Darby Riley posing outside of the Engineering Hall. -Staff Writer/Steven Solkela

What does it take for you to get motivated?

Competition? Money? Free Food? Perhaps existential boredom?

There are some seven billion people on this planet, all with their own unique skills and quirks.

Naturally, battling imposter syndrome is a daily chore for many students, with college as a time where identities are still evolving. In a world filled with superhero stories, it’s easy to miss out on the everyday heroes who don’t scale skyscrapers or sport fancy costumes with capes.

It’s hard for anyone to think of themselves as heroic, but that’s not necessarily the case for engineering major Darby Riley. 

Comprehending difficult concepts is a strong suit for Riley and many engineering students. Aside from academics, she’s also involved in plays, musicals, marching band, leading several clubs and serving as a peer tutor. 

Despite her current success, Riley’s life hasn’t been free from struggle. Riley has a diagnosis of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), a disease that effects the auto-immune system and joints.

EDS can make even a minor cold virus crippling and put someone out of commission for weeks, and Riley was absent for much of her high school career. Despite this, she remained a leader in group work and upheld a solid GPA.

“I missed 180 days in my high school career, about one full year of school. It was rough,” Riley said. “I always felt inferior, like I missed the boat. When you miss that much school, you don’t get to spend the day with your friends, and it’s definitely not easy.” 

Riley noted that she felt bogged down during this time, lacking the social and competitive aspect inherent to that stage of life. 

While she may have a difficult disability to live with, Riley’s mindset allowed her to evolve past her potential limits.

One day strolling the halls of her high school, it occurred to her that it would be beneficial if her school offered engineering prep courses here.

Within a year, she made that happen. 

The school only had one related class at the time, called Fundamentals of Technology. It was a basic class and didn’t challenge young engineering prodigies in the thorough way that larger schools can.

Riley turned her dream into a plan. After talking with the woodshop teacher who had engineering experience, the idea grew. 

After logistical coordination, meetings, course content development, funding proposals, addressing personnel concerns and various other obstacles, the idea blossomed.

Darby Riley in one of the engineering workshops on Rowan’s campus. -Staff Writer/Steven Solkela

Though Riley was the catalyst in creating an engineering prep course her junior year, she was the only one to take it at her small high school that year. She ended up co-teaching the next year, with almost double digits enrolled.

Engineering 1 and 2 now exist at Haddon Township High School because Riley was adamant about not only her education and future, but the continuation of success for many generations of young college bound potential engineers.

Being at Rowan for three years now, Riley has become the president of the STEM LGBT organization on campus.

Riley’s sister Abby is in her senior year of high school. She enrolled in the class that her sister helped establish. She has recently been accepted into Rowan to pursue electrical and computer engineering, following in her big sister’s footsteps.

“Darby is a huge nerd, but that ‘nerddom’ has turned into a tremendous passion for teaching. I call her for help all the time,” the younger Riley said. “Darby’s been really ‘rah rah Rowan’ since I first visited the campus with her, and I’m really excited to be there too.” 

Darby Riley had a tough decision to make when determining what to do with her future, as many options presented themselves. She plans to stick around Glassboro and acquire a graduate degree in engineering education from Rowan.

Seeking credit for her accomplishments is never in the cards for Riley. Seeing someone she helped along the way is a far greater reward.

“Engineering is a lot about teamwork and making things better for everyone,” Riley said. “I really value the mentorship that I had in high school and I want to be that figure for other students along their journeys here.”

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