Category Archives: Giving

Alumnus gives RIT $50 million to foster entrepreneurship and cybersecurity

Left to right: RIT President Munson, Austin McChord and President Emeritus Destler.

A 2009 alumnus has given Rochester Institute of Technology $50 million, the largest donation ever made to the university and one of the largest ever in the region.

The unprecedented gift comes from Austin McChord, founder and CEO of Datto, a Connecticut-based data protection company with engineering and support offices in downtown Rochester.

“A gift of this magnitude will help propel RIT from excellence to preeminence,” said RIT President David Munson. “We are so proud of our alumnus Austin McChord. He was passionate about his idea and he turned it into a big success. This embodies the creative element that we want to further highlight at RIT. Every student can be involved in creating things that never before existed, and then putting the result into play. His investment in RIT will help our students and faculty make their mark on the world.”

McChord, an RIT trustee, said he was inspired to make the donation by former RIT President Bill Destler, with whom he has developed a friendship.

“My goal with this gift is two-fold,” said McChord. “First is to help make more resources available to students, alumni and the community at-large to create, build and innovate for the future. But it’s also to help recognize those who helped you along the way. My success today would not have been possible without my time at RIT.”

Destler, who retired as RIT president in June 2017, was in the audience at RIT’s Student Innovation Hall as McChord announced his gift.

“I am thrilled that Austin McChord has chosen to share his success with RIT in the form of this most generous gift,” said Destler. “It’s truly been a pleasure to get to know him and to watch his business grow internationally as well as right here in Rochester, and I’m excited to see what the future holds for him as well as for the programs and projects this gift will support.”

The gift is to be designated for use in two major areas:

  • $30 million to foster creativity and entrepreneurship at RIT, including $17.5 million to launch the Maker Library & Innovative Learning Complex of the Future. This will be a new facility connecting RIT’s Wallace Center and the Student Alumni Union. Additional funding will go toward purchasing equipment and endowing faculty positions and student scholarships, including new “Entrepreneurial Gap Year” fellowships to help students advance their concepts into businesses.
  • $20 million to advance RIT’s cybersecurity and artificial intelligence capabilities. This funding will be used to expand facilities, as well as to establish endowments to attract and retain exceptional faculty and graduate students, primarily in the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences, the largest of RIT’s nine colleges.

“On behalf of the Board of Trustees, we extend our sincere appreciation to fellow Trustee Austin McChord for this magnanimous gift,” said RIT Trustees Chair Christine Whitman. “This most generous gift will allow RIT to expand and enhance its programming in some areas that the university is noted for, as well as further fostering our environment of creativity and innovation.”

McChord has been an active alumnus of RIT, serving as a frequent keynote speaker at events, including Venture Creations graduation, the annual Entrepreneurship Conference and the 2017 Commencement. Datto sponsored events such as RIT48, an entrepreneurship competition, and hackathons, and McChord has given of his time as a mentor in RIT’s SummerStart program, an intense summer program aimed at assisting entrepreneurs/innovators in developing their business concepts to a point where they are ready to begin to seek angel investment.

McChord founded Datto, a global provider of Total Data Protection Solutions, in 2007. Starting with an idea he had while a student at RIT, McChord started the company in the basement of his father’s office building. His original goal of building basic back-up for small businesses across the country has expanded dramatically over the past 10 years. Datto has experienced exponential growth, appearing on the coveted Inc. 500 list of fastest growing private companies in 2012, 2013 and 2014, and has been recognized by the Connecticut Technology Council as one of the state’s fastest growing companies. The company has also received numerous industry awards for company growth, product excellence and customer support.

Datto was recently acquired by Vista Equity Partners and merged with Autotask Corp. McChord is CEO of the new company, which has about 1,400 employees with offices in nine countries. In 2015, the company became Connecticut’s most valuable start-up, with a valuation in excess of $1 billion.

