Category Archives: Student Life

Deaf RIT graduate defines strength in the face of adversity

Amie Sankoh in a long-sleeved light color top, jeans and ankle boots sits w/sculpture of a roaring tiger with trees behind her.

Amie Sankoh has overcome many obstacles in her life—and her walk across the stage during this weekend’s commencement ceremony for RIT’s College of Science will mark the beginning of a new chapter.

The biochemistry student, who is deaf and supported by the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, will begin studying in August for her Ph.D. at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. One day she hopes to use her expertise to conduct groundbreaking research on vaccine development and disease prevention.

As a young student in the west African country of Sierra Leone, Sankoh struggled due to her deafness and a lack of resources. Her parents, refusing to accept failure, made the bold decision to send their 12-year-old daughter to the United States where she would live with her father’s best friend and his family, attend better schools and ultimately gain more opportunities.

Sankoh’s breakthrough came in high school, where her love for mathematics and chemistry flourished. She also learned sign language, which enabled her to break down communication barriers with other deaf and hard-of-hearing people.

“Once I discovered my love for math, which was very visual, I knew that I could do anything with my life,” she said. “My mind was set on attending RIT/NTID because I knew that it was the right fit for me.”

Throughout her academic career, Sankoh participated in internships at top companies like Dow Chemical Co. in Pennsylvania and credits NTID faculty and staff for teaching her how to strengthen her communication skills, advocate for herself and develop her love for Deaf culture.

“My parents have always had very high expectations of their children, and they greatly value education,” she said. “NTID has given me the confidence to believe in myself and affirm that I can make it, especially in a tough science field. I’ve learned how to work with people who are hearing and deaf, study alongside faculty researchers and sharpen my interview skills. I just know that I’m going to make it. I work really hard.”

At NTID, Sankoh was a member of the Organization of African Students (OAS), Ebony Club, the Student Life Team and supported Spectrum, the LGBTIQ and straight alliance. And in March, Sankoh also become a U.S. citizen.

“Amie is an amazing person who exemplifies how to grow oneself,” said Joseph Johnston, director of RIT’s Center for Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution. “Amie’s resiliency and optimistic attitude provided such benefits to herself and the RIT community. She is a very special human being and is one of my favorite students I have ever had the pleasure to work with.”

Sankoh added, “Life is hard and we all have challenges. I’ve fallen and have gotten back up every time. I’m proof that there is always a way to overcome challenges.”

At the University of Tennessee, Sankoh will have 24/7 access to interpreting and notetaking services and will also receive a stipend to conduct her research. She said although her father is somewhat shocked and surprised at her achievements, she knew, deep down, that he expected nothing less.

“My father is so impressed by everything that I’ve been able to accomplish. And I’m so proud that he will be able to watch me cross that stage and move one step closer to my achieving my dream.”

Winners of RIT/NTID’s Next Big Idea announced

Chris Wagner, Wade Keller, Hans Khols and Gerry Buckley together in front of brick wall with a check.

BAGMAG, a hands-free solution for making skateboards more easily portable on the back of a backpack, took home the $5,000 first prize in the 2017 Next Big Idea competition at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf.

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

$5,000 First Place: BAGMAG, uses a strong magnet inserted on the backpack that connects to a strong magnet affixed to the bottom of the skateboard and eliminates the need to remove the backpack and use straps to affix the skateboard.

$3,000 Second Place: ASL Storyteller, an interactive app that offers sign language to babies, both hearing and deaf, to help with language development and creates a richer environment for signing babies.

$2,000 Third Place: Expect Zone, a rear-view mirror with three flashing lights that lets deaf or hard-of-hearing drivers know when an ambulance, police car or fire engine is coming near. It flashes more quickly as the emergency vehicle gets closer.     

Four 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 26 during The Next Big Idea Competition, a ”Shark Tank” style business competition.

The contest 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 sixth anniversary of The Next Big Idea competition.

Team members are:

ASL Storyteller—Julie Love, a Graphic Design major from Riverside , California, and Logan Lugo, an International Business major from Columbus, Ohio.

BAGMAG—Hans Khols , an Industrial Design major from Boston, Massachusetts, and Wade Kellard, a Mechanical Engineering Technology major from Cincinnati, Ohio. 

Expect Zone— Amelia Hamilton, a New Media Marketing major from Austin, Texas, and Tanner Ketchum, an Accounting Technology major from Austin, Texas.

