NTID summer program gives high school students a chance for self-exploration
A lot of classroom learning goes on during the summer at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. But a different type of education – one of self awareness – occurs as deaf and hard-of-hearing high school students from around the country come together for a six-day Explore Your Future session.
Celebrating its 25th summer this year, EYF began in 1985 with just 18 high school juniors who came to the RIT/NTID campus to explore career options. This year, more than 200 students participated over two weeks in July.
One of the pioneering students was Kathleen Moran-Doskos ’91 (social work), now an NTID counselor. “I remember some of the staff who were working there during the first EYF and still keep in touch with them.”
“The point is not to pick a career then, it is to encourage students to ask questions and start thinking, ‘What fits me?’ ” says Robb Adams, chairman of NTID’s Counseling and Academic Services Department and a counselor at the first EYF.
Just as important is the socialization the students have with their peers. In many cases, the students may be the only deaf student in their high school. Here, they make friends they can communicate with – whether they use their voice, sign language or both.
“A lot of real bonding goes on during EYF,” Adams says. “At the end of six days, they build relationships that will last their whole lives.”
Nearly 100 RIT/NTID faculty, staff, students and others work with the EYF campers.
Gerry Buckley, NTID’s assistant vice president for College Advancement, says EYF was established when the U.S. Department of Education noted that individuals with disabilities often didn’t attend or succeed at college.
“In 1985, NTID already had 15 years of experience working with deaf and hard-of-hearing students with career decision making and student development,” Buckley says. “We also knew the value and power involved in exposing students to role models both in the classroom and in the residence halls. We were well aware of the shift in educational placement from residential to mainstream schools and were proactive in planning educational models that would meet the transitional needs of this evolving population.”
For two decades, Jean Bondi-Wolcott was the EYF director until her retirement in 2005. She was the program’s biggest cheerleader and is fondly regarded as “the mother of EYF,” Buckley says. Debbye Byrne ’01 (applied arts and sciences) now holds the reins.
Del Dagel, an NTID counselor, has worked at every EYF, most recently as the coordinator of student testing and the dozen EYF counselors. He says the students are tested to determine whether they are introverts or extroverts, and they learn about personality types and corresponding career options.
“The students are very attentive, eager to learn and eager to meet other students as well,” Dagel says. “The reward is that you have these young people who are so excited to be on campus – not just for the program itself, but the overall experience of what it’s like to be a college student.
“Not only do we promote teaching and learning and education, we’re trying to promote the whole notion of thinking about continuing your education – and it doesn’t have to be on the RIT campus.” However, about 70 percent of students in the EYF program apply to attend RIT/NTID.
Rob Rice ’97 (business administration) witnessed the transformations of students over a matter of days when he worked as a resident director for EYF in the early 1990s. He is now president and managing partner of BayFirst Solutions in Washington and a member of NTID’s Foundation Board of Directors and RIT’s President’s Roundtable.
“EYF for many high school students is an opportunity to meet other deaf peers and realize that they are simply not alone in this hearing world,” Rice says. “To be immersed in a collegiate environment where one doesn’t struggle to communicate is just an incredible social experience and one exhilarating enough to have students realize that RIT is a welcoming place they can return to upon graduation from high school.”
Scot Atkins ’94, ’97 (business administration, career and human resource development), a member of NTID’s National Advisory Group and director of Organizational Development and Human Resources at Interpretek, worked as a mentor during EYF’s second year in 1986.
“There was always something going on in the evenings and the mentors played an active role in those activities,” Atkins says. “We had field trips, a tour of Rochester, ice cream and activities in the Red Barn (RIT’s interactive adventures facility). We had students practically from all over the U.S., many of whom had never met other deaf people from other places. It was fun to see friendships develop throughout the week. Some friendships have lasted to this very day.”
Although the core mission remains the same, the classroom activities have evolved as technology and career options have changed over the years.
“Despite the technological advancement over the years with Facebook and video games, students at that age are always searching for that special connection to the world as they become more independent,” Atkins says. “EYF helps to foster those connections through a glimpse of technical careers and through the development of life-long friendships.”
The students pay $650 to attend EYF, which includes their housing and meals. Vocational Rehabilitation in some states may help with expenses because students receive needed testing during EYF. Private scholarships may also be awarded to students, and a drive is underway to increase the scholarship pool for future students.
After 25 years, EYF has found a recipe that works. Almost unanimously, participating students and their parents agree EYF is a positive experience.
“It’s always exciting. There is new energy, it’s never boring and it doesn’t get old,” Adams says. “It was always an exciting program to be involved in. And the parents are very appreciative. They say their kids changed when they came home – they grew up a lot in that week.”
Buckley agrees. “I often hear parents and teachers comment on the value of EYF,” he says. “Often teachers will say that once a student has attended EYF, all of the ‘preaching’ about preparing for college that students hear from their teachers and parents hits home and makes sense.”