RIT/NTID Student Research Fair touts cutting-edge work of undergraduate, graduate students

African-American female with short hair and glasses wearing a grey shirt standing in front of a poster.

Joan Bempong, a fifth-year BS/MS computer engineering student from Irving, Texas, believes that deaf women who use American Sign Language exhibit disparities in health literacy when compared to hearing women. She says limited health literacy may be caused by inaccessibility of mainstream information and healthcare services, as well as family communication difficulties. As a result, ineffective dissemination of health information also may have a significant impact upon deaf women’s mental and physical health. She hopes that her research will help develop a comprehensive framework for understanding how such health disparities occur and what steps can be taken to improve quality of life.

Abraham Glasser, a third-year computer science student from Rochester, N.Y., and Emily Lederman, a second-year computer science student from Morgantown, W.V., are using mathematical equations to determine worst-case scenarios for monitoring electric power networks. They hope one day their research will save power companies and consumers a lot of money.

On April 13, Bempong, Glasser and Lederman joined 61 other deaf and hard-of-hearing student researchers at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf’s Student Research Fair in Rosica Hall. The event gives undergraduate and graduate students, in partnership with faculty mentors, the opportunity to present posters or give demonstrations on topics related to health science, communication studies, access technology and environmental research, among others.

Todd Pagano, associate dean for teaching and scholarship excellence and founding director of NTID’s Laboratory Science Technology program, is among the coordinators of the research fair. Pagano said the research fair is unique because of the training that is offered to students ahead of time on writing and editing abstracts, designing research posters and presenting research to audiences.

“The projects we’re seeing are very sophisticated and diverse with a good mix of high-level science, math, healthcare and access technology research,” said Pagano. “We send many of our students to professional conferences to present their work, but the pinnacle of the experience for students often is having their research published. And a lot of what is seen here at the research fair has already been published.”

Musab Al-Smadi, a fourth-year software engineering student from Jordan, also presented his research. He is working on an inclusive mobile app using Near Field Communication that will enable deaf and hard-of-hearing museumgoers to fully explore their surroundings without facing barriers having to do with obtaining information about exhibits. For example, according to Al-Smadi, many museums offer visitors paper transcripts with exhibit descriptions. However, using transcripts can be inconvenient for patrons with varying levels of vision ability, or frustrating for those for whom English is a second language. The new app can be used on Android and iOS platforms and includes a keypad where users can type in the ID number of the exhibit to get the information or use their devices to hover over QR codes.

“Being able to work with faculty on relevant research has been a very positive experience,” said Al-Smadi. “We’re taking concepts that we’ve learned in the classroom and developing them even further for applications like this.”

Heather Smith, director of the NTID Motion Lab and senior lecturer in the 3D graphics technology program, creates and applies innovative projects using motion-capture technologies for product development, research and scholarship. She is working with a team of students to use motion capture to build an interactive, visual storytelling app with 360-degree views, animation, bilingual literacy and gaming. The app, Deaf Pioneer, teaches history dating back to the late 1800s and allows users to fully immerse themselves in the story.

“I am very fortunate to be a faculty member who works closely with deaf, hard of hearing and hearing students on their research projects,” said Smith. “I feel honored being part of their research journey as I share my wealth of knowledge and fuel them to fly higher and discover what is in store for them in the future. I try to become their mentor and their ally."

Bempong emphasized the quality of her research experience. “It has been a phenomenal experience. Given that I am a computer engineering student graduating with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, this research was fascinating in that it was completely different from my field of study. Because of the mentorship of Professor Deirdre Schlehofer, I was able to gain qualitative research skills, as well as more awareness about my own community and recognize the need to improve health literacy among us.”

The Student Research Fair is funded by the NTID Office of the President and jointly sponsored by the Associate Dean for Teaching and Scholarship Excellence and the Associate Dean of Research.

RIT/NTID develops museum accessibility mobile app

Two men, one with white hair and one with dark hair, looking at a mobile phone in front of artwork.

