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The relationship between RIT and Kodak has produced many benefits for both.

It’s a partnership that more closely resembles a motion picture than a snapshot. Over the years, the bond that ties Eastman Kodak Co. and Rochester Institute of Technology has been constantly evolving – never static.

It’s true that the relationship started with a snapshot – so to speak. Just over 100 years ago, RIT began offering photographic education while Kodak was well on its way to making photography available to the masses. The connection quickly became obvious.

Daniel Carp '73,
Kodak chairman and CEO

Today, the opportunities for collaboration between these two institutions extend well beyond the range of photography, including groundbreaking research in areas such as imaging science and information technology.

“You’d be hard pressed to find two separate, independent, world-class leaders that are more closely allied than ours,” states Daniel Carp ’73 (MBA), Kodak chairman and CEO. “We’ve been partners in education, in research and in community service, well before the company was known as Kodak and the school was called RIT.”

Right from the start

The relationship started in 1887, when Kodak founder George Eastman made his first contribution – $50 – to Mechanics Institute, the predecessor to RIT.

Eastman served as chairman of the board of trustees for three years. Over the years, other Kodak managers have served on the board, including five current members.

Sharing the talent and dedication of Kodak personnel is an important legacy of this partnership. One of the more notable examples came in 1930 when the company loaned photography expert and technical writer C.B. Neblette to the institute full time. Neblette, one of the most influential personalities in the field, was charged with making RIT’s photography program the largest and the best of its kind. He directed the department and later the School of Photography from 1936 to 1960 and became the first dean of the College of Graphic Arts and Photography, holding that post until 1967.

“As a result, Kodak became very influential in the establishment of our photo school,” explains Bill DuBois, RIT’s chair of photographic arts.

C.B. Neblette, who led the School of Photography from 1936 to 1967, originally came to RIT on loan from Kodak. Photo credit: Archives and Special Collections, RIT Library.

In the school’s early days, the company provided supplies to support the technical side of photography, including film. Later, Kodak supplied professional reference books to every incoming photo student. These technical and scientific guides offered important insights in areas like lighting, film technology, chemistry and the marketing of photography.

And as the field of photography marches into the digital era, Kodak has committed its support to RIT in the development of digital photography laboratories on campus.

“Kodak has always been there and ready in a variety of ways to support us in the education of our students,” says DuBois.

Science and scholarship

Beyond traditional photography, a growing number of other collaborative areas have served to significantly strengthen this bond. In recent years, Kodak has become a driving force in research conducted at RIT’s Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science (CIS).

Modern imaging systems require an increasing proficiency in science and technology. CIS is dedicated to training the next generation of scientists by establishing a collaborative research environment that challenges students to solve problems facing industry and government.

As a founding member of the Laboratory for Advanced Spectral Sensing (LASS) at CIS, Kodak’s support is addressing questions related to remote spectral sensing. To do that, CIS researchers have significantly improved the techniques used to create “mega-scenes” – large scale, computer simulations of specific landscapes used to test the performance of satellite sensors. Previously, these representations were much smaller and less accurate.

Data collected at ground level is used to support information collected by aircraft or satellites by measuring spectra – the light reflected or emitted by objects. A large number of spectra are required to produce accurate textures of materials such as grass and concrete. Combining these factors helps satellite developers to predict the performance of their systems based on atmospheric conditions and other variables. The potential implications range from determining crop health to evaluating factors related to homeland security.

With Kodak's support, RIT imaging scientists are pursuing research in remote spectral sensing. One area involves developing computer-generated “mega-scenes” used in the development of remote sensing systems.

“Our goal is always to provide something tangible in exchange for Kodak’s research support,” explains Michael Richardson, LASS director. “We’ve been able to develop software tools that are now being used in a number of projects. That wouldn’t be possible if not for the work done here.”

Future research depends on attracting more students to imaging science. To this end, Kodak is providing CIS with scholarship money for undergraduate students and for a program that shows high school teachers how to incorporate imaging science into their lesson plans. The company also funds annual paid summer internships that give qualified high school students hands-on experience in imaging science.

The impact of Kodak’s support can be witnessed across campus. For example, the Information Technology Collaboratory is an industry partnership focusing on research related to microsystems, photonics, remote systems and high-bandwidth telecom networks. Its mission is to create key technologies, knowledge and capabilities for the design and integration of the next generation of IT systems.

The company also has worked closely with the National Center for Remanufacturing and Resource Recovery at RIT’s Center for Integrated Manufacturing Studies (CIMS) to develop an economical recycling process for single-use cameras.

Most recently, Kodak has been evaluating an effort to capitalize on RIT’s print media expertise to investigate how to print low-cost electronics.

