NTID graduate happy to finally be ‘ahead in life’

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A. Sue Weisler

Alexandra Johnson, an RIT/NTID student receiving her engineering degree from RIT’s Kate Gleason College of Engineering, is anxiously awaiting the start of her job with GE Aviation.

For students about to graduate from college, the future and its uncertainties can be an exciting yet unsettling time. But not for Alexandra Johnson, a May graduate of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, who accepted a job offer months before she even graduates.

Johnson, 23, of Mequon, Wisc., is moving to Lynn, Mass., to begin her career next month with GE Aviation, a provider of commercial and military jet engines, components, avionics and mechanical systems.

“I’m feeling pretty happy and confident where I’m going in the next couple of years,” she says. “I’m really excited to see what happens.”

The road leading to her graduation had many curves. Born in Atlanta, with moderate to severe hearing loss, her deafness wasn’t diagnosed until she was 6 months old. She lost her remaining hearing rapidly. She had a cochlear implant when she was 3 years old and a second, bilateral implant when she was 17.

Prior to college, Johnson attended public schools and a private oral school for the deaf. She used classroom captioning and notetakers, but she didn’t get to practice sign language much until coming to college.

“I spent a lot of time in the mainstream,” she says. “When I got to RIT, I felt like they had a nice mix between hearing and deaf interaction. I met all types of people here, deaf and hearing.”

Johnson completed two co-ops, including one involving tool inventory with GE Aviation. Next month she’ll begin her three-year assignment with GE, gaining experience rotating in various departments and taking in-house classes.

“I think for the first time in my life, I’m ahead in life,” she says. “When you have a disability, you’re always playing catch-up with the rest of the world. But I was able to get this really great job offer from GE in October. Now I know where I’m going to be for the next couple of years. And after I finish the program, I plan to apply there for another job. I’m pretty sure I will want to.”

And her future beyond that? “I expect it to be awesome,” she says. “If I become CEO, great. If I don’t, I’ll enjoy something I love to do, where I can’t wait to get out of bed every morning and go to work.”

Johnson says her interest in engineering began in high school. A counselor persuaded her to visit the various colleges at RIT, as did Gerry Buckley, NTID president.

“I really liked what I saw, especially the Kate Gleason College of Engineering,” she says. “I finally decided on RIT because NTID really helps with the support services, especially C-Print and the Speech Lab. I didn’t have to educate anyone again about my needs. I was sick and tired of that. I did that for four years in high school.”

While at RIT, she joined Pi Sigma Pi, a national honor co-ed fraternity, and Deaf Women in Engineering Group, and she wrote poems for Signatures, a literary and arts magazine.

“I’m going to remember all the people I’ve met, all the experiences I’ve had and all the opportunities I’ve gotten through the RIT co-op program,” she says. “I met a lot of really awesome people here. I had a lot of good experiences. I’ve really grown as a person and figured out what I really enjoy doing. I’m ready to move on. But I know I’ll miss RIT. It was a great experience. I know RIT was the best place for me.”