Rochester Institute of Technology’s work to establish a diverse and inclusive environment earned two awards from national organizations this fall. For the second year in a row, RIT is being honored as an institution committed to diversity for 2018 by Minority Access, Inc. RIT also is receiving a Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award from "INSIGHT into Diversity" magazine for the fifth consecutive year. More.
RIT/NTID student Cortez Harris, an Applied Liberal Arts major from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, recently completed the Dale Carnegie Customer Satisfaction Training program in Rochester, New York, and earned the organization’s “The Future is Bright” award at a ceremony in July.
Harris became involved with Dale Carnegie as part of a training with RIT’s Men of Color, Honor and Ambition (MOCHA) last fall and spring semesters.
“The first semester was a three-day course, while the second semester was a five-day, high impact immersion course that trained my MOCHA brothers and myself in public speaking, leadership, confidence, presentation skills, conflict resolution and other skills,” Harris said. “I won the outstanding performance award during the three-day course for my ability to show confidence, ambition and hard work, and I won the high achievement award for showing improvement in all areas of the program during the five-day course.”
Dale Carnegie programs provide trainings to improve individual and business performance.
“The trainers at Dale Carnegie saw my motivation and dedication to work hard and improve myself and my willingness to encourage and motivate others around me and decided to honor me with the ‘Future is Bright’ award at their 5th annual customer appreciation awards event,” Harris said. “Now that I am a Dale Carnegie graduate, I can influence people within my community who may feel fearful to reach for the stars or to break the rules. I can now teach them that rules are meant to be broken—that it is perfectly fine to step outside of the box for a moment and to redirect your vision.”
Attending the ceremony were RIT/NTID Director of Student Life Tim Albert and RIT/NTID Director of Diversity and Inclusion Stephanie Albert.
"It was an honor for me and Tim to attend the Dale Carnegie awards program,” Stephanie Albert said. “We congratulate Cortez for receiving ‘The Future is Bright’ award. He is an optimistic, hard-working, goal-oriented and highly motivated leader who inspires students and others toward a bright and successful future.”
Rochester Institute of Technology student Jim Heaney started his rapid manufacturing and prototyping business when he was just 14 years old. Five years later, and with the guidance of RIT’s Saunders Summer Startup Program, Heaney and his team are hoping a successful pitch to potential investors will take their business to the next level.
Heaney’s business, Venator Technologies, is among 15 student start-up companies in the program, which encourages multidisciplinary student teams to jumpstart their ventures at the small-business launch pad in hopes of kick starting real companies. It culminates with Investor Demo Night, which will be held at 6 p.m. on Aug. 8 in Ingle Auditorium, Student Alumni Union. A networking reception immediately follows. The event is free and open to the public.
Creating a backpack that suits the packing needs of today’s gamers, solving mass refrigeration concerns on Sub-Saharan farms, and developing a wearable device and mobile app that helps veterans transition into civilian life are a few of the uniquely innovative early-stage business ideas created by student teams during this year’s program.
The program is sponsored by Saunders College of Business and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, and is hosted by the Albert J. Simone Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Throughout the summer, each of the startups is offered a stipend, a team expense fund, working space in Institute Hall and support from RIT faculty, assigned mentors and community business leaders.
Heaney, a second-year industrial engineering major from Montgomery, N.Y., says that his experience with the Saunders Summer Startup Program has helped him develop confidence in his business and has moved his team ahead of the pack.
“Even though my business is somewhat established, this program has provided my team with details on the finer points of business including access to countless business contacts, information on marketing and research and development funding, and tips on effective public speaking and pitching to investors, which are all so invaluable to running a successful business,” said Heaney. “Thanks to the top-notch mentoring that we’ve received from our entrepreneurship coaches and the staff at The Construct at RIT, we have learned how to create a solid foundation for our business.”
This summer’s student teams are:
- Sniffy: A mobile app that improves the relationship between humans and animals by providing incentives for dog walking, and information on pet stores, groomers and other dog owners.
- Op-Sixx: A support network comprised of wearable devices and a mobile app that connects veterans and their families to help them transition into civilian life.