Art lovers who are deaf or hard-of-hearing soon will have access to a deeper, richer museum experience, thanks to Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf. The college is launching a mobile app to be used in its Dyer Arts Center that provides content in various forms, including video in American Sign Language, transcripts and audio and visual descriptions. The app was developed by members of RIT/NTID’s Center on Access Technology in cooperation with Dyer personnel and deaf and hard-of-hearing students from two of RIT’s other colleges: the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing & Information Sciences and the College of Imaging Arts and Science.

Wendy Dannels, Center on Access Technology research faculty member, mentors several part-time and co-op student employees on this one of a kind accessibility project. “It is a joy witnessing students building good character and self-confidence navigating this new technology,” she said.

The app will describe works on exhibit in three locations on the RIT campus: the NTID President’s Hallway, Rosica Hall and the arts center itself. There is a map showing the locations for the various exhibits contained within the app.

Information on the various art pieces can be accessed three ways: through a numbered system near each art piece that can be entered manually into the app, by taking a photo of a QR code, or though NFC, or Near Field Communication, a short range wireless communication technology that allows two devices equipped with NFC technology to communicate with each other and share information as soon as they are close to one another.

Additionally, the app, powered by Museum Accessibility Intelligence, or MUSEAI™, contains an option that has been developed for use by those with vision issues, using a dark background, large font size, visual descriptor and audio description. Associate Director of the Center on Access Technology, Brian Trager, foresees a huge impact in end-users’ experiences using MUSEAI.

“MUSEAI is a unique platform for museum goers to enjoy and view additional content regarding an exhibit, artwork, historical facts and more,” Trager said. “What makes MUSEAI unique is that we designed accessibility to be the forefront of this technology to enable an enjoyable experience for everyone. MUSEAI serves as the cornerstone for accessibility, and the NTID Center on Access Technology aims to raise the bar higher for museums across the globe.”

After the unveiling, focus groups will provide feedback as perpetual testing continues to refine the app and its abilities.

“We’re very excited about testing and launching the Dyer Arts App,” said Dyer Arts Center director Tabitha Jacques. “It will be especially helpful during NTID’s 50th Anniversary Reunion, happening June 28-July 1, when more than 2,500 people will be on campus – many of whom have never seen the Dyer Arts Center.”

RIT/NTID is home to one of the largest permanent collections of works by Deaf and hard-of-hearing artists in the world.

National Advisory Group Award presented to Dr. Barry Culhane

light skinned man in a dark suit and tie made of flag replicas.

Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf recently recognized Dr. Barry Culhane, executive assistant to the president of Rochester Institute of Technology, with the 2018 National Advisory Group Outstanding Service Award. The group was formed during the establishment of NTID in the 1960s, and this is their highest honor.

Culhane began his RIT career at NTID, first as a research associate for the division of integrated educational programs in 1974, then as department chair for General Education Programs, moving into the associate dean role in that area. He became the assistant vice president for RIT Campus Life, and later returned to teach at NTID.

In 1993, he became RIT student ombudsman and then project assistant to President Al Simone, going on to serve three RIT presidents, and receiving the RIT Four Presidents Award for Distinguished Public Service in 2004.

During his career at RIT, Culhane served on the NTID Promotions Task Force, was an advisor to the Computer Science House and the NTID Student Congress, and served on RIT’s United Way Steering Committee.

“Barry has been a staunch advocate for NTID and our deaf and hard-of-hearing students, and his student-centered approach has been the hallmark of his outstanding career,” Christopher Lehfeldt, National Advisory Group chairperson, said. “In his time working with RIT’s presidents, he has shared with them the rich history of NTID, helping them to gain a deeper understanding of our work here.”

Culhane is equally known for his dedication to the Rochester Community, serving as board member of Junior Achievement of Rochester, Rochester Area Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Al Sigl Center and many others and as chairman of the Greater Rochester Vietnam Memorial Committee.  

His dedication to veterans has bridged Culhane’s work at RIT and the community, making RIT’s annual Veteran’s Breakfast a moving tribute. In 2012 he was inducted into the New York State Veterans Senate Hall of Fame. That same year, he received the Edwin and Jacqueline Harris Award for service to veterans by the Veterans Outreach Center of Rochester, and was recognized with the Lifetime Achievement Award for service to veterans.

