RIT/NTID selects Holcombs for Distinguished Alumni Award

Barbara Ray, short blonde hair, glasses in pink collared shirt, and Sam,brown hair, beard, glasses in orange RIT shirt.

Samuel (SVP ’74, ’77) and Barbara Ray (SVP ’71, ’74, ’84) Holcomb have been selected as recipients of the 2017 Distinguished Alumni Award at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf. They are only the second couple to be selected for the award, which recognizes alumni who have brought distinction to the institution through their professional, community and philanthropic activities.

For virtually anyone who has worked with them since their arrival on campus in the mid-1970s, their selection comes as no surprise; the Holcomb’s have made their names, both individually and together, as tireless advocates for relationship-building, both on campus and elsewhere.

“We’ve always enjoyed giving back to the community that’s supported us,” said Barbara Ray, a graduate of NTID’s associate degree program in medical records technology. She also earned a bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York at Brockport in interdisciplinary arts for children and a master’s degree from RIT in career and human resources development. She has held various instructional positions at RIT, NTID, and other area colleges since 1979.

Her most recent position was as an associate professor and the coordinator of the Faculty/Staff Sign Language Program in RIT/NTID’s American Sign Language and Interpreting Education Department.

Sam Holcomb is a 1977 graduate of NTID’s ophthalmic optical finishing technology program. In the early 1990s he taught sign language to former RIT President Albert J. Simone, who became the first president of RIT to regularly use ASL in his remarks at commencement and other campus-wide events, thanks to Sam’s tutelage.

The Holcomb’s are co-authors of ASL at Work, a teacher manual and student text intended to teach effective communication in the classroom and the workplace. They also have individually authored various books, films and curricular materials devoted to surmounting language barriers.

The Holcomb’s retired from NTID in 2013 and now live in Surprise, Arizona. They are active in their retirement community, which contains a high number of deaf senior citizens.

“We have weekly gatherings where I share information about resources and host workshops,” said Sam. “Barbara also shares information about communication or assistive devices, like where to get voice carry-over phones and flashing lights for doorbells and fire alarms. Many of our neighbors are hungry to learn new things through sign language, and since [Barbara Ray and I] come from a technical institution, we’re ahead of the game in many ways.”

“We also educate them about their rights,” said Barbara Ray. “Some of our deaf neighbors have spent years keeping quiet about their need for communication access, so we teach them how to request an interpreter and other things that they’re entitled to by law.”

Although Sam and Barbara Ray have left Rochester, they still feel a strong connection to NTID as well as a need to provide future generations with a sense of connection to the past. Their advocacy helped spur the establishment of the Deaf Studies Archive at RIT’s Wallace Memorial Center, and both are working towards the development of an NTID Alumni Museum. The museum is slated to open during the college’s 50th Anniversary Reunion Weekend, which will take place June 28-July 1, 2018.

The Holcomb’s will be recognized during the Distinguished Alumni Award ceremony during the RIT Presidents’ Alumni Ball on October 13, 2017.