Category Archives: Academics

RIT lecturer Eric Kunsman receives 2018 Edline M. Chun Award

light skinned male and female with small boy and girl. man is holding a clear glass award.

Eric Kunsman, a lecturer for the Visual Communications Studies Department in RIT's National Technical Institute for the Deaf and an adjunct professor for the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences in the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences (CIAS), is the fifth recipient of the Edline M. Chun Award for Outstanding Teaching and Service.

Named in honor of the late RIT adjunct professor Edline Chun, the award has been given annually since 2014 to a CIAS adjunct faculty member who exemplifies excellence and dedication in teaching and who has given outstanding service to a CIAS-affiliated school and to the college.

“This award means a lot to me since I knew and admired Edline, and I know what it represents,” said Kunsman, who also owns Booksmart Studio, a fine art digital printing studio in Rochester, N.Y., specializing in innovative techniques and services for photographers and book artists. “Owning my own business, I know the importance of staying relevant and passionate in the industry, and I try to bring that excitement to the classroom.”

Before coming to RIT in 2000, Kunsman, a native of Bethlehem, Pa., was an assistant professor at Mercer County Community College, where he also served as the coordinator of the photography program. He has led national workshops on photography and digital printing. He holds an MFA in book arts/printmaking from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and an MS in electronic publishing/graphic arts media, a BS in biomedical photography and BFA in fine art photography, all from RIT.

In addition, Kunsman’s photographs and books have been exhibited internationally and can be seen on display in several prominent collections throughout the United States.

“Eric is a dedicated and passionate member of the SPAS team who exemplifies all of the qualities of an outstanding faculty member,” said Therese Mulligan, administrative chair of SPAS. “Whether he’s teaching students or playing a key role in SPAS initiatives such as the signature RIT Big Shot, Eric brings real-world industry knowledge to the classroom combined with a sincere interest in helping students learn the material and succeed in their careers.”

Ms. Chun was a well-respected and beloved faculty member who taught in CIAS for nearly two decades. Her colleagues in RIT’s School of Media Sciences described her as someone who “always went above and beyond to serve the students and the school with passion, integrity and the utmost class.”

RIT/NTID student Maya Penn to fulfill personal longing for service with Peace Corps mission

Dark skinned female with dark braided hair wearing a multi-color scarf and purple long-sleeved top.

Growing up in foster care, Maya Penn was surrounded by people who understood the value of sharing and caring for others. Just one month after Penn graduates with her bachelor’s degree in psychology from RIT’s College of Liberal Arts, she will fulfill her own personal quest for serving others with the Peace Corps in Africa.

Penn, who is deaf, is eagerly anticipating her two-year assignment— teaching deaf children in Ghana.  

“This will be a time of significant personal growth for me,” said Penn, who hails from the Bay Area in California. “And I’m just looking forward to impacting the lives of so many children, where there is such a need.”

Although Penn admits that she didn’t know much about the Peace Corps before applying, she knew that she wanted to travel and was hooked when she discovered that there were positions for deaf and hard-of-hearing people to work in schools for those who are deaf. After videophone conversations with Peace Corps volunteers and administrators, Penn applied, interviewed and was accepted into the program.

Penn says that this experience is a “big step” for her, and she is eager to learn as much as she can about different cultures. And even though she’s a bit nervous, she believes her related experiences as a teaching assistant in a school for deaf children, her work at summer camps and at RIT’s Margaret’s House child care center, and her experience tutoring American Sign Language will also contribute to her success in Africa.

And she’s no stranger to traveling in not-so-perfect conditions, having backpacked extensively through Central America and Jamaica.

“I believe that it’s so important for people to study or travel abroad,” said Penn. “It’s crucial to learn from and meet people from other cultures. There are so many opportunities that grow out of these experiences. Of course, you learn and grow in an academic environment, but what you can learn outside of the classroom is beneficial, too.”

At RIT/NTID, Penn was vice president of NTID’s Ebony Club, worked with the NTID Student Life team, was a community student advocate and was involved in theater. She also played intramural volleyball and basketball.

“I’ve loved so much about the RIT/NTID community, including the students, my mentors and all of the events and opportunities,” she said.

Sarah Sarchet, a lecturer at RIT/NTID, met Penn in 2016 when Penn was accepted into RIT’s WOCHA (Women of Color, Honor and Ambition) program.

“Maya is natural leader and a true empath,” said Sarchet. “We ‘clicked’ as a mentor/mentee pair because of how well Maya can relate to others. We both come from large families with many siblings as well as mixed-race families. We had many shared experiences, and our conversations flowed naturally, despite the fact that we had only known each other briefly. And she has been truly bitten by the travel bug. This makes her skilled at meeting new people and learning new cultures. She is unafraid of leaving her comfort zone to try new adventures.”

Of course, Penn says she will miss her parents, who are both RIT/NTID alumni.

