Carnegie Mellon University opens new avenues to its students, encouraging innovation and problem solving, ultimately preparing them to face their futures head-on. When asked what advice alumna Katie Ricciardi would give current students, both current and prospective, she says “challenge yourself and always try new things.” She emphasizes the importance of having a broad skillset in engineering and continuing to expand it even when it feels like all avenues have been explored.
Ricciardi has been working as an innovation engineer with Nike for nearly six years. Her daily tasks include working with other designers and developers to bring new footwear solutions to life—everything from testing new technologies to new materials, and so much more. She works to engineer these new designs first by brainstorming on paper, then by bringing her ideas to life, stitching the shoes together by hand. After testing the shoes on athletes, gathering data, and making refinements, the footwear is released into the world.
“Having a combination of both biomedical engineering and materials science engineering was really helpful. It gave me two different approaches to engineering, two different industries to learn, two types of problems to solve. And, with footwear especially, I really got to see where these things mesh.”
Having a combination of both biomedical engineering and materials science engineering was really helpful. It gave me two different approaches to engineering, two different industries to learn, two types of problems to solve. And, with footwear especially, I really got to see where these things mesh.Katie Ricciadi, Innovation Engineer, Nike
Ricciardi and the Nike team’s most recent project is a shoe that is completely hands-free. It is part of their FlyEase program, which caters to both athletes and nonathletes, and makes mobility more accessible for everyone.
The project was nothing like traditional shoemaking, challenging Ricciardi’s skills and knowledgebase.
“I was asked to help with engineering the upper portion of the shoe, how we could integrate it into the hands-free design,” she says. “The shoe needed to have a secure fit without having to tie laces, and be able to stand up on its own to aid in sliding the foot in and out. It definitely tested my problem-solving abilities, as to how we could put something together that worked seamlessly—how we could get the shoe to split apart and come back together.”
Using a hinge, the shoe removes the need to bend down, allowing users to instead step on the heel with their opposite foot, slide inside, and release the heel to encase their foot. Engineering the shoe focused on more than its mechanics: Ricciardi and her team also needed to consider how the shoe would interact with the actual foot and user activities.
Her experiences at Carnegie Mellon, both academic and extracurricular, were the inspiration behind her career. “I’m a maker and an athlete. I enjoy many forms of art, have a love for sports, and spend my free time working on DIY (do it yourself) projects. Engineering footwear is the perfect combination of my studies, my talents, and my interests.”
She first became interested in working with products through her biomedical engineering capstone course, “it was the first time I really saw an opportunity in engineering consumer goods as a possibility,” she says. That, along with her place on the volleyball team, kickstarted her passion for athletic footwear. During the capstone course, Ricciardi and her group wanted to test orthotic solutions to help athletes. So, they teamed up with ActivAided Orthotics—a startup that resulted from the capstone the previous year—and doctors, to find solutions for ankle injuries in athletes.
Ricciardi graduated from CMU in 2014 with a dual degree in biomedical engineering and materials science and engineering. During her time, she founded the Women’s Club Volleyball team and was the executive officer of the Society of Women Engineers.