experiment proved truly grand
a unique 35-year journey
Lyndon B. Johnson signs the National Technical Institute for
the Deaf Act at a White House ceremony on June 8, 1965.
Lets start at
the beginning and give credit where its due: Hettie Shumway.
This remarkable woman, wife of RIT benefactor F. Ritter Shumway,
was the most vocal, charming and persistent supporter of having
the National Technical Institute for the Deaf brought to RIT in
the 1960s. When Shumway heard from a government official that
plans were underway to select a host institution for NTID, she
marched into RIT President Mark Ellingsons office and boldly
declared, I just heard about a wonderful thing I think we
should have at RIT. We are a technical institute. We ought to
be in this field.
Her idea was met with
modest enthusiasm and a promise to investigate further, but that
wasnt good enough for Shumway: She recruited and then educated
civic leaders, educators, and Board of Trustees members about
the many benefits this fledgling college could bring to RIT. If
not for Hettie Shumway, NTID might not be here at all.
And RIT would be a
very different place. Provost Stanley McKenzie, whose career at
RIT began in 1967, observes, Three things stand out in my
mind as most significant about NTIDs presence at RIT. First,
the complete assimilation of deaf and hard-of-hearing people into
the life of the institute at every level. For instance, no one
here blinks an eye at having an interpreter standing next to us
signing, while visitors always are amazed at this phenomenon.
Second is the widespread desire of hearing faculty, staff, and
students to learn American Sign Language, not only to communicate
more easily with deaf members of our community, but also to participate
in such an expressive mode of communication.
most important, are the significant numbers of deaf students pursuing
degrees, working side-by-side with their hearing counterparts
on group projects and teams, finding success in their own endeavors
and contributing so much to the educational experience here.
The need for such a
college can be traced to post-World War II America. The contributions
of thousands of technically savvy deaf workers filling in for
those called to service ignited a drive to establish some sort
of formal technical educational opportunity for the nations
Gathering support in
pockets around the country, the effort culminated with the 1965
signing of Public Law 89-36, the National Technical Institute
for the Deaf Act, by President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Johnson
then appointed an advisory group to prepare guidelines and review
proposals from colleges around the country who wanted to host
NTID. RIT was selected in 1966 over other contenders including
the universities of Pittsburgh, Tennessee, and Illinois. Robert
Frisina, then a professor of audiology at Gallaudet College (now
University) in Washington, D.C., became founding director.
RIT was beginning
its transition from a local technical institute to a multi-college
technological university, recalls Frisina. The acquisition
of this federal enterprise gave immediate national attention to
RIT that assisted significantly in its drive toward university
Frisina, who had just
one year to hire faculty members, find classroom space, and design
curricular offerings, surrounded himself with a core group of
planners who shared his belief that educating deaf students at
RIT was both a viable and enviable proposition. He recruited faculty
members from colleges, business and industry, and secondary schools
for the deaf from as close as Pittsburgh and as far away as California.
Those willing to make this somewhat risky career move all believed
that they were part of something bigger than themselves, and they
brought with them extraordinary talents, passion, and creativity.
was broken on June 4, 1971, for construction of the NTID complex.
Four students participated, from left: Linda Kessler 73,
Thomas Tyberg 71, Barbara Kowalczik 73 and Charles
I fondly recall
the camaraderie, the excitement, the challenge and quest of adventure
that characterized the pioneering spirit of the faculty,
says NTID professor emeritus Robert Panara, who was enticed by
Frisina to NTID from Gallaudet.
The charter class of
70 students who came in 1968 was blissfully unaware of the whirlwind
of activities that had preceded their arrival: months of intensive
sessions with residence hall advisors, administrators and student
leaders; visits to Gallaudet, the nations only college for
deaf students at the time; meetings with community representatives
from business, industry, and education all in preparation
for what became known as The Grand Experiment.
I was incredibly
proud to be a member of NTIDs first entering class,
says William Ingraham, who received a bachelors degree in
business administration/accounting in 1971. I had transferred
from Alfred State College to RIT and found my studies so much
easier because of the interpreters and notetakers available. I
also had the good fortune of having a wonderful RIT professor
(William Gasser, who taught tax accounting) who took great interest
in me and was largely responsible for helping me get a position
with the Internal Revenue Service, where Ive worked for
the past 34 years.
To Frisina and his
fellow planners credit, those programs first offered by
NTID in 1968 remained the cornerstone of NTIDs curriculum
for the next several decades, with modifications made only to
reflect current job market demands. Beyond those program choices,
however, newly appointed dean William Castle and Frisina channeled
time and energy into creating what they believed would be more
natural opportunities for deaf and hearing students to interact
in creative settings outside of classes sports, performing
arts, and social clubs.
Recalls 1998 social
work graduate Liz Stone, RIT gave me opportunities to grow
in so many different dimensions. I was extremely active in a variety
of groups, which taught me the art of time management as well
as the importance of community rapport. Those programs I chose
to participate in outside of class were the most appealing and
were what sparked my interest in making social change for deaf
Eight years after opening,
its student population growing by leaps and bounds, NTID dedicated
a $27.5 million facility comprising the Lyndon Baines Johnson
academic building, the Hettie Shumway dining commons and the Ellingson-Peterson-Bell
residence hall complex. Those facilities would be put to the test
in just six years, as the rubella epidemic of the 1960s caused
a tremendous surge in the numbers of deaf youngsters ready for
college in the early 1980s.