Ten years ago, former RIT President Bill Destler suggested that RIT develop a showcase for the community to experience all of the exciting happenings on campus. From that suggestion came the largest, most popular event in the university’s history—Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival, which Culhane has chaired since its inception and been instrumental in its success.

“We all continue to benefit from Barry Culhane’s accomplishments both at NTID and RIT as well as in the community,” said Gerry Buckley, NTID president and RIT vice president and dean. “He always gives credit to others for their hard work and accomplishments, and this was our opportunity – and great pleasure – to honor him.”

RIT/NTID’s Nicole Pannullo named 2018 Goldwater Scholar

Light skinned female with dark hair and glasses wearing white lab coat standing in a science lab.

RIT/NTID’s Nicole Pannullo is among 211 students from across the nation to be recognized as Barry Goldwater Scholars. It is the highest undergraduate award of its kind for the fields of the natural sciences, math and engineering. She is the first deaf RIT student to earn the prestigious award.

Pannullo, a chemistry and materials science research scholar from East Patchogue, New York, was RIT’s only Goldwater Scholar this year. The university has had 34 recipients and honorable mentions since 2005.

Her research project title is “Probing the Two Orientations of Pal in Vesiculating E. Coli,” and her career goal is to obtain a Ph.D. in regenerative medicine and pursue a research career developing therapies for genetic disorders, preferably retinal diseases that have limited treatment options.

Her mentors include Lea Vacca Michel, associate professor in the School of Chemistry and Materials Science, RIT’s College of Science; Thomas Michael Redmond, section chief, and Eugenia Poliakov, staff scientist, National Eye Institute’s Laboratory of Retinal Cell and Molecular Biology; Morgan Bida, analytical instrumentation specialist, NTID Science and Mathematics Department; and Todd Pagano, professor of chemistry and associate dean for teaching and scholarship at NTID.

“Nicole is an incredibly talented young scientist, and we are so proud of her many accomplishments,” said Gerry Buckley, NTID president and RIT vice president and dean. “Being the first deaf RIT student to be awarded a Goldwater Scholarship is a great personal achievement for Nicole. She’s a trailblazer and role model for her deaf and hard-of-hearing peers.”

The scholarship recognizes exceptional college sophomores and juniors across the nation. This year, awardees were selected from a field of 1,280 undergraduates and were nominated by campus representatives from among 2,000 colleges and universities nationwide. They will receive up to $7,500 toward the cost of tuition, fees, books and room and board.

Of this year’s Goldwater Scholars, 29 are mathematics and computer science majors, 142 are majoring in the natural sciences, and 40 are majoring in engineering. Many are majoring in a combination of mathematics, science, engineering and computer science.

The scholarship honoring Sen. Barry Goldwater was designed to encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, natural sciences and engineering. Since its first award in 1989, the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation has bestowed 8,132 scholarships worth approximately $65 million.

RIT/NTID’s Ping Liu to receive leadership award

Young Asian woman with long dark hair wearing sleeveless black top.

When Ping Liu first arrived at RIT, she couldn’t speak English and didn’t know American Sign Language. Today, she is one of the most successful students in her major and is being recognized with the RIT Outstanding Service Award for International Students.

Liu, 24, is from a small village in northern China where her parents are farmers. Her dream school has been RIT since she was in middle school. An applied computer technology major, Liu hopes to earn her master’s degree in human-centered computing and eventually teach in China and one day work at the United Nations to help deaf people all over the world.

Like many international students, Liu arrived in the United States unaware of the hurdles she would have to overcome and adjustments she would have to make to be successful in the American educational system.

“I had a hard time communicating,” she said. “On the first day of class, I did not think I could stay in the United States for one more day. I felt so lonely and nervous.”

She soon joined RIT/NTID’s Asian Deaf Club as the cultural director and the Deaf International Student Association as the program director, and became an integral part of the college community.

But where Liu really shines is her passionate, enthusiastic promotion of RIT. She created a website to promote RIT among deaf Chinese students. She teaches ASL on the website, fields questions about RIT and applying to RIT, gives advice on taking the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), including feedback on student writing for the test. 