- OurDiet App: An easy-to-follow direct resource offering personalized information based off of an individual’s self-described disease database.
- Phase Innovations LLC: Provides novel stack-based technologies for energy conversion and storage applications.
- TERP (two student teams): Aims to become a central marketplace for sign language interpreting services, making it easier for deaf and hearing people to submit interpreter requests.
- PAL: A wearable technology company that empowers the autism spectrum disorder community with early notification of triggered meltdowns.
- QuickTix: Allows small, independent theaters and school districts to publish events, sell tickets and promote on social media. Immediate feedback is provided on sales numbers, money earned and seats filled.
- Project Object Tracker: Provides tracking software that enhances customer service by evaluating the position of customers in retail stores and calculating whether the customer has been waiting too long for service.
- Venator Technologies: A multi-service manufacturing company utilizing 3D printing and laser cutting to serve small businesses and individual customers.
- SerVu: Provides a platform that connects bar owners with potential bar employees that fit the culture and style of the establishments.
- Hive Refrigeration: Works to solve the issue of mass refrigeration and the reduction of food waste on Sub-Sharan farms for those lacking access to cold storage refrigeration.
- Backpack for Gamers: Creates a backpack that suits the needs of modern-day gamers.
- VeeTV: A video streaming service that offers programming with sign-language content
- Tiger CGM: A glucose monitor designed to provide comfort, freedom, confidence, privacy and accuracy.
For more information on the Saunders Summer Startup, go to www.rit.edu/research/simonecenter/saunders-summer-start-program.
RIT/NTID's Brianna Schlitt ’11, ’13 (psychology, professional studies) and Brynjar Leifsson ’11, ’13 (multidisciplinary studies, deaf education) thought it was love at first sight when they met on the RIT campus in 2009. But they later learned they had attended the same elementary school, shared some of the same teachers and even ate lunch together there.
“People don’t believe that we had met when we were little kids and then met again 15 years later,” said Schlitt. “It’s pretty surreal.”
Schlitt and Leifsson were married on July 13 on Long Island, N.Y.
Schlitt was in kindergarten when she went to a school in East Meadow, N.Y., and Leifsson was in second grade. The two were from different parts of Long Island but at that time, Schlitt said, some of the deaf and hard-of-hearing children attended one school.
They were only together for one year. After kindergarten, Schlitt transitioned to the public school in her district.
Fast forward to 2009 and Schlitt decided she wanted to transfer to RIT after attending James Madison University and Long Island University Post. Leifsson had been a student at RIT since 2005.
Schlitt was visiting RIT and attended a party with a friend. Leifsson was there.
“How do you like somebody after meeting them for an hour?” Schlitt said. But when she ran into Leifsson again two days later, she knew she was smitten. So was Leifsson.
“I first saw her and I thought she is the one,” he said. “But I didn’t think it was possible. I can’t get someone this beautiful.”
They exchanged numbers and kept in touch over the summer before they were both on campus.
A year later they attended a meeting about deaf and hard-of-hearing services on Long Island and they ran into an audiologist who knew them both.
“She was like, ‘How do you guys know each other. You were in the same school when you were little and I had both of you guys,’” Schlitt said. “She couldn’t believe how life brought us back together.”
The couple has been together ever since.
Leifsson works as an American Sign Language teacher on Long Island and Schlitt is a lawyer who will begin a job later this year as an attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County.
Leifsson proposed on April 13, 2017, when they were visiting his native Iceland. He popped the question at the top of the Snaefellsjökull glacier overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
“I had to go over the top,” Leifsson said. “She had been waiting eight long years for me to propose. I had to make it amazing, and it’s my favorite place to be.”
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, is it really happening?’ Of course, I said, ‘Yes,’” Schlitt said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
RIT/NTID's Connor Draughn wanted to get out of his comfort zone and try something new, so the hospitality and tourism management major decided to spend a semester studying at RIT Croatia.
“I learned a lot about myself,” said Draughn, who is from Raleigh, N.C. “For sure it is a highlight of my time at RIT.”