Preparing for and accommodating
that wave of students occupied most of NTIDs strategic plans
for the next several years. The Hugh L. Carey academic building
named for the former congressman and New York governor
who sponsored the original legislation that created NTID
was added in 1984, the same year a record number of students
1,319 enrolled at NTID.
provides students with a top-notch educational environment
and rich cultural experiences including an acclaimed performing
At the end of this
decade of growth, during which NTID built a new telecommunications
lab, a staff resource center, and established a scholarship fund
in Panaras name, an event occurred in Washington, D.C.,
that changed the face of deaf culture forever.
The furor erupting
over the naming of a hearing candidate as president of Gallaudet
College in 1988 attracted worldwide media attention and marked
a turning point not only for Gallaudet, but for NTID and the worlds
deaf community as well. The event brought together NTID and Gallaudet
students in a show of unity and support and jumpstarted an empowerment
movement that still is evolving today.
Kevin Ryan 89
was one of three student leaders on several busloads of NTID students
who made the historic trip to Washington to support the Gallaudet
What a great
experience it was for me, Ryan recalls. We planned
the trip, took about 150 people, and helped the Gallaudet students
with their list of demands. We had so many deaf people working
together and no problems. After it was all over (I. King
Jordan, a deaf man, was named president), we were completely worn
Back at NTID, students
showed new forthrightness in asking to participate more fully
in decision-making on governing boards on campus. A deaf attorney,
Bonnie Tucker, was appointed to the RIT Board of Trustees. (Other
deaf trustees, most recently Al Pimentel and Jane Pulver, have
New communication guidelines
at NTID mandated that faculty and staff members further develop
their sign language skills as a requirement for tenure. The colleges
Deaf Professionals Group emerged to represent the increasing numbers
of deaf faculty members and administrators, many of them RIT graduates.
As NTID turned the
corner into the final decade of the 20th century, the empowerment
movement gained strength with the 1996 appointment of Robert Davila
as RITs first deaf vice president for NTID. This articulate,
charismatic spokesperson brought extensive educational and government
experience as well as a keen desire to open NTIDs doors
beyond Rochester, beyond New York, and beyond the United States.
Davila became RITs first deaf vice president for NTID
When I became
CEO, Davila says, I reiterated my belief that NTIDs
service responsibilities should be global rather than domestic
by encouraging a wide range of international activities and projects.
His timing was perfect.
As nationally recognized experts on topics ranging from how to
teach deaf students science and math to how to train professional
interpreters (NTID already had established the countrys
first interpreter training program), NTID faculty and staff members
increasingly found themselves in demand at destinations worldwide.
The most potentially
far reaching of these endeavors began in 2001, when former NTID
dean James J. DeCaro undertook a new initiative designed to share
NTIDs cumulative knowledge with leaders of deaf education
in other nations.
The Postsecondary Education
Network-International (PEN-International), a $6 million program
funded primarily by The Nippon Foundation of Japan, was created
to help universities around the world apply state-of-the art instructional
technologies and improve and update their technical curricula
(see accompanying story).
says RIT President Albert Simone, will allow deaf and hard-of-hearing
students in other countries to have the same opportunities that
American students have here. While NTID is a unique national model,
its acclaim and recognition are truly worldwide.
decades-old reputation for academic excellence is exactly why
companies both here and abroad turn to NTID for qualified graduates
who need little on-the-job training. The colleges 94 percent
employment rate over the last five years includes more than 50
percent of graduates working in professional and technical specialties.
The majority of those
not in the employment sector have chosen, like recent graduate
Katherine Hoheusle, to continue their education. Hoheusle, who
received a bachelors degree in imaging science in 2000,
took a job with IBM in Boulder, Col., after graduation and just
began her masters degree program in aerospace engineering
sciences at the University of Colorado.
The most important
thing I learned at RIT is that in life, the only boundaries that
exist are the ones you make on yourself. I picked a tough major,
but made it through with help and encouragement from my fellow
students in the program as well as some outstanding faculty members
who helped me grow. I loved the balance of hearing and deaf students.
NTID is where I found my identity as a deaf person.
The challenge of the
next decade, according to Davila, will be to gather more
information about the work experiences of alumni like Katie. How
are they faring five, 10, and 15 years after graduation? What
issues must they deal with in order to gain upward mobility and
job security? What are their continuing education needs? So many
questions, but the answers are paramount if we are to create an
effective feedback loop to allow us to design program
changes to remain current.
This summer, NTID prepares
to welcome back a large number of its more than 4,500 graduates
when the college hosts its 35th alumni reunion in July. One wonders
whether those pioneering faculty, staff, and students from NTIDs
first class could ever have envisioned the breadth and reach of
what once seemed an impossible dream.
Concludes Davila, who
will retire June 30 this year, Beyond question, the past
has been a glowing prologue, but the future will be even more