NIU Degree Impacts Keith Liden, M.S. '79, Both Professionally and Personally

Keith Liden, M.S. '79, is this year's NIU Alumni Achievement in the Sciences Award winner.

Keith Liden, M.S. ’79, credits his NIU education with giving him the agility to excel in a variety of fields. Liden has found success in textiles, food products, pharmaceuticals and criminal procedure, but through his varied and illustrious career, he never forgot his alma mater.

“Keith is the epitome of what a Huskie should be,” said Paula Meyer, director of communications in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and one of Liden’s nominators. “Yes, you need academic excellence, but you also need a sense of community and a commitment to service.”

Liden completed his master’s degree in biology with the intention of working in the pharmaceutical industry. But the job market in pharmaceuticals was awful. He took a job instead at a textile plant in South Carolina where he managed dyeing and finishing operations.

“I was able to operate in that environment because my education was strong in chemistry,” he said. “You can’t be a good biologist unless you are a fairly decent chemist as well. Northern made sure I was both.”

Liden then went to work as the technical director for quality assurance at Fleischmann’s Yeast, where he applied what he knew about physiology and fermentation to get better performance out of the facility’s wastewater treatment system.

“I realized and understood what was happening not only because of what Northern taught me in biology, but because Northern taught me how to do research and solve problems and come up with solutions on my own,” he said.

In 1990, Liden went to work for pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, where he spent the next 20 years overseeing quality assurance of medicines for people and
animals. He detected a case of counterfeiting in which a medical distributor was refilling empty antibiotic vials with water and reselling them. He worked with the Food and Drug Administration to stop the counterfeiter, and was so interested in the investigations process he obtained a master’s degree in criminal justice and became licensed as a private investigator.

Liden said his career has been deeply influenced by the last assignment given to him by his graduate adviser, Dr. Arne Schjeide. After Liden defended his thesis, Schjeide told him to write down everything he had learned outside the classroom. Liden distilled the lessons into four key tenets he said he carries with him to this day.

“The first is integrity. Be truthful and honest in every aspect of your personal and professional life. It is essential to attaining and sustaining leadership,” he said. “The second is set clear goals and persevere to attain them. The third is be willing to change, because if you seek something radically new, your attitude and behavior have to be different to get there. And the fourth one is kindness.”

Meyer said Liden is a living example of those lessons and that he applies them to better the lives of current NIU students. He travels regularly from his home in Indiana back to campus to speak to biology classes. He has given to the college for nearly two decades and established a scholarship in the biology department. He is also in his second term of service on the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Advisory Council.

“Keith never lost his love for his alma mater and has always been willing to give back,” Meyer said. “It is important to him that current students get the same opportunities he had. His was the first name that came to mind when I learned there was an Alumni Achievement Award in the Sciences, because he has made and continues to make such a great impact on students.”

The 2019 Alumni Awards Luncheon photo album