She also wants to establish a scholarship for Chinese students who are deaf. She is at RIT/NTID on scholarship and wants to give back.

“I want to do something good while I am here,” she said. “RIT has changed my life, and I want to do the same for others.”

The leadership awards and scholarship ceremony dinner takes place 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 18, in RIT’s University Gallery.

RIT/NTID and Microsoft launch partnership for AI-driven accessibility

Sandra Connelly and interpreter in biology class.

Today, Microsoft announced a partnership with Rochester Institute of Technology's National Technical Institute for the Deaf, which has piloted the use of Microsoft Translator language technology to transcribe lectures in real time to help students who are deaf or hard of hearing feel more engaged.

RIT/NTID's Center on Access Technology initiated a pilot program that leverages intelligent technology built around Microsoft Translator to transcribe a presenter’s spoken words and display them onscreen as text captions in real time, and in a language of their choice on a personal device. This solution is not meant to replace sign language, but rather expand classroom offerings for deaf and hard-of-hearing students by providing multiple channels of access that can be particularly useful for math, science and technical classes with subject matter that can be difficult to interpret.

To learn more about this program, visit the Microsoft AI Blog or check out the Microsoft Customer Stories case study video.

RIT/NTID alumnus finds freedom in the skies

Male student with backpack standing outdoors in front of a lake, mountains and trees.

RIT/NTID mechanical engineering alumnus Asher Kirschbaum became fascinated with flying at a young age.

“I remember one of my first flights,” he said. “I was around six years old, and I was flying to Florida to visit my great-grandmother. I was amazed at how a device weighing tons is able to lift off the ground effortlessly. This amazement never wore off.”

Kirschbaum has been named to the Able Flight class of 2018. Able Flight, created by pilots “who believe that the life-changing experience of learning to fly is best shared,” designed the Able Flight Scholarship to enable people with disabilities to pursue that experience. There are eight members of this year’s class, who come from across the country and have a variety of disabilities.

“I went to RIT to study engineering so I could understand how planes and rockets really work,” said the Washington Grove, Maryland, native. “I never thought about flying one myself until I met a guy who told me about the program. I immediately realized that it was something I would love to do, and that ignited a new passion in me.” 

Kirschbaum learned about the Able Flight program when he went to an event called Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities. “They had break-out sessions, and I could pick which company's session to attend. All of the sessions I went to were hosted by aerospace companies. One of the attendees was a student from Able Flight, and he is currently working for the program. He talked to me about the program and recommended it. I did not need to think twice before deciding that I wanted to do it!”

Kirschbaum starts training at Purdue University May 15, where a sign language interpreter will be provided for all of the courses. While flying, Able Flight has developed communication methods for the instructor to communicate with deaf students. The training is intensive—six to seven weeks without a break. The graduation ceremony is July 24. 

“I am looking forward to flying a plane. Not just to get the feeling of the wind under the wings, but so I can show everyone that deaf people are really capable of doing anything. People get surprised when I tell them that deaf people can drive, wait ‘til I tell them that we can fly too!”

RIT/NTID’s Heather Smith named an Emerging Technology Professional Woman of the Year nominee

light skinned female with dark hair and wire glasses wearing green and white top and jeans.

Heather Smith, director of the Motion Lab and senior lecturer in 3D Graphics Technology at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf is one of Digital Rochester’s nominees for its 2018 Emerging Technology Professional Woman of the Year Award. 

The award honors individuals with fewer than five years in an individual contributor or leadership role. These awards are designed to recognize, celebrate and make visible the achievements of women in high technology fields. 

Smith teaches 3D-Modeling and Animation courses to deaf and hard-of-hearing students in a new 3D Graphics Technology degree program at RIT/NTID. She brings significant industry experience, including as an environmental graphic designer with a leading architecture firm in Rochester, to her classroom, where she shares her personal experience at overcoming challenges as a deaf female professional.