“My mom is worried, of course, but she made sure that it’s safe and that I’m in good hands. She’s just so happy that I have the opportunity to do something like this with my life.”

After her work with the Peace Corps, Penn is thinking about pursuing a graduate degree in social work, driven by her time in the foster care system. But she also likes to keep her options open.

“You just never know what’s going to happen after two years in Africa.”

Winners announced for RIT/NTID Next Big Idea competition

Far left and right are two light-skinned males and in the center are four young woman holding check.

Five teams of deaf and hard-of-hearing students from Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf went head-to-head April 25 during The Next Big Idea Competition, a Shark Tank-style business competition. Small World That, a central hub that connects the international deaf community through a website and app, took home the $5,000 first prize. 

Judges from the competition’s sponsor, ZVRS, a video-relay service headquartered in Clearwater, Fla., reviewed projects of the team finalists, asked questions and selected first-, second- and third-place winners.

First place: Small World That (Sarah Stanislow, international and global studies major from Pittsford, N.Y.; Lauren Putz, international and global studies major from Naperville, Ill.; Rachel Soudakoff, MBA student from Burbank, Calif.; and Priyanka Patil, computer science graduate student from Mumbai, India) Through the Small World That platform, users can locate other deaf and hard-of-hearing people and signers around the world. According to the team, “the hope is for deaf people to take advantage of the small community we have and form new connections with each another in a convenient way.”

Second place: VeeTV (Andrew Cho, administrative support technology major from Hayward, Calif.; Vincent Venutolo, mobile and app development major from Bensalem, Pa.; and Sami Williamson, political science major from Hampton Bays, N.Y.) VeeTV is a media and entertainment company specializing in delivering media content to the deaf community. By bringing sign language to mass media on a streaming platform, the company enables the deaf community around the globe to enjoy their favorite movies, television shows, music videos, social media videos and more. VeeTV took home the $3,000 second-place prize.

Third place: BodyEasy (Tony Nguyen, industrial design major from Pennsauken, N.J.; John Huang, graduate business student from Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Evans Seraphin, applied computing major from Brooklyn, N.Y.) BodyEasy is a wearable assistive device that enables users to reduce the pressure on the back when lifting heavy objects. BodyEasy won the $2,000 third-place prize.

Other finalists included Yovato (Joseph Ruggieri, finance major from Hopewell, N.J., and Michael Wentland, mechanical engineering technology major from Lynnwood, Wash.), who  hopes to revitalize the sports industry by preventing knee injuries, and ASL Ripple (Emmanuel Perrodin-Njoku, biomedical sciences major from Washington, D.C.; Kaytlyn Johnson, Master of Architecture major from Fargo, N.D.; and Dara Levy, nutrition management major from Carmel, Ind.), an American Sign Language consulting firm serving interpreting programs within universities and organizations that focus on providing ASL interpreting services.

The Next Big Idea competition is an annual event where teams of students combine skills related to their individual majors to create innovative products, technology or businesses. Teams work with mentors on their projects and compete before judges for cash prizes. This year marks the seventh anniversary of the competition.

“The Next Big Idea competition is the culmination of a tremendous amount of hard work, creativity and innovation on the part of these student inventors and entrepreneurs,” said Gerry Buckley, NTID president and RIT vice president and dean. “It’s evident that many of these projects contain the perfect blend of technology, art and design, while also providing a much-needed benefit to the community. I look forward to one day seeing some of these products move forward to production and sold in the marketplace.”

Researchers at NTID demonstrate accessible rower at Imagine RIT festival

Male student with beard and glasses writes on a clipboard while working on rowing skull.

As part of Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival, researchers at NTID’s Center on Access Technology will demonstrate an accessible rower that enables deaf and hard-of-hearing rowers to follow verbal coxswain instructions during competitions. Festival visitors can sit in a canoe and test their reflex response times by using a game pad to reply to visual cues displayed on a smartphone.       

The idea for the accessible rower came about in 2016, with the addition of a deaf rower to the RIT men’s rowing team roster, with the possibility of other deaf and hard-of-hearing athletes joining the squad. In rowing competitions, rowers are required to follow commands from the coxswain, who determines the speed of the boat.

According to Wendy Dannels, a research faculty member in NTID’s Center on Access Technology and one of the project coordinators, the solution provides a visual display showing transcription and/or illustration of the coxswain’s commands. The application was developed to help the athletes synchronize with the coxswain by using a custom Automatic Speech Recognition engine. The engine is offline so the deaf and hard-of-hearing athletes can utilize the technology without internet connection.

In addition to Dannels, project team members are Steven McClusky, a fourth-year software engineering student from Blue Springs, Mo.; Joseph Stanislow, instructional/support faculty member, NTID Information and Computing Studies; and Brian Trager, associate director of the NTID Center on Access Technology.

