More than Luck

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Jim DeCaro had never heard of RIT/NTID when he interviewed for a job.

Administrator’s 3-year plan turns into 43-year career at NTID

When RIT/NTID officials wanted a deaf perspective on NTID’s newest building, Rosica Hall, Jim DeCaro knew where to go.

The professor and National Technical Institute for the Deaf dean emeritus turned to Philip Rubin, who attended NTID from 1970 until 1972 before he transferred to Cornell University to get a bachelor’s degree in architecture. Rubin, who owns his own business, Corey Design Studio in Palm Springs, Calif., submitted 18 pages of recommendations, including suggestions on color choices, sight lines and textures that would reduce visual fatigue. He also suggested ways to emphasize natural lighting in the research building, which opens this fall.

“That was a satisfying experience to realize this kid I taught in the ’70s, when I was not much older than him, is talking to these architects on a professional level about some things that I had no idea about,” says DeCaro.

For DeCaro, who will start his 43rd year at RIT/NTID this fall, the experience is one of many he can point to that shows he has accomplished what he set out to do.

DeCaro was a research associate at the University of Buffalo when he got a call from RIT/NTID about an open position. He had never heard of the place and he had never met a deaf person. DeCaro interviewed with D. Robert Frisina, founding director of NTID, who asked if he hired him, how would DeCaro know he was successful.

“I said I know I’ll be a success the day that a person who is deaf and highly qualified takes my job,” says DeCaro, who became the first faculty member in NTID’s civil engineering technology program.

He had planned to return to graduate school after teaching for a few years until he met Pat Mudgett, whose parents were deaf. She started her career at NTID in 1970 tutoring and interpreting for biology students. They got married in 1972.

“I got here because of luck. Someone got my résumé,” DeCaro says. “And then I married into it. But you don’t stay for 40 years simply because you marry into something. There’s an extraordinary innate value in working with young people.”

DeCaro got his Ph.D. from Syracuse University and moved into a series of leadership roles at NTID as an instructional development specialist, department chair and division director. He was named dean of NTID in 1985 and kept that title until 1998. (He returned as interim director in December 2009 before Gerry Buckley was named president and dean in 2011.)

He is now director of the NTID Center on Access Technology and principal investigator of the Pre-College Education Network (P-CEN) funded by The Nippon Foundation of Japan, which has invested $15 million in his work over the past 13 years. DeCaro says he still has work to do with P-CEN, but when he retires, he will feel good about how far RIT/NTID has progressed in 40 years.

He only has to look at NTID’s first alumnus president Buckley ’78 (social work), whom DeCaro knew as a student. And to the other student success stories such as Rubin. Rubin says he was a student in DeCaro’s statistics class and because DeCaro was close to his age, he was very approachable. “In addition, he had an Afro hairdo which I also had,” Rubin says. “He was a role model regarding love and passion for his work. It served me well over the years.”