Colleges earn funding to advance research opportunities

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Carol Marchetti, center, is working with sign language interpreters, tutors and current students to modify teaching methods in introductory statistics classes to better enable learning by deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

Over the last decade, RIT has undertaken a broad effort to expand research activities on campus with the goals of assisting faculty in advancing their research portfolios, enhancing opportunities for students and promoting discovery and innovation in a host of fields.

The Office of the Vice President for Research has sought to further this effort through a number of initiatives and seed-funding programs, including the recently established Sponsored Research Assistance Fund. The effort provides funding to individual colleges to advance new areas of interest, promote faculty-student engagement and enhance overall support for research. All colleges were invited to submit proposals on how they would utilize funds to grow research in their areas, and awards of $100,000 each were made to the College of Science, College of Liberal Arts and NTID.

“This program allows RIT to better identify and address areas of need that are specific to individual colleges, while also promoting the overall environment for research on campus,” says Ryne Raffaelle, vice president for research and associate provost. 

Through the program, the College of Science is increasing support for the Dean’s Research Initiation Grant, which assists faculty members in developing new areas of inquiry that may not be ready for application to externally funded grant programs. For example, Aktar Khan, assistant professor of mathematics, received an initiation grant to develop a new computational framework for detecting cancerous tumors. Current models being used can only provide a range of locations, which increases the need for invasive procedures and imaging to provide more accurate data. The optimization-based formulation Khan is creating will more accurately identify the specific location of tumors in less time than current systems. 

“This grant has greatly enhanced the development of the project and will assist overall model design and testing,” Khan says. “By creating more usable models we can ultimately provide doctors with a better tool to detect tumors and assess cancer growth.” 

NTID is utilizing the funding to further develop the Research Center for Teaching and Learning. The center seeks to advance understanding of how deaf people learn as well as the modification of teaching methods to better meet the needs of deaf and hard-of-hearing students. The center has provided grants to multidisciplinary teams across RIT, which are focusing on improving teaching techniques.

A team led by Carol Marchetti, associate professor of statistics, is modifying teaching methods in introductory statistics classes to better enable learning by deaf students. Marchetti is working with interpreters, tutors and deaf students to create novel communication tools to more accurately present complex concepts.

“Some statistical concepts are difficult to translate into American Sign Language, and so students who rely on the interpreter were not always getting the concepts,” Marchetti says. “By creating better methods for communicating these principles, we can improve statistics education for both deaf and hearing students.”

Through a cross-college collaboration, NTID and the College of Liberal Arts are also utilizing research assistance funds to promote humanities research in deaf education, psychology and communication. 

In addition, the assistance fund also provided support to the Institute for Health Sciences and Technology to expand technical infrastructure support for research being conducted by faculty and students.

“The efforts funded through this initiative further highlight the depth and breadth of the scholarship being conducted and the potential growth opportunities for research on campus,” Raffaelle adds.