Among the 23 commencement delegates at Rochester Institute of Technology’s commencement ceremonies May 11 and 12 were two deaf students who shared their own stories of overcoming obstacles and imparted advice to their fellow graduates.
Paula MacDonald, the undergraduate delegate for the National Technical Institute for the Deaf from Cumberland, Ontario, Canada, graduated with an associate degree in computer aided drafting technology.
She completed a co-op with Fulcrum Engineering, where she prepared drawings and specifications for structural engineering projects. At RIT/NTID, she served as president of the Deaf International Student Association and was active with the Deaf Basketball Association and the Deaf Volleyball Association. MacDonald will be transferring to the bachelor’s degree program in civil engineering technology at RIT and plans to become a civil/structural engineer.
In her presentation, MacDonald encouraged her fellow graduates to follow their passions, be an inspiration to themselves and others and to become leaders in their families, communities and beyond.
“It’s such a wonderful honor to stand here and give my speech, to represent you all, as a deaf aboriginal woman in engineering,” she said.
Joan "Jo" Bempong, the undergraduate delegate for the Kate Gleason College of Engineering, is from Irving, Texas. She earned combined bachelor’s/master’s degrees in computer engineering with a minor in Deaf cultural studies.
She completed co-ops at Texas Instruments, Sandia National Laboratories, and VTCSecure. Bempong was a recipient of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, the Outstanding Undergraduate Scholarship Award, the Deep Learning Classification Challenge Award and the Machine Intelligence Best Project Presentation Award. She was a finalist in both the Digital Rochester GREAT Award for student achievement and the RIT Tiger Tank competition. She was invited to present her work at the 25th Anniversary Congress on Women’s Health, and has accepted a full-time position at Texas Instruments.
Bempong used her own story of refusing to accept limitations because of her deafness and advised fellow graduates to, “Be extraordinary! Be rebellious. Be different. Take a stab at something you believe in and go for it. Do not be afraid to fail. When you do fail, fail hard and fail fast. Learn from your mistakes and keep on learning. And remember to ask for help when you need it.”