In August 2014, Datto opened a branch in downtown Rochester on the fourth floor of RIT’s Downtown Center, at 40 Franklin St., becoming the first company in the region to join that state’s START-UP NY program. Initial plans called for Datto to add 70 workers within the next 18 months, but Datto has already grown to more than 200 employees in Rochester. McChord has said he expects the company’s Rochester operations, which also has offices on multiple floors of The Metropolitan (former Chase Tower), to continue to grow.

McChord’s business success has earned him several honors. The holder of several patents, McChord was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2015 as a leader in Enterprise Technology and won the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year New York Region Award in 2016.

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. 

Sally J. Pimentel Endowed Scholarship established at RIT/NTID

assortment of chemistry beakers shown in blue lighting

Albert T. and Sally J. Pimentel of Fort Myers, Florida, have established an endowed scholarship to provide support to graduate-level RIT students who are deaf or hard- of-hearing and majoring in a science, technology, engineering or math program.                  

The Pimentel’s have contributed $50,000 to be designated to the Sally J. Pimentel Endowed Scholarship.

Albert Pimentel has been a longtime advocate of the deaf community and has served as past chairperson of the NTID National Advisory Group and a longtime member of the RIT Board of Trustees. The Pimentels have assisted young people in various states in obtaining higher education degrees. 

Through this gift, they hope to encourage deaf and hard-of-hearing students to continue their education and obtain a master’s or doctoral degree in science, technology, engineering or math graduate programs at RIT.

Selection for the scholarship will be based on:

  • Deaf or hard-of-hearing student enrolled at RIT
  • Demonstrated financial need
  • Full-time enrollment in a master’s or Ph.D. program
  • Good academic standing

“We are grateful to Albert and Sally for establishing this scholarship,” said Gerry Buckley, NTID president and RIT vice president and dean. “The Pimentels have been strong supporters of RIT/NTID and our deaf and hard-of-hearing students, and we appreciate their belief in the talents of our students. This gift to RIT/NTID continues their generosity in investing in young people and their futures.”

RIT/NTID alumnus establishes student workshop series

Middle aged man in light blue polo shirt and glasses.

Marc Roer of Chicago, an alumnus of Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf, has established a fund to provide a series of workshops that focus on students’ “soft skills” and practical use of today’s technology for career success.

Through the $10,000 commitment, the Roer Family Workshop Series “Genius Labs” will provide programming developed in partnership with RIT/NTID’s Student Life Team and Center on Employment.

“NTID holds a very special place in my heart,” Roer said. “Providing a way for students to develop the soft skills needed in the workplace offered a golden opportunity for me to give back and be able to help others in the same way that NTID helped me. It is my hope that the Roer Family Workshop Series will help provide the same direction NTID gave me and motivate other alumni to contribute to the series as well as to NTID.”

Workshops topics include best practices in PowerPoint and Prezi; study and homework apps for students; how to use social media tools such as Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat; tips for video and Skype interviews, and more.

“These skill-building sessions highlight a number of practical activities, focused primarily on technology, that are designed to advance students’ practical knowledge and application, no matter their level of experience,” said Gerry Buckley, NTID president and RIT vice president and dean. “We are grateful to Marc for his commitment to RIT/NTID’s students, and for giving back to his alma mater in such an innovative and creative way.”

Roer earned an associate degree in electromechanical technology from RIT/NTID in 1981 and is a senior mechanical research technician at John Crane Inc. in Morton Grove, Ill.

ZVRS head named to RIT/NTID Foundation Board of Directors

Sherri Turpin w/long curly dark hair blue eyes wearing tan blouse and black jacket

Sherri Turpin of Tampa, Fla., has been named to Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf Foundation Board of Directors. Turpin is CEO of ZVRS, a video relay service providing communication access to deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals.

The RIT/NTID Foundation is composed of volunteers committed to the advancement of career development and personal growth opportunities for deaf and hard-of-hearing students at NTID. It serves as a link through which foundation board members, external to the institute, foster involvement and private investment to enrich the quality and vitality of the learning environment at NTID.