She received the 2016-2017 Outstanding Teaching Award for Non-Tenure-Track Faculty at Rochester Institute of Technology, where she earned her Master of Fine Arts in Computer Graphics Design. While she teaches full-time, Smith also serves as director of RIT/NTID’s Motion Capture Lab, where she works collaboratively on scholarly and creative works including 3D, animation and video with deaf, hard-of-hearing, and hearing students and faculty. Her goal is to be an innovator and push her colleagues further with their discoveries in the fields of 3D technologies.

Digital Rochester was founded in 2000 and is made up of professionals and companies working together to strengthen the greater Rochester area’s technology business community. Through these awards, women who work in technology professions are encouraged to stay in the Greater Rochester area, mentor young women, and contribute to the economic growth of the region. Evaluation and judging criteria for the award are based on sustained contributions to the technology profession, contributions advancing the status, opportunities, and employment for women in the technology professions, and contributions to the community. 

A breakfast awards ceremony will take place on Thursday, April 26 at 7:30 a.m. at Locust Hill Country Club. The ceremony will feature keynote speaker, Carey Anne Nadeau, founder and CEO of Open Data Nation, presenting "From Girlpower to Ladyboss." Tickets are $45 for DR members and $50 for non-members. To register for the event, visit their website.

Cultural diversity enriches interpretation program

two female students signing to each other

RIT's degree programs in American Sign Language-English interpretation offer something that most other sign language interpreting programs do not.

“Students can interact with 1,200 deaf and hard-of-hearing students on campus here and more than 100 faculty members who are well known in the interpreting field,” says Lynn Finton, director of the Department of ASL and Interpreting Education. “They are able to practice and interact with people who are members of the Deaf community as they learn.”

Finton says this immersion in ASL and Deaf culture is a unique experience that sets RIT’s interpreting graduates apart.

The interpreting program offered at the university through the National Technical Institute for the Deaf has become known as one of the best in the country since it started as a summer training program in 1969.

The first bachelor’s degree program was approved in 2000 as a two-plus-two program. In 2008, it evolved to a full four-year program. Since 2008, more than 270 students have graduated with their bachelor’s degree in ASL-English interpretation.

Linda Siple, a retired professor for the Department of ASL and Interpreting Education, is proud of how the program has grown and hopes the growth will continue in the future.

“We’re pioneers in this field," says Siple. "This profession is still very young compared to other programs offered at RIT. We have made tremendous leaps and bounds in such a short period of time.”

When she was applying to colleges, Andrea Sinden, a fourth-year student from Seattle, was impressed by the programs offered at RIT/NTID. When Sinden realized she wanted to pursue a career working with the deaf community, she knew RIT/NTID would provide her with the right environment to learn.

“I could learn ASL and the skill it takes to interpret at other universities, but the ability to be immersed in the deaf community and learn from innovators in the field is something I don’t think other schools can offer,” says Sinden. “I felt that if I really wanted to improve my skillset, I would need to be more immersed in the language.”

Lydia Callis, a 2010 graduate of RIT/NTID's ASL-English interpretation program, is the owner and an interpreter for her own company, LC Interpreting Services, which serves people in the greater New York City region and New Jersey.

She sparked dialogue around the work of ASL interpreters on social media after a video of her expressive signing went viral on YouTube in 2012. The video features Callis interpreting in press conferences about Superstorm Sandy for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Callis recalls the vast cultural diversity at RIT and feels that being exposed to different cultures is a valuable experience for interpreters.

“Deafness isn’t limited by race, age, gender, religion or anything else, so when you’re on the job, you need to be prepared to step outside your comfort zone sometimes,” says Callis. “A diverse educational environment like RIT can expose people to different perspectives and offer a safe environment for cross-cultural dialogues.”

One change that is already underway at RIT to fulfill the need for specialized interpreters is the Master of Science program in health care interpretation.

The MS program, which started in 2016, expanded on an existing health care interpretation certificate program.

The MS program prepares interpreters to meet the growing demand for specialization in health care interpreting for deaf patients and health care professionals, as well as prepares students to take on leadership and administrative roles.

“We are the only university in the country offering this program,” says Kathy Miraglia, director of the program. “This is an opportunity for innovative teaching, learning and research that is making RIT a leader in this area of interpreting.”