Draughn was helped by the Constellation Brands Study Abroad Fund, which supports hospitality students who want to study in Croatia.
Ginny Clark, senior vice president of Public Affairs for Constellation Brands, said given the importance of global learning, Constellation felt that this opportunity for RIT students would be a meaningful way to give back.
“Today’s business world is global—and the key to a successful global business is building strong, trusted relationships,” said Clark ’06, ’08 (hospitality and service management, service leadership and innovation). “Constellation believes that creating this scholarship opportunity for students to study abroad supports the experiential educational efforts that RIT sees as a critical component to a student’s education.”
Supporting hospitality students, Clark added, made sense for Constellation Brands, which is a global beverage alcohol company—but at its core is a hospitality company.
“It was quite natural that Constellation would see a strong connection with our philanthropy and the School of International Hospitality and Service Innovation,” she said.
Draughn, who got his associate degree in hospitality and services management from NTID in 2016, started pursuing a bachelor’s degree last year. He spent the fall semester of 2017 in Dubrovnik, Croatia, taking hospitality and tourism classes. He is minoring in history, he said, so he enjoyed living in the historic city and learning about the culture and the country.
After he graduates from RIT, Draughn said, he plans to pursue a master’s degree in hospitality and tourism. He hopes to one day become a travel coordinator for a professional sports team or for a Fortune 500 company.
The study abroad experience had such an impact on Draughn that after he returned, he got a job as a Global Ambassador coaching other RIT students about opportunities abroad.
“I like helping people,” Draughn said. “I like telling other students about my experience so they will think about doing something different while they are in school.”
RIT/NTID alumni have found success in a variety of careers. As we celebrate NTID's 50th anniversary reunion, here are some of their stories.
Richard Potter ’72 (retail management)
Job: Owner of Richard’s Fabrics in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.
How did NTID help prepare you for your career?: “I attended a regular high school and had no interpreter or any help with accessibility. I graduated on my own, with some help from my parents and tutoring, but I learned much more at NTID with the interpreters and notetakers that were available to me. It made learning a lot more accessible. In June of 1973, I was the first NTID graduate to be self-employed and open my own retail business. This coming June, I will be celebrating the 45th anniversary of my fabric and textile store, and I plan to retire soon.”
How did NTID help you get where you are today?: “It has had a tremendous impact on me and has really brought so much to my life, and not just in terms of my education. I have some life-long friends from the program that I still see and keep in contact with, and I have so many fun memories that will never fade. Of course, it prepared me to be a fifth-generation business owner in my family, and my son has learned from me and has become a sixth-generation owner of his own business, Wines Tasty. My experience at NTID was really something special.”
CJ Jones ’73 (applied computer technology)
Job: CEO of Sign World TV Inc. and Elevate!, producer, director, writer, actor (appeared in Baby Driver in 2017), entertainer, motivational speaker and musician
How did NTID help prepare you for your career?: “I was the first deaf computer operator at Xerox and the first person to suggest and create a co-op program for NTID students so they could be trained at Xerox. I was also the first deaf person to become a lead operator at Xerox.”
How did NTID help you get where you are today?: “When I stopped working at Xerox, I started to pursue a career in the entertainment field. I have been self-employed full time for 35 years. I can say with great appreciation that NTID helped prepare me with the knowledge, leadership skills, experience and responsibility I needed to succeed. I have very fond memories of NTID and have always spoken highly of the teachers who helped shape me to be what I am today.”
Jacquelyn Wilson ’06, ’07 (laboratory science technology, applied arts and sciences)
Job: U.S. Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialist
How did NTID help prepare you for your career?: “The LST (laboratory science technology) program at NTID helped me prepare to smoothly transition into RIT for the biotechnology bachelor’s program. My career required a bachelor’s degree as a minimum when I was hired, and I wouldn’t have accomplished this without the LST program at NTID.”
How did NTID help you get where you are today?: “One of my favorite professors, Todd Pagano, inspired me to be who I am today. He believed in me and told me that I would succeed in anything that came my way. We still