A technology veteran, Turpin comes from a strong leadership background, with more than 25 years of experience in the telecommunications industry, specializing in business strategy and development, sales, marketing, operations and customer experience. Most recently, Turpin served as channel chief for EarthLink, leading all aspects of the company’s indirect distribution channel, which included accountability for full profit and loss, sales and revenue growth. Prior to EarthLink, Turpin was executive-in-residence for Kinderhook Industries and XO Communications in varying management roles. In addition to the RIT/NTID Foundation Board, Turpin serves as a trustee for the New York School for the Deaf in White Plains, N.Y.

“When it comes to higher education, there should be no barriers to communication or accessibility,” Turpin said. “We should be striving to create equal access and opportunity for all individuals regardless of hearing status. I’m beyond thrilled to join the RIT/NTID Foundation Board, as I believe wholeheartedly in NTID’s vision and commitment to their students.”

ZVRS is the creator and sponsor of RIT/NTID’s Next Big Idea, an annual competition in which cross-disciplinary teams of deaf and hard-of-hearing students work together to create a product, technology or business that will be useful to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.

“We are excited to have Sherri’s expertise and leadership on our Foundation Board of Directors,” said Gerard Buckley, NTID president and RIT vice president and dean. “We value the relationship we have with ZVRS and look forward to that relationship growing even stronger with Sherri’s involvement.”

New scholarship benefits deaf, hard-of-hearing students at RIT/NTID

Mike Lawson in dark suit and tie standing with mom on left in yellow top and plaid skirt and dad on right in brown suit and tie.

RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf has announced the Michael E. Lawson Endowed Scholarship, which will be implemented for the 2016-17 academic year. Lawson was a former RIT men’s soccer standout and assistant coach who was inducted into the RIT Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012.
The Lawson scholarship will support deaf and hard-of-hearing students in the College of Liberal Arts and in NTID’s Master of Science in Secondary Education program. At minimum, two awards will be made annually, one to a student in each the College of Liberal Arts and the MSSE program. The Lawson family generously gifted the funds to establish the scholarship.
“I am extremely proud to be part of establishing this scholarship for deserving young deaf and hard-of-hearing men and women,” said Lawson, who is a teacher of deaf and hard-of-hearing students at Neptune Middle School in Neptune, NJ. “I hope that the scholarship will provide an opportunity for them to have the same kinds of positive experiences that I had as a student at RIT/NTID.” 
Named the RIT Senior Male Athlete of the Year in 2006, Lawson enjoyed an excellent career with the Tigers, starting all 71 games 2002-05, posting 40 points from his midfield position on 13 goals and 14 assists. Eleven of his 13 career goals were game-winners, fourth all-time at the university.
Lawson was a four-time All-Empire 8 selection, earning Player of the Year honors in 2004 and 2005. He was also league Rookie of the Year in 2002. Lawson helped guide the Tigers to the 2004 Empire 8 Championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. He was also a 2004 National Soccer Coaches Association of America Adidas First Team All-Region selection.
“The importance of scholarship support for deserving deaf and hard-of-hearing students at RIT/NTID cannot be overstated,” said Gerard Buckley, NTID president and RIT vice president and dean. “We are so grateful to the Lawson family for their generous gift in honor of their son, Michael, who continues to serve as a role model to our deaf and hard-of-hearing student-athletes.”
A three-year team captain, Lawson was a two-time NSCAA Scholar All-American in 2004 and 2005. As an undergraduate, Lawson, an NTID student, maintained a 3.64 grade point average as a social work major. In his graduate studies, he had a 3.90 GPA in deaf education.
Lawson served as an assistant coach for the RIT men’s soccer program under head coach Bill Garno 2006-08.
Please contact Bryan Hensel, NTID Development at for information on how you can make a gift to the fund.

