Category Archives: Success Stories

RIT/NTID honor society inducts 26 new members

Group of students, faculty, staff and President Buckley with EPT logo on screens behind them.

Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf inducted 26 new members into the Delta Xi chapter of the Epsilon Pi Tau honor society at a ceremony May 1.

Epsilon Pi Tau recognizes the academic excellence of students in fields devoted to the study of technology and the preparation of practitioners for the technology professions. Epsilon Pi Tau also extends the honor of membership to outstanding practitioners in the technology professions, to scholars, and/or to persons who have significantly supported or advanced technology professions.

With support from DeafTEC, an NSF-sponsored center at RIT/NTID providing resources for high schools and community colleges that educate deaf and hard-of-hearing students in STEM-related programs, the Delta Xi chapter of the honor society was established at RIT in 2015 for deaf and hard-of-hearing students in associate-level NTID technology programs. This chapter is the only chapter of Epsilon Pi Tau specifically for deaf and hard-of-hearing students and the first NTID honor society.

“It is one of the highlights of the academic year to welcome our talented, hard-working students into the EPT honor society,” said Gerry Buckley, NTID president and RIT vice president and dean. “It is a validation of their hours of studying and academic endeavors in and out of the classroom. They make their families and RIT/NTID proud.”

Student honorees include:

  • Miko A. Arayata of Quezon City, Philippines; arts and imaging studies
  • Megan L. Armstrong of Webster, New York; laboratory science technology
  • Cassandra Banania of Chino Hills, California; arts and imaging studies
  • Courtney S. Boyer of Decatur, Georgia;  computer-aided drafting technology
  • Taher A Chowdhury of Ozone Park, New York; accounting technology
  • Gabriella L. Ertle of Aliso Viejo, California; management information systems
  • Demeisha A. Heath of Brooklyn, New York; business technology
  • Macee R. Helmick of West Henrietta, New York; business technology
  • Phillip Ho of San Jose, California; computer-aided drafting technology
  • Israelle S. Johnson of Baltimore, Ohio; laboratory science technology
  • Otto Kingstedt of Washington, D.C. and Stockholm, Sweden; arts and imaging sciences
  • Abbigail J. Kolar of Kearney, Nebraska; business
  • Ping Liu of Harbin, China; applied computer technology
  • Dulce Mireles of Enigma, Georgia; arts and imaging sciences
  • Aaron Parker of Lakewood, Ohio; mobile application development
  • Philip Pham of San Jose, California; 3D graphics technology
  • Victoria Pon of Queens, New York; arts and imaging studies
  • Mark L. Redekas of Manchester, Connecticut; applied computer technology
  • Kathryn Richer of North Syracuse, New York, computer-aided drafting technology
  • Sabrina L. Serna of Lake View Terrace, California; laboratory science technology
  • Signe Tarmey of Charlestown, New Hampshire; laboratory science technology
  • Michael Wentland of Lynnwood, Washington; applied mechanical technology
  • Mia C. White of Littleton, Colorado; business accounting

Faculty honorees include:

  • Mitchell R. Bacot, instructional/support faculty, NTID Science and Mathematics Department
  • Edward Mineck, interim chairperson, NTID Visual Communication Studies Department
  • Mark J. Pfuntner, chairperson, NTID Business Studies Department

 

 

 

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.”

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’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.

RIT/NTID’s Ping Liu to receive leadership award

Young Asian woman with long dark hair wearing sleeveless black top.

When Ping Liu first arrived at RIT, she couldn’t speak English and didn’t know American Sign Language. Today, she is one of the most successful students in her major and is being recognized with the RIT Outstanding Service Award for International Students.

Liu, 24, is from a small village in northern China where her parents are farmers. Her dream school has been RIT since she was in middle school. An applied computer technology major, Liu hopes to earn her master’s degree in human-centered computing and eventually teach in China and one day work at the United Nations to help deaf people all over the world.

Like many international students, Liu arrived in the United States unaware of the hurdles she would have to overcome and adjustments she would have to make to be successful in the American educational system.

“I had a hard time communicating,” she said. “On the first day of class, I did not think I could stay in the United States for one more day. I felt so lonely and nervous.”

She soon joined RIT/NTID’s Asian Deaf Club as the cultural director and the Deaf International Student Association as the program director, and became an integral part of the college community.

But where Liu really shines is her passionate, enthusiastic promotion of RIT. She created a website to promote RIT among deaf Chinese students. She teaches ASL on the website, fields questions about RIT and applying to RIT, gives advice on taking the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), including feedback on student writing for the test. 

She also wants to establish a scholarship for Chinese students who are deaf. She is at RIT/NTID on scholarship and wants to give back.

“I want to do something good while I am here,” she said. “RIT has changed my life, and I want to do the same for others.”

The leadership awards and scholarship ceremony dinner takes place 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 18, in RIT’s University Gallery.

RIT/NTID alumnus finds freedom in the skies

Male student with backpack standing outdoors in front of a lake, mountains and trees.

RIT/NTID mechanical engineering alumnus Asher Kirschbaum became fascinated with flying at a young age.

“I remember one of my first flights,” he said. “I was around six years old, and I was flying to Florida to visit my great-grandmother. I was amazed at how a device weighing tons is able to lift off the ground effortlessly. This amazement never wore off.”

Kirschbaum has been named to the Able Flight class of 2018. Able Flight, created by pilots “who believe that the life-changing experience of learning to fly is best shared,” designed the Able Flight Scholarship to enable people with disabilities to pursue that experience. There are eight members of this year’s class, who come from across the country and have a variety of disabilities.

“I went to RIT to study engineering so I could understand how planes and rockets really work,” said the Washington Grove, Maryland, native. “I never thought about flying one myself until I met a guy who told me about the program. I immediately realized that it was something I would love to do, and that ignited a new passion in me.” 

Kirschbaum learned about the Able Flight program when he went to an event called Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities. “They had break-out sessions, and I could pick which company's session to attend. All of the sessions I went to were hosted by aerospace companies. One of the attendees was a student from Able Flight, and he is currently working for the program. He talked to me about the program and recommended it. I did not need to think twice before deciding that I wanted to do it!”

Kirschbaum starts training at Purdue University May 15, where a sign language interpreter will be provided for all of the courses. While flying, Able Flight has developed communication methods for the instructor to communicate with deaf students. The training is intensive—six to seven weeks without a break. The graduation ceremony is July 24. 

“I am looking forward to flying a plane. Not just to get the feeling of the wind under the wings, but so I can show everyone that deaf people are really capable of doing anything. People get surprised when I tell them that deaf people can drive, wait ‘til I tell them that we can fly too!”

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.”

 
 

What’s next for members of RIT/NTID’s class of 2017?

group of graduates wearing cap and gown

NTID has a strong history of successful employment outcomes for our graduates. For the past several years, 94% of RIT/NTID graduates who have sought employment have found a job within a year. This year’s graduates are off to a good start—a number of them already have jobs lined up, and others are planning to attend graduate school. We congratulate these students and the entire Class of 2017! Check out what's next for some of our recent RIT/NTID graduates.

Balancing Act

Smiling female student with long brown hair and glasses standing in fron of a wall

Knowledge of Excel and general ledger skills allow Natalya Dmitriyeva to accomplish her monthly goal of balancing the books. Dmitriyeva, from Odessa, Ukraine, graduated May 2017 with a bachelor's degree in accounting. She already is working full time as an accounting specialist at Visions Hotels, a hotel management company in Rochester, New York. More