Imagine RIT creations aim to change the world

Imagine RIT Innovation + Creativity Festival logo with orange, yellow and red circles.

A record 438 exhibits will be on display at this year’s Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival. The projects, displayed throughout the Rochester Institute of Technology campus, not only motivate students to produce an innovative and creative idea, in many cases, they yield something good for the community, humankind and the planet.

The festival takes place 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. on the RIT campus. The event is free and the public is invited. 

For more information on exhibits visit www.rit.edu/imagine.

Deaf undergrads from across the country to conduct research at RIT/NTID this summer

Light skinned male and female in lab coats, safety goggles and blue gloves work on science experiments.

For eight weeks this summer, Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf will be home to the first all-deaf cohort of the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), bringing deaf and hard-of-hearing students from across the country together to do research. 

The cohort of three RIT/NTID students, and one student each from the University of California, Berkeley; Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida; Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.; Ohlone College in Freemont, California; Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio and Western Oregon University in Monmouth, Oregon, includes six women and three men, all of whom are deaf or hard-of-hearing. 

“Students were selected in a competitive process on the basis of who showed strong potential for research and fit in well with our current projects,” said Bonnie Jacob, assistant professor in the mathematical modeling program. “The projects are all from science and math, and include graph theory, astrophysics, biochemistry and analytical chemistry this year. There have been other REUs that invite one, two or a few deaf students each year, but we are the first REU to host a full cohort of students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.” 

A Research Experience for Undergraduates program generally runs in the summer for eight to 10 weeks. Undergraduate students come from different universities, along with some from the home university, to be immersed in a research experience with guidance from a faculty mentor. 

This particular REU is a three-year award from the NSF, and will run for three summers, with the grant totaling $303,000. Students are paid a stipend, receive housing and some meal support and travel. They also have an opportunity to present their research at a conference. In addition to the research experience, RIT/NTID is adding writing coaching, a research boot camp that involves mathematical and scientific training and professional development sessions tailored specifically to students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. They also will have presentations by invited guests. 

“REUs are exciting programs because faculty mentors and students work side-by-side on original research,” Jacob said. “The opportunity to simultaneously make scientific discoveries while watching the students transform themselves into researchers is awesome. A full-time research experience over the summer often is a critical part of an undergraduate student’s preparation to go to graduate school or enter a career in a scientific or mathematical field. We are very excited about our group of students this year: they come from all over the country, have a diverse set of backgrounds, and also have a variety of career goals. They will come together this summer with the common thread of being undergraduate students who are deaf or hard of hearing and are eager to do science and math research. Several students have told me that they’re excited about the program. I know I am!” 

For more on the project, visit the RIT/NTID REU website: https://people.rit.edu/bcjntm/REU.html.

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.

Three from RIT/NTID honored at research reception

Eight males standing in a semi-circle. Third from left is Matt Dye.

Rochester Institute of Technology honored researchers who served as principal investigators on active grant awards in fiscal year 2017 at an April 18 reception.

Among those honored were three RIT/NTID researchers:

  • Matthew Dye, assistant professor and director of the Deaf x Lab, was recognized as a member of the new class of PI Millionaires, a designation given to RIT researchers who have achieved funding of $1 million or more since 2000. Focusing on how the deaf experience shapes cognition, including attention and the executive functions, Dye’s research is supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. 
  • Jessica Trussel, assistant professor, who participated in a National Institutes of Health advanced grant writing boot camp and was awarded $9,000 for a project entitled “Assessing DHH Students English Skills for Placement and Planning.” Trussell will analyze the results of NTID English Placement Tests to determine if those assessments can be used to identify underprepared deaf and hard-of-hearing learners who would benefit from intensive language instruction.
  • Wendy Dannels, research associate professor in NTID's Center on Access Technology, who received a 2018 Seed Fund grant of $5,000 for her project “Accessible Dynamic Informal STEM Learning Using Mixed Reality for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing.” Dannels will collect baseline data that documents access issues for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals who visit the Rochester Museum and Science Center. Analysis of the data will yield comparison data for a follow-up project that uses mixed reality technology to improve access to the exhibits at RMSC. 

Seed funding awards are $5,000 grants for proposals written over the fall semester and refined over the course of a two-day Grant Writers’ Boot Camp. Proposals are reviewed by teams of peers and revised to better position awardees for external funding.

In addition to the Grant Writers’ Boot Camp, RIT offered an advanced boot camp focused on the National Institutes of Health. Participants in the NIH Boot Camp submitted proposals for seed funding to help develop competitive proposals or revise proposals to specific NIH programs in the coming year. 

RIT investigator efforts led to $60 million in research funding in the 2017 fiscal year.

The celebration event, in RIT’s Fireside Lounge, was hosted by Sponsored Research Services, which has recognized 127 PI Millionaire researchers since 2001.

For more information on research at RIT, go to https://www.rit.edu/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.

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.