Excelsior Award—Alexander “AJ” Ryan

AJ Ryan

By Jayna Barker
NKU Marketing + Communications

More than 1,600 graduates will receive a diploma this year, but there are a handful of outstanding graduating seniors who Northern Kentucky University would like to recognize.

These graduates have distinguished themselves with personal commitments to their classwork, the University, and the surrounding communities. Their accomplishments reflect positively on their own abilities as well as NKU.

"NKU has provided me with the knowledge to create inclusive games and software to make a difference in the world ...”

The Excelsior Award is presented to an outstanding senior student who has overcome great obstacles to achieve his/her academic pursuits. These obstacles could be physical, emotional, financial, age, etc. A minimum grade point average of 3.0 is required. This award will be presented upon completion of degree requirements. The award does not have to be given if the committee determines there are no suitable nominees during a particular year. Student Services sponsors this award.

Alexander “AJ” Ryan is unable to use his hands or arms, but that doesn’t stop him from using his feet to get things done. He was born with arthrogryposis—a condition that confines him to a wheelchair.

AJ, a media informatics major, always knew he wanted to be a game developer. He didn’t start making his dreams a reality until his freshman year when he started working in the Center for Applied Informatics (CAI). He started developing games and learning how to code. Since then, he’s helped develop more than a dozen games, including a few that he created solo. He’s been a supervisor at CAI, vice president of MINjas, and president of the Pokémon Club on campus.

“For many people, the disability would be a difficult challenge to deal with on a daily basis,” says Chris Rider, director of CAI. “However, AJ is always a very positive person to work with. I have never heard him complain about his limitations. His fellow students will attest how inspiring it is to work with him.”

AJ has designed and developed numerous video games for clients of CAI. One of AJ’s apps “gamifies” the life of a person who has gone through the foster care system, and has been ranked by Google as a “Top 500” app. AJ also founded his own startup, Inclusive Games, that gives people with disabilities the opportunity to play games.

"NKU has provided me with the knowledge to create inclusive games and software to make a difference in the world,” AJ says.