Category Archives: Academics

Graduate finds strength through bodybuilding

A light-skinned female with long pony-tail and in gym clothes stands with large weights

Alexandra Dunek ’14 (professional and technical communication) has been through a lot mentally, emotionally and physically.

Now, the 27-year-old deaf bodybuilder and fitness writer from Mount Laurel, N.J., is sharing her story of struggle and triumph to help inspire others who may be going through trying times of their own.

Through her Instagram account (@TipsFromAFitChick), as well as other media outlets, she is using her voice and her story to advocate for the deaf community and to encourage anybody facing challenges in their own lives to persevere.

Stronger, a short documentary released in December 2016, is one of many recent media projects to chronicle Dunek’s journey overcoming cancer, depression and an eating disorder, as well as her rise in competitive bodybuilding. The film, directed by Eliu Cornielle, with the help of director of photography Drew Saracco, is available on Vimeo.

Dunek was born in 1989 with germ cell sarcoma, a rare cancer that is most common in multiple births.

“My mother had trouble getting pregnant and miscarried before I was born, so she took fertility drugs and ended up with triplets,” said Dunek. “She was supposed to have quadruplets, but the fourth baby didn’t develop properly and instead became a tumor attached to me.”

By the age of 2, Dunek had undergone six rounds of intensive chemotherapy and won her battle with cancer. As a result of the chemo, however, she lost most of her hearing and suffered damage to her vision.

Attending RIT wasn’t always a part of Dunek’s plan.

“My mom was in a really bad car accident my senior year of high school, and I picked up some bad habits while trying to cope with her recovery,” Dunek said. “I was depressed and I started drinking and smoking regularly, and my eating habits were really unhealthy.”

Dunek was attending a local community college at the time but dropped out during her first year. Once her mother made a full recovery, she encouraged Dunek to continue her education, this time at RIT.

“I made a deal with her and agreed to visit one college of her choice,” said Dunek. “We visited RIT in spring of 2010 and I immediately fell in love with the way the school took the deaf and hearing worlds and combined them into one.”

It was during her time at RIT that Dunek became focused on her fitness and began bodybuilding. “I needed something to help me get out of my depression, and I chose the gym,” Dunek said.

Athleticism runs in Dunek’s family. Her father, Ken Dunek, was a Philadelphia Eagle during the 1981 Super Bowl.

Following graduation, Dunek began prepping for a competition of her own. She competed in her first bodybuilding national qualifier in June 2015 and placed second.

“It is important for me to tell my story,” said Dunek. “Now I have the opportunity to come forward and share my journey. I just became a National Academy of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer so that I can open my own gym and inspire others to develop healthy lifestyles of their own, no matter their circumstance.”

 
 

An overlooked aspect of history uncovered

Harry Lang with light skin, short light hair, light beard wearing black golf shirt and brown tweed jacket.

For Harry Lang, there is always much to be learned from the past. Throughout his 41 years of teaching at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf and into the present-day, he has researched and authored numerous books on Deaf Americans throughout history.

Lang’s newest book, “Fighting in the Shadows: The Untold Story of Deaf People in the Civil War,” provides insight into this little-known aspect of the country’s history. The book, which includes 160 photos, sells for $39.95. 

Deaf and hard-of-hearing people were extensively involved in the American Civil War, yet no detailed summary has previously been published on their participation. Supporting both sides of the conflict, they participated as soldiers, writers, doctors, nurses, spies and assumed a variety of other roles. They emerged from the shadows to gain further control of their own destiny as American citizens.

Lang has published 10 books and numerous book chapters and articles. He was the senior history adviser on the production team of the award-winning documentary “Through Deaf Eyes,” which aired on PBS stations in 2007.

From 12:20 to 1:15 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 6, in RIT/NTID’s CSD Student Development Center, room 1300/1310, Lang will discuss the book as part of the college’s ASL Lecture Series, with a book signing after the presentation. The event is free, and sign language interpreters have been requested.

“My plan for the RIT/NTID ASL Lecture Series presentation is to focus on Deaf History/Deaf Heritage as they relate to the Civil War,” Lang said. “I will have numerous stories, but more emphasis on sign language, graduates of schools for the deaf like Laura Redden, Edmund Booth and many others and how they put aside the oppression and discrimination they faced in order to join the greater conflict that was dividing the nation.”

At 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 7, Writers and Books will sponsor a lecture and book signing at Rochester Academy of Medicine auditorium, 1441 East Ave., Rochester. A Q & A and book signing will follow. The event is $5, and tickets can be bought in advance by calling 585.473.2590 ext. 107 or online at wab.org. This event will be sign language interpreted.

This presentation will have a stronger emphasis on community aspects, such as deaf people being involved in both the nascent Deaf community at that time, and their involvement in the hearing communities in support of the Union and Confederate armies. 

“I’ll also talk a bit about the tens of thousands of hearing soldiers who were deafened in the war and what they experienced during the years following the war,” Lang said.

RIT included in 2018 ‘Fiske Guide to Colleges’

blue circle with black jagged edges contains yellow, white and green text

Rochester Institute of Technology is among the universities included in the 2018 edition of the "Fiske Guide to Colleges." The guide is a selective, subjective and systematic look at more than 300 colleges and universities in the U.S., Canada and Great Britain aimed at selecting “the best and most interesting."

The 2018 edition of the guide highlights RIT’s “spotlight on undergraduates,” and says “students seeking up-to-date technological preparation will be at home at RIT, and those who are geared up and ready to ‘go professional’ will be more than satisfied with its extensive co-op program." The guide also cites RIT as “a leader in providing access and support services for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.” More.