Volunteer Program Helps Alumni Give NTID “LOVE”

Caya Consunji models the back of the Got NTID LOVE? t-shirt, with logo designed by Matt Daigle

Earlier this spring, RIT/NTID alumna Brandi Rarus visited campus to sign her book, Finding Zoe. While she was here, the former Miss Deaf America took time out from her schedule to meet with students in their classes.

By taking the time to give back to her alma mater and meet current students, Rarus became one of the latest alumni to give some NTID “LOVE.”

Participating in the “Got NTID LOVE?” project enables qualified alumni who demonstrate a desire to stay connected with the university to join a network of likeminded Leaders of Volunteer Engagement (LOVE).

Joining Rarus in this network is Muchineripi “Muchi” Chienje, who staffed the NTID Alumni Relations booth at both the Rochester Deaf Festival this summer and the AppleFest on campus this fall. Chienje spent his time helping to connect local alumni with current students, further cementing students’ awareness of the significance of the RIT/NTID experience.

Volunteer efforts are not limited to Rochester and may span the country or even transcend its borders. For example, Carmen “Caya” Consuji and Susie Lai coordinated the RIT/NTID exhibit at the biannual Deaf Women United conference in Berkeley, California, this summer. Consunji and Lai’s efforts meant alumni who attended the conference had the opportunity to connect with each other, despite the geographical distance from RIT/NTID.

“Volunteering is a priority because RIT/NTID helped me grow as a person,” says Consuji. “It’s been years since I was on campus, but the opportunity to network is really nice.”

Daniel Santos also was instrumental in hosting an NTID alumni gathering this spring at Signs Restaurant in Toronto, Canada’s first restaurant staffed by deaf servers. Because of Santos’ participation in the Got NTID LOVE? project, RIT/NTID was able to reach out and connect with its international alumni, while treating them to a networking opportunity hosted at the site of a popular entrepreneurial venture.

Got NTID LOVE? is a volunteer engagement initiative first conceived by former NTID Alumni Association president Angie Officer. She wanted to provide resources for RIT/NTID alumni interested in volunteering, and at the same time, find ways to recognize and express gratitude to alumni volunteers.

“The NTID Alumni Association board sees firsthand the positive impact here at RIT/NTID when alumni give their time,” says Officer. “It’s a gift that keeps on giving in many intangible ways.”

Alumni often are vital to fundraising efforts, and volunteers can support NTID’s Development office on targeted projects. Alumni who take the time to talk to prospective and admitted students in their own geographic region often represent a level of authenticity that has a positive impact on recruitment efforts.

“We have 8,000 NTID alumni,” says Officer. “Each and every one of those alumni has the power to make an amazing impact, both on the college and on the lives of current students through our networking and fundraising efforts. Scholarship support is more important than ever, and alumni can help make a huge difference.”

For example, “it helps new students and [recent grads] to meet and know that there are RIT alumni who succeed and can be role models,” adds Consuji.

Leaders receive a T-shirt with the project logo, which was designed by RIT/NTID alumnus Matt Daigle, a cartoonist known for the “That Deaf Guy” series.

Alumni who are interested in joining the effort to give some NTID LOVE can visit

NTID’s Rosica Hall Wins 2015 Design Excellence Award

Photo by: Mark Benjamin

Sebastian and Lenore Rosica Hall at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf and HBT Architects—the firm responsible for the building’s design—were recognized by the American Institute of Architects’ Rochester chapter as a 2015 design award recipient. The AIA Design Excellence Awards—held June 12 at Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery—encourage excellence in architectural design, increase public awareness of the human-made environment and honor the architects, owners and builders of significant projects.

Rosica Hall, an $8 million, two-story, 23,000-square-foot building, officially opened in October 2013 and is devoted to innovation and research for students, faculty and staff of NTID and RIT. It was designed to be deaf-friendly, incorporating a maximum use of
 natural light, open line-of-sight paths, safety features such as strobe lights, and minimalizing vibrations from the building’s air conditioning and heating units.