VIGN— Tobin Zolkowski, a Communication and Criminal Justice major from Neenah, Wisconsin, Iswor Ghimire, a Global Computing major from Nepal, Mohd Afifi Ishak, an Industrial Design major from Malaysia, and Jose Lopez, an Applied Computer Technology major from Los Angeles, California. Vign, described as a “Netflix for deaf people,” is designed to stream program content in sign language.

 “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. “We have seen some amazing products and services start in this competition and move into production. We thank ZVRS for their steadfast support since the beginning of the Next Big Idea, and are grateful for the belief they have in our students.” 

Winners announced in national math competition

Group of four students in matching t-shirts working together on math problem with computer and calculators in front of them.

Winners have been announced in Rochester Institute of Technology’s annual Math Competition for Students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing.

The competition, held at RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf April 7–9, welcomed 140 deaf and hard-of-hearing middle school students from Alabama; Connecticut; Ohio; California; Georgia; Delaware; Florida; New York; Texas; Indiana; Kansas; Washington, D.C.; Massachusetts; New Jersey; Oklahoma; Oregon; Rhode Island; Minnesota; Colorado; Washington; Tennessee; Pennsylvania; and New Mexico as well as Canada.

They competed in tasks that tested their speed and accuracy, teamwork and math skills.

Individual winners:

  • First ($100): Crystal Salit of Boyds, Md., from Maryland School for the Deaf.
  • Second ($75): Trey Johnson of Kyle, Texas, from Texas School for the Deaf.
  • Third ($50): Luke Wood of Fishers, Ind., from Indiana School for the Deaf.

Team winners:

  • First ($300): Maryland School for the Deaf
  • Second ($200): Texas School for the Deaf
  • Third ($100): Kenneth R. Olson Middle School,

Top Scorer: Crystal Salit of Boyds, Md., from Maryland School for the Deaf.

Most spirited team: E.C. Drury School for the Deaf, Milton, Ontario, Canada.

More information about the contest is available at

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.

Introducing RIT/NTID’s New Athlete Development Program

Headshot photo of male wearing gingham check orange shirt.

A new program is underway, making the competitive world of collegiate sports even more accessible to all students.The RIT/NTID Athlete Development Program  provides support and training to improve quality of deaf and hard-of-hearing athletes’ experience as key members of their respective athletic programs. Skip Flangan, RIT/NTID’s athlete development coordinator, is working closely with RIT varsity coaches, NTID faculty and staff and, of course, the athletes themselves to help ensure greatness on and off the field, court or track. More.

RIT/NTID team wins National Association of the Deaf College Bowl for the sixth time

Gerry Buckley in orange RIT golf shirt cheering w/four team members and two coaches in black RIT shirts holding trophy.

A student team from Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf has won the National Association of the Deaf College Bowl academic competition for the third consecutive year, and earned its sixth victory overall.

Held at the biennial NAD conference since 1988, the College Bowl is a four-day question-and-answer academic competition with topics as varied as literature, science, mathematics, history and current events. The event, which brings together deaf contestants from top colleges and universities serving deaf and hard-of-hearing students, regularly draws more than 1,000 audience members to the finals.

Teams of four students from each school vie for the trophy and scholarships for their respective colleges. In addition to RIT/NTID, teams at this year’s competition held in Phoenix were from California State University-Northridge, Gallaudet University and the University of Minnesota.

The winning RIT/NTID team members are Lauren Berger, a psychology major from Rochester, N.Y.; Eric Epstein, a software engineering major from Tucson, Ariz.; Asher Kirschbaum, a mechanical engineering major from Washington Grove, Md.; and Emmanuel Perrodin-Njoku, a biomedical sciences major from Washington, D.C.

“The weekly practice throughout the year paid off big time,” said Epstein. “I am so proud of my teammates for their yearlong efforts in studying. I look forward to the next generation of Tigers who will undoubtedly defend the bowl.”

The team worked with co-coaches and RIT/NTID faculty members Christopher Kurz and Gary Behm to prepare for the competition.

“The entire RIT/NTID community is so proud of our College Bowl team for bringing the trophy back to campus for another two years,” said Gerry Buckley, NTID president and RIT vice president and dean. “Lauren, Eric, Asher and Emmanuel did an extraordinary job against fierce competition. They are carrying on a great tradition, and it was wonderful to have so many of our students, faculty, staff and alumni in the audience cheering on our students.”