, expertise, and time!

You can make a difference!

Donate Now!
A group of students helps a man by building a walker
Calling All Heroes

Become a Challenger

A Student tending to a Challenger.

Calling all Wounded, Ill, or Injured American Heroes and Their Families

If you have an injury or disability and you are a member of the military, a veteran, or a first responder, QL+ has a program that is designed to improve your quality of life at no charge to you.