A winning team

Maintaining a continuous flow of communication is critical to enhancing the future of any partnership. That philosophy is driving the company’s “Vertical Slice” team for university relations, represented by a cross section of Kodak employees from various divisions. Kodak Chief Administrative Officer Michael P. Morley ’69 (business administration), an RIT trustee, steers the group with team leader Stephanie Maddox ’01 (M.S., manufacturing engineering and product design) from Kodak’s Worldwide Information Division. The 14 members of the team – all RIT alums – range from engineers to some of Kodak’s top administrators. Working with RIT representatives, the team is able to present its key growth areas while identifying current and emerging areas of technical engagement at RIT.

Kodak Chief Administrative Officer Michael P. Morley '69 (left), Stephanie Maddox '01 and RIT Alumni Network Board of Directors Chair Ken Reed '71 serve on Kodak's “Vertical Slice” team, charged with identifying current and emerging areas of technical engagement at RIT.

Among the priorities of the Vertical Slice team is sustaining the employment pipeline. Kodak estimates that more than a third of its new hires each year are RIT graduates – far more than any other college or university. In total, there are nearly 3,900 RIT alumni employed by the company – making Kodak the largest employer of RIT graduates.

“We strive to promote Kodak as the employer of choice among RIT graduates,” explains Maddox. “In addition, it’s important for us to explore ways to enhance the day-to-day connections with various contacts on campus including students, faculty and administrators.”

The team has focused much of its effort on creating co-op jobs for students, as well as identifying long-term strategies for career development.

To heighten its visibility at RIT, Kodak recently sponsored a full day of activities encouraging participation by students, faculty and staff. RIT president Albert Simone welcomed Antonio Perez, Kodak’s president and chief operating officer, as the featured speaker during a collaborative luncheon. In addition, Carl Gustin, Kodak’s chief marketing officer and senior vice president, delivered a presentation on the future of the Kodak brand in the digital marketplace.

Other highlights included tours of the Kodak Picture Planet, a 1,000 square-foot mobile venue designed to educate and entertain consumers about photographic products and solutions. Kodak’s NASCAR “show car” was also on display, and there were a variety of gift giveaways. Organizers say events like these are important to assure that the relationship remains cohesive.

“There’s a great deal of synergy between the outstanding educational centers of excellence at RIT and the areas of great technological depth at Kodak,” says Kenneth Reed ’71 (chemistry), Kodak senior principal scientist, RIT trustee and chair of the RIT Alumni Network Board of Directors. “It’s important that we never take that for granted.”

Building on diversity

To build a more effective workforce, Kodak and RIT have fostered an increasing emphasis on diversity. During his address at an RIT diversity workshop last year, CEO Carp acknowledged that Kodak and other companies will draw future employees from a talent pool that will include more women, minorities and immigrants. He believes that RIT’s culture makes the university well positioned to train the next generation of workers.

RIT and Kodak celebrated their long-term partnership at the first Kodak Day on Oct. 9. The festivities included a visit by Kodak's NASCAR show car.

Trustee Morley emphasizes that growing the university’s inclusive culture remains a key priority for both institutions. “It’s the diversity of our faculty, staff and students that drives the success of RIT,” he states. “And by creating a diverse workforce at Kodak, we are better able to serve the needs of the entire marketplace.”

During most of her 21-year career at Kodak, Essie Calhoun (recently elected to the RIT Board of Trustees) has worked hard to build and strengthen the company’s relationship with diverse organizations. The Kodak vice president, chief diversity officer and director of community affairs is an active supporter of African American, Latin American and Native American leadership programs at RIT.

“It’s an expectation from us that RIT provides a representative workforce,” she explains. “These future leaders come to us prepared with an understanding of the dynamics of a diverse environment. We support and salute our partners in that effort.”

Future developments

Today’s Kodak-RIT relationship – a marriage comprising so many varied components – has never been more dynamic. For the company, it’s become an invaluable tool for navigating an altered business landscape.

“We’re undergoing a sea change,” reflects Carp, “evolving from a historically consumer film-based company to one with a broader and more balanced business portfolio. We are strengthening our commercial portfolio and aggressively pursuing the vast potential of digital imaging across many different businesses.”

That’s not to say that film photography – which initially tied these two institutions – won’t continue to play a role. It remains an important area of knowledge sharing that Kodak will leverage to grow its film business within emerging markets. In Carp’s view, there’s no limit to the potential for valuable exchanges within an increasingly active pipeline.

“We have a continual stream of people going back to RIT to consult on curriculum, to teach, to mentor students, and even to serve on the board of trustees. And RIT continues to provide Kodak with perspective on what’s current in technology and in academics – how innovations are received, how they’re developed and, in general, what’s on the minds of the curious innovators of the next generation.”

Paul Stella '03