NIH grants $1 million to RIT/NTID scientists-in-training program for deaf and hard-of-hearing undergraduates

Young man with red hair and beard wearing safety glasses and white lab coat works with lab instruments.

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences has awarded a grant to Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf to provide $1.025 million in funding over five years to develop a scientists-in-training program for deaf and hard-of-hearing undergraduates. 

Funded through the Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) program, the grant is designed to increase the number of underrepresented students who enter Ph.D. programs in the biomedical and behavioral sciences. The RIT-RISE program is the first RISE program to specifically serve deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

The program will offer a suite of scientific enrichment workshops, presentations, and activities that are tailored to the needs of deaf-and-hard of hearing scientists and open to the entire university. These events are expected to attract students who wish to enrich their research skills, stay abreast of hot topics in biomedical and behavioral fields, sharpen their presentation skills, or get help applying to graduate schools. RIT-RISE also will provide faculty workshops to share best practices for promoting effective communication between hearing and deaf researchers in lab settings.   

Selected RISE scholars will receive intensive training and wage support for working in research laboratories with RIT researchers and, eventually, in the laboratory of a mentor from another institution.  The RIT-RISE leadership team will help match supported scholars with participating research mentors in their fields of interest. Scholars also will attend local and national conferences, present papers and posters and publish or co-publish their work. 

Scott R. Smith, a medical doctor, health scientist and research faculty member at RIT/NTID, who is deaf, will lead this program assisted by Paul Craig, a chemistry professor and the head of RIT’s School of Chemistry and Material Science, and Vincent Samar, an RIT/NTID cognitive science professor with many years of experience working with deaf and hard-of-hearing students. In addition, more than 40 deaf and hearing members of the RIT faculty have volunteered to serve as science mentors, and 15 deaf and hearing external mentors have already been identified for the summer research experiences that will take place after scholars complete their junior year.

RISE scholars will be selected from deaf and hard-of-hearing students in RIT baccalaureate programs that include biochemistry, bioinformatics, biology, biomedical engineering, biomedical sciences, biotechnology & molecular bioscience, chemistry, computing and information technologies, computer science, computing security, game design & development, human-centered computing, new media interactive development, psychology, and web and mobile computing.

RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf is leading the RIT-RISE cross-college partnership that includes RIT’s College of Science, College of Health Science and Technology, College of Liberal Arts, Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences, and the Kate Gleason College of Engineering. 

Smith cited the partnership among RIT colleges as one of the keys to receiving NIH support. 

“The strength of the mentor pool helped to distinguish the RIT application, and we are very grateful for faculty enthusiasm for this program,” he said. “We expect the RIT-RISE program to provide even greater opportunities so that deaf and hard-of-hearing students can engage in robust undergraduate research experiences that will enable them to become successful scientists.”  

Gerard Buckley, NTID president and RIT vice president and dean, praised RIT’s commitment to the program. 

“This is a historic development for deaf and hard-of-hearing scholars and for RIT,” said Buckley. “RIT is becoming known as the destination school for deaf and hard-of-hearing scholars who want to prepare for careers in biomedical and behavioral research.”    

The RIT-RISE program expands the Rochester training pipeline for deaf and hard-of-hearing scientists by connecting undergraduate research training with preexisting NTID-supported ‘Explore Your Future’ and ‘Health Care Career Exploration’ camps for high school students, the Rochester Bridges to the Doctorate Program for graduate students, and the Rochester Postdoctoral Partnership Program for postdoctoral fellows.  

RIT College of Science establishes Integrated Sciences Academy

Headshot of woman with short blonde hair and glasses wearing a black blazer, printed blouse and necklace.

Multidisciplinary science education and research is the focus of a new academic unit in RIT’s College of Science that brings together researchers with different expertise to invent new ways to approach challenges facing a global society.

The Integrated Sciences Academy will focus on implementing specific inter- and multidisciplinary programs within the College of Science and differs from custom-tailored programs offered through RIT’s School of Individualized Study. More.

RIT/NTID names Gary Behm interim associate VP for academic affairs

Gary Behm wearing glasses and light button down shirt sharing information from poster behind him.

Gary Behm of West Henrietta, New York, has been named interim associate vice president for academic affairs at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf.  

In his role, Behm will oversee NTID's academic departments, curriculum, course scheduling, degree certification, communication services and assessment, and faculty/staff professional development. NTID's academic departments include Liberal Studies, Business Studies, Science & Mathematics, Creative & Cultural Studies, Visual Communications Studies, Engineering Studies, Information & Computing Studies, American Sign Language and Interpreter Education, and the Master of Science program in Secondary Education of Students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing.

Behm, an associate professor, currently serves as director of RIT/NTID’s Center on Access Technology Innovation Laboratory, and serves as an engineering lead for the faculty, researchers and students in the conceptualization, design, development, building and testing of engineering solutions that address the need of accessibility of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals primarily in the postsecondary educational environment.

He earned an associate degree in electromechanical technology and bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering technology at RIT/NTID, and a master’s degree in manufacturing systems engineering at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Prior to teaching, Behm worked for IBM in various locations throughout the country, serving as an engineer, project leader and project manager. He then moved into the IBM Faculty Loan program and served as a visiting scholar, lecturer, advisor and tutor in RIT/NTID’s Engineering Studies Department. 

“Gary has brought a wealth of practical and theoretical experience to RIT/NTID classrooms and the Center on Access Technology Innovation Lab,” said Gerry Buckley, NTID president and RIT vice president and dean. “I’m certain he will bring the same innovative and energetic approach to this interim role as associate vice president for academic affairs.”