At the building dedication in 2013, Mark Rosica, chair of NTID’s Counseling and Academic Advising Services and a son of Sebastian and Lenore Rosica, said, “The building was specially designed to enhance the learning and discovery of our deaf and hard-of-hearing students and is an outstanding facility that will help to level the playing field by providing a variety of research opportunities for our students.”

Added James DeCaro, NTID professor and dean emeritus: “Rosica Hall is aesthetically pleasing, with high functionality, and designed to meet the unique needs of learners who are deaf. HBT Architects have presented us an exquisite ‘research home’ at the pinnacle of understated elegance.”

Research centers and labs are active in the building, and the second floor of the building houses the Imaginarium, where faculty and students gather to develop creative and innovative ideas. A meditation garden is on the first floor, with native plants that provides a common area where people can sit and think.

The William G. McGowan Charitable Fund gave a $1.75 million grant, which included a $250,000 matching challenge, for the construction of the building.

To learn more about Rosica Hall, go to

Ellie’s 5K Run/Walk

Join us for Ellie’s 5K Run & Walk Sun., April 26. Registration is at 9 a.m. and the walk begins at 10 a.m. at the RIT Outdoor Track near the Gordon Field House. This annual event honors former RIT/NTID faculty Eleanor Rosenfield, who passed away on March 7, 2010. Proceeds from the walk will go to Gilda’s Club, an organization that supports individuals with cancer.

From 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. Fri., April 24, there will be a luncheon and presentation about the event in the Bamboo Room of the RIT Campus Center.

To register, visit

Technology Camps at RIT/NTID Bring Boys and Girls from Near and Far

There may not be any roads in John Smart’s village of Napakiak, Alaska, but they have electricity there.

And Smart, 15, a Yupi’k Eskimo, plans to use some of it for his new computer he built at the recent TechBoyz summer camp at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf.

He was one of 35 deaf and hard-of-hearing boys and girls from around the country who attended the recent six-day TechBoyz and TechGirlz technology camps at RIT/NTID this year. The goal is to encourage 7th-, 8th- and 9th-graders to pursue their interest in science, technology, engineering and math.

Just traveling from Napakiak – population 369 – more than 3,500 miles to attend TechBoyz was an adventure for Smart. He had to take a boat to Bethel, Alaska, then a small plane to Anchorage, where he boarded a jet to Portland, Ore., another to Chicago, and another to Rochester, N.Y.

“I like it. I’m really enjoying it,” Smart said of his taste of college as he got ready to download software into his new computer. “I want to become an engineer and I like the hands-on part of it. And I’m meeting new friends and learning their cultures.”

His family had a computer, but it broke several years ago and has not been replaced until now.

“It's gratifying each year to see so many young deaf and hard-of-hearing students enthused about technology, and thinking about ways they can involve technology in their careers,” said Mark Sommer, senior director of NTID's Outreach Consortium. “And John’s adventure getting to Rochester shows what lengths they'll take to come to RIT/NTID.”

Other than building computers, the campers attended a robotics lab, competed in math challenges, enjoyed programs at the Rochester Museum & Science Center, visited an amusement park and went bowling. They were also taught how to avoid phishing scams and identity theft.

Many of the students were able to attend the camp with the help of scholarships from the J.M. McDonald Foundation, Quota Club International and the NTID Alumni Association.

Cameron Carey, 14, of Carlisle, Pa., plans to become a computer software developer or technician. “TechBoyz pushed me to reach my goal,” he said. “It’s been lots of fun.”

Sophia Kouassi, 14, of Douglasville, Ga., learned about TechGirlz after her teacher gave her information about the camp. “I never thought I could build my own computer,” she said. She’s considering a career in the culinary or music field, or as a lawyer. Either way, a new computer will help. “It’s a good tool to have.”

Several of the students said they hope to attend RIT/NTID, which, with more than 120 sign language interpreters, more than 50 classroom captionists and hundreds of notetakers, is the most accessible college campus for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.