COLA Connections Newsletter: Spring 2018

Alumni Spotlight: Rhonda Frederick--From RIT to CEO of People Inc.

Although RIT awarded its final degrees in undergraduate social work in 2007, there is a strong, active group of Social Work alumni from the College of Liberal Arts.  One alumna, Rhonda Frederick, is President and CEO of People Inc., a human services agency in western New York aimed at helping families and people with disabilities live healthier, more independent and productive lives. Rhonda started at People Inc. as a social worker one month after her RIT graduation and has remained with the agency ever since—this year she will celebrate her 38th work anniversary! She reflects on how her RIT education helped her along the way.

Tell us about how your RIT experience influenced your life personally and professionally?

I am very proud to be an RIT alumnus. It is a fantastic school for learning outside of the traditional classroom. The diverse student population exposed me to things I had never experienced before – fine arts, technology, disabilities and people from all over the world.

How has a liberal arts education at a technology-focused university set you apart from your peers and colleagues?

Many people are surprised that RIT had a social work program. I truly believe it made me a better social worker – someone who saw so many sides of life and an understanding of what the world offered. Who knew what packaging science was in the late 70s? I did.

What were you involved in outside of the classroom at RIT?

My work-study job was as a tutor/note taker for students enrolled in NTID and other colleges. I sat in on classes I never would have been exposed to – especially in the business school. I also got to meet and work with so many exceptional NTID students whose life stories stay with me today.

What makes you most proud to be a tiger?

The school is held in such high regard and honestly, people are impressed when you say you’re an RIT graduate. My experience was so great that my sister followed me to RIT, but in a different field – nuclear medicine. We both got fantastic educations at two ends of the spectrum.

What challenges and successes have you experienced up to this point in your career?

I have been incredibly lucky to work at the same wonderful human services agency for almost 38 years. I got a job at People Inc. within a month of graduating from RIT. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in the field of social work and took a job in a group home working with individuals with developmental disabilities. I thought it would be temporary until I found my dream job. Little did I know – I already had it. I loved the individuals I worked with from the moment I walked into their home, and all these years later, I still love the job. I have had a fantastic career and it can be traced back to my experiences at RIT. My education prepared me well. Running a large organization has its challenges. We are dependent on New York State for most of our funding, as well as regulatory oversight. There have been good and bad times, but I am proud to say NYS values its relationships with not-for-profit agencies and is a champion for people with disabilities. We are headed in a whole new direction – a managed care environment – so we have a large learning curve, but I am optimistic that we will continue to provide exceptional services and supports to people with disabilities.

If you could go back to graduation day, what advice would you give yourself?

Cherish the years you spent here at RIT – maintain the great friendships you’ve made. Take what you’ve been given and try it all! Don’t doubt yourself – you’re ready for the world!