Monthly Archives: March 2018

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.”

RIT honored for graduate programs

Rochester Institute of Technology has been recognized as a top university for individuals who want to earn a graduate degree.

"Abound: Grad School", a college guidance system for people seeking master’s degrees, placed RIT on its list of the nation’s Top Professional Graduate Degree Programs for addressing the issues that matter to grad students, including affordable options for attending college, access to professors, campus professionals, support services, opportunities to accelerate their path to graduation and preparation for sustained career growth. More.

Grand Experiment — Grand Success: 50 years later

Vintage photo of Harry Lang with two male students an an old computer.

Fifty years ago, 19-year-old Bill Ingraham was about to enter uncharted territory. 

After graduating from Brockport High School in upstate New York as its only deaf student, Ingraham had earned a hard-won associate degree in applied science/
business administration from Alfred State. 

“I knew that I wanted to earn my 
bachelor’s degree, but I also realized that in order to do that, I needed a lot of help,” said Ingraham, who had struggled academically at Alfred, relying heavily on his lip-reading skills and a roommate who shared class notes. 

Ingraham’s cousin told him that a new “program” was starting in the fall of 1968 at Rochester Institute of Technology and that 
he should consider applying for admission. 

Ingraham became one of 70 deaf pioneers of RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf, the first-ever college uniquely designed to teach deaf and hard-of-hearing students the technical skills necessary for them to get quality jobs. NTID’s first director, D. Robert Frisina, called it the “Grand Experiment” to describe educating deaf students in a college setting with their hearing peers.

“The thing about NTID was that there was no model to follow,” Frisina has said. “This was a rare opportunity in the education of deaf people.”

Throughout the next 50 years, NTID would become a catalyst for diversity and 
inclusion on campus, creating a post­secondary learning environment never before seen in this country. With the emergence of more than 200 majors, research opportunities, 
doctoral degree readiness programming and a 94 percent career placement rate, the “Grand Experiment” is a grand success. 

History in the making

The story of RIT’s NTID began when the first permanent public school for deaf students in Hartford, Conn., opened in 1817. The school showed that deaf people could be academically successful.

According to Harry Lang, professor emeritus and co-author of "From Dream to Reality: The National Technical Institute for the Deaf, A College of Rochester Institute of Technology," while many residential schools continued to appear throughout the country, including Rochester’s own school for deaf students in 1876, a dedicated postsecondary school that focused on marketable technical skills remained a dream. 

In 1964, Congress was urged to study the educational and employment status of deaf people. One report suggested that about 80 percent of deaf adults were working in manual occupations, whereas only about 50 percent of the hearing population assumed those same types of positions. 

Shortly after, the House and Senate drafted bills recommending the establishment of a college tailored to the needs of deaf and hard-of-hearing students pursuing technical careers. The legislation was passed in both the House and the Senate in a record-setting 47 days. 

On June 8, 1965, President Lyndon 
Baines Johnson signed Public Law 89-36, establishing the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. 

With the bill signed and plans for its execution moving quickly, more than two dozen universities across the country applied to establish the college on their campuses. 

However, with connections to industry and business, pre-established programs in many technical disciplines, a favorable relationship between Rochester industry and people with disabilities, and a steady stream of deaf students who had already enrolled in some existing RIT programs, particularly in the School of Printing and the School for American Craftsmen, RIT became a strong contender.

In July 1966, a site team visited RIT’s new 1,300-acre campus under construction in Henrietta. On Nov. 14 of that year, RIT was selected as the future home of NTID.

The strengths of this initiative would be a new, blended learning environment for the nation’s deaf students interested in technical careers and an enhanced learning environment for the university’s hearing population.

‘I was the first’

Ingraham visited campus the summer before NTID opened. He used lip reading to conduct an interview and then went on a tour. 

“They accepted me immediately,” Ingraham said. “I was the first.”

Ingraham knew that the eyes of the country—including the legislators and advocates who invested so much in this endeavor— would be trained on him, his classmates and Frisina, who was named director in 1967. 

Before NTID’s charter class arrived on campus, less than 1 percent of college-aged deaf people had enrolled in higher education. 

Ingraham remembers being excited for the opportunity to take his education further 
but was apprehensive at the same time. 
“I think we all felt that way.”

But after he met other students, including his deaf roommates from Pennsylvania and Florida, he felt more comfortable. 

Many deaf students were drawn to science, technology, engineering and math, based partly on the visual nature of the subject material, and RIT was well positioned to offer these programs to its deaf learners. 

Students could enroll in programs such 
as electrical and mechanical engineering, business administration, printing management and medical technology, and degrees ranging from two-year associate, to Master 
of Science and Master of Fine Arts degrees. Ingraham studied business administration.

“Many people don’t really realize how significant NTID was for opening doors and opening minds of the students who wanted to pursue STEM careers, and faculty, like myself, who taught in those disciplines,” said Lang, who taught at NTID for 41 years. 

But there were growing pains during those inaugural years. During the first year, RIT didn’t have full-time interpreters on staff, and only a few of the newly hired staff knew sign language. 

The deaf students and the other 10,000 hearing RIT students were hesitant to mingle with one another due to perceived communication barriers and a lack of understanding of Deaf culture. Despite the university’s efforts to reach out to deaf students, some, who were living on their own for the first time, dropped out due to social and academic challenges. 

“There was a definite sense of separation in the past,” explained Gerry Buckley, NTID president and RIT vice president and dean, and a 1978 alumnus of RIT’s social work program. “Lyndon Baines Johnson Hall, NTID’s academic building (which opened in 1974 but wasn’t named until 1979), was far away from what was perceived as the ‘main’ campus. Some hearing students would refer to us as ‘NIDS,’ National Institute of Deaf Students.”

But as the years progressed and the technology behind deaf education developed, 
the climate and attitudes changed.

In the late ’60s and early ’70s, access to telephone services included experimental devices such as Codecom, which required knowledge of Morse code, and the “Vista Phone,” a video-telephone communication system that could only be used on campus. The Victor Electrowriters allowed deaf and hearing people to communicate by telephone through an electric stylus system. 

By the 1970s, the teletypewriter (TTY) made telephone communication much 
more accessible.

In 1968, captioning technology was not yet developed sufficiently. On-campus educational media was often interpreted for deaf students.

“I still have a video of myself teaching 
temperature and pressure in physics class with index cards and a video recorder,” 
Lang said. “That was my captioning during the early years.”

But by the late 1970s, NTID had become a national leader in educational program captioning, which helped deaf students become fully engaged with access to televised news, student information, announcements, academic course information and entertainment programming. 

Today, with automatic speech recognition, captioning and C-Print, a real-time speech-to-text system developed at the college, NTID remains a progressive leader in instructional and communicative technologies. 

RIT has the largest staff of professional sign language interpreters of any college program in the world. Last year, RIT provided more than 140,000 hours of interpreting services, which includes classroom interpreting as well as interpreting for non-academic pursuits such as athletic events, religious services, concerts, presentations and other student life activities. 

Trained student notetakers record information during classes or laboratory lectures, discussions or multimedia presentations. 
Last year, RIT provided more than 60,000 hours of notetaking services for students. Real-time captioning provides a compre­hensive English text display of classroom lectures and discussions.

“Coming to NTID is a real homecoming for many deaf and hard-of-hearing students,” Buckley said. “This is one of those places where you have the right to understand 
and be understood 100 percent of the time. Some students come here and aren’t even aware of how much they have been missing. Here, our students can fully participate in a college experience, both socially and academically.” 

Opportunities today

Grace Yukawa is an example of that. 
The fourth-year mechanical engineering student is an NTID student ambassador, member of a sorority and works for the College Activities Board.

In high school in Seattle, Yukawa was 
one of about 40 deaf students in a fully mainstreamed environment with 1,700 hearing classmates. She generally interacted with her close-knit group of deaf and hard-of-hearing peers. However, at NTID, she loves the enthusiasm of her hearing peers who are interested in learning more about Deaf culture. 

“NTID has helped me find myself,” Yukawa said. “Back home, I see the same people every day in our very small deaf community. Here at NTID, I meet so many new people, people with many different backgrounds—deaf people, hearing people, people who are late deafened, deaf people who sign, hearing people who sign, deaf people who are oral. 
I just knew that I wouldn’t be alone here, 
and that was just so important when I 
was selecting a college.” 

The reputation of RIT’s mechanical 
engineering program also played a role 
in Yukawa’s decision to enroll. 

“My major requires four co-ops, and if it wasn’t for the networking in the deaf community and using the resources that NTID has to offer, I don’t think I would have secured those on my own,” she said. “Many of the companies that I applied to were hoping to hire deaf people or people with other disabilities to broaden their scope. I wasn’t aware that 
those specific opportunities even existed.”

Out in the field, Yukawa has done research on 3D bioprinting and on children and adults living with disabilities. Her observation visits to preschools and rehabilitation centers have provided her with insights into cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorders and people who use wheelchairs. She hopes to continue work on devices that can be designed to make it easier for these individuals to complete daily tasks. 

NTID actively sponsors and encourages research designed to enhance the lives of deaf and hard-of-hearing people. It is home to research centers that are dedicated to studying teaching and learning; communication; technology, access and support services; and employment and adaptability to social changes and the global workplace. 

Opportunities are available for under­graduate and graduate students to work directly with faculty, travel in support of 
their research and apply for research funding. 

The Rochester Bridges to the Doctorate program, a partnership between RIT and University of Rochester, is the first of its kind that provides scientific mentoring for deaf and hard-of-hearing students to become candidates for doctoral degree programs in biomedical or behavioral science disciplines. 

And Sebastian and Lenore Rosica Hall, the $8 million, state-of-the-art building that binds this all together, fosters innovation, entrepreneurship and research among deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing peers. 

Yukawa has one more year until graduation but is looking ahead to a career designing accessibility devices. 

She will join more than 8,500 deaf and hard-of-hearing NTID alumni living in all 
50 states and in 20 countries, and working 
in all economic sectors, including business and industry, health care, education and government.

“My hope is to one day be able to level 
the playing field for people living with 
disabilities,” she said.

Fifty years later

NTID has already helped level the playing field for many of its graduates.

“There is an evolution that we have 
witnessed over the past 50 years,” said 
John Macko, director of NTID’s Center 
on Employment. 

Fifty years ago, the Americans with 
Disabilities Act didn’t exist, and it was a 
new concept for employers to consider deaf and hard-of-hearing graduates as employees. It was more challenging for deaf and hard-of-hearing graduates to work alongside hearing coworkers.

“Years ago, deaf and hard-of-hearing people were office clerks, data entry specialists and computer operators,” Macko said. “Today, we’re accountants, network specialists, mechanical engineers, software engineers. 
Job titles have changed as a result of NTID.”

As a student, Ingraham excelled at tax 
accounting. His instructor, Bill Gasser, 
encouraged him to apply for a co-op with 
the Internal Revenue Service.

“He believed that I could do the job 
and had every confidence in my abilities. 
He always looked out for me in class; I’ll never forget him and what he did for me.”

After graduating in 1971, Ingraham was hired by the IRS and served as a revenue agent until his retirement 36 years later.

“I’m just amazed at what NTID has 
become,” Ingraham said. “I’m so happy 
that I had the chance to go there, and I’m so happy for the students who have the opportunity to go there now. NTID introduced me 
to how amazing the deaf world really is.”

He and his wife, Mary Jo (Nixon) Ingraham, remain connected to NTID, serving on committees and regularly attending campus events. Mary Jo graduated in 1972 and became the first NTID alumna hired on staff. 

Buckley, who was named NTID president in 2011 and is the first RIT/NTID alumnus to hold that position, said students today leave prepared for the real world, where there isn’t always sensitivity and inclusion. They leave understanding their rights and responsibilities, and they leave with the self-confidence to interact with hearing peers.

“As RIT and NTID prepare the next generation of leaders, I want them to walk away from this campus feeling that they were included. I want them to increase their earning potential and economic power,” Buckley said. “But it’s not just about money. It’s about the ways they can influence the world. In that way, we’ve truly fulfilled our mission.”

To learn more

For more details on the history of NTID and RIT, go to

50th reunion weekend

In celebration of NTID’s 50th anniversary, a reunion weekend June 28–July 1 will feature events and activities for alumni and families. Events include an opening ceremony, NTID Alumni Asso­ciation golf tournament, several theatrical productions, a “welcome home” celebration, NTID Alumni Museum preview, campus tours, reunion group photos, children’s activities and more. 

The reunion committee is also asking NTID community members to participate in the #NTID5for50 fundraising campaign, encouraging individuals to make gifts in dollar amounts beginning with a five.

To register for the reunion, go to

More history

A Shining Beacon: 50 Years of NTID will be available during the reunion weekend. The book includes chapters written by individuals who have witnessed change throughout the years at NTID, as well as by recent graduates looking forward 
to the next 50 years. 

The book also includes chapters on the introduction of American Sign Language on campus, the history of performing arts at NTID, the growth of STEM education, athletics and job placement.

Performing arts

NTID performing arts launched in 1974 after the success of a student drama club founded by Robert Panara, NTID’s first deaf faculty member and co-founder of the National Theater of the Deaf.

Today, performance groups host several productions each season, and a comprehensive curriculum of dance and theater courses is offered. Thomas Warfield, NTID’s director of dance, explained that many deaf and hard-of-hearing students are excited for the chance to perform and said that performing arts classes are often filled to capacity. “We take a different point of view of theater and approach it from multiple angles, engaging a diverse spectrum of students,” he said. “NTID performing arts is an opportunity to make our unique impact on theater and dance.”

Statement from RIT/NTID President Gerry Buckley on the passing of Congresswoman Louise Slaughter

Male student, Pres. Buckley, Cong. Slaughter, two female students.

The entire RIT/NTID community is saddened by the loss of Congresswoman Louise Slaughter. Congresswoman Slaughter was a scientist, a legislator, and a steadfast supporter of the Deaf community in Rochester and throughout the country. She was the embodiment of someone who 'lived her truth.'

Recognizing the unique value of RIT/NTID’s mission in educating deaf and hard-of-hearing students, Congresswoman Slaughter was a staunch advocate for funding for our college. She received the RIT Presidential Medallion in 2010 in honor of her support for NTID and for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals. She was an honorary member of NTID's National Advisory Group, helped launch our Task Force on Health Care Careers for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Community, worked in support of the Americans with Disabilities Act, supported legislation that requires captions on TV programs and more.

Visiting her in Washington or Rochester, either alone or with students, her dedication to helping ensure that deaf and hard-of-hearing young people would have access to higher education was always evident. She was delighted to meet with our students and learn about their plans for the future, insisting they call her "Louise" and letting them know they had a friend and advocate in our nation's capital.  

We will miss her greatly.


Read the official statement from Congresswoman Slaughter's office. 

RIT/NTID congratulates the 2017-18 Outstanding Undergraduate Scholars

LBJ Hall at dusk

Congratulations to the following RIT/NTID students, who will receive 2017-18 Outstanding Undergraduate Scholar Awards at a ceremony Thursday, March 22. They are:

Heather Barczynski*
Brianna Conrad
Erin Ireland
Elizabeth Odom
Isabel Snyder*
Kalyna Sytch*
Emmanual Perrodin-Njoku*
Nicole Pannnullo*

*Scholar is a member of the RIT Honors Program 

The awards event will be held in the Gordon Field House and Activities Center beginning with a reception at 4:30 p.m. followed by a procession and ceremony at 5:30 p.m.

All members of the RIT community are welcomed to attend, and the event will be live streamed (open captioned) via the Ustream video streaming platform. A Ustream app is available for both Android and iOS mobile devices; after downloading, search “RIT Events” to find the ceremony. You can also access the video stream on the Awards Website shortly before the event.

A full list of our 2017-2018 Scholars is also available online.

RIT/NTID Dyer Arts Center features “Beyond Form” exhibit

Deaf Space, a multi-colored acrylic and pastel piece created by artist Tracey Salaway.

A new exhibit at the Dyer Arts Center at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf features the artwork of deaf artists during Beyond Form: Non-Objective Art, which runs through April 21. An opening reception at the gallery will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. March 30, and a curatorial presentation by guest curator Brenda Schertz is scheduled for 4–6 p.m. April 20. All events are free and open to the public.

Beyond Form: Non-Objective Art explores the work of deaf artists in a wide range of media and, according to Schertz, provides viewers scope to use their imaginations in interpreting what is—or is not— perceived in images beyond their forms.

More than 15 professional artists are participating in the exhibition, all are deaf or hard of hearing, and five of the artists are RIT/NTID alumni. It is believed to be the first effort in bringing abstract art together by deaf artists. 

“The diversity of deaf artists in this exhibit have demonstrated ‘visual poetry’ through their masterful manipulation of and experimentation with texture, composition and color,” said Schertz, a lecturer in the ASL Program at the University of Rochester. “Their works seem to take on a meditative power. Visual rhythm—through repetition or movement—seems to convey a sense of musicality. Sound is referenced, not as limited to an auditory experience, but as possibly a visual experience. Several artists make references to nature, and it is deeply ingrained in their work. Yet other artists look inward, narrating personal journeys expressing truth, joy or sadness.”

The gallery is located in Lyndon Baines Johnson Hall, RIT/NTID, 52 Lomb Memorial Dr., Rochester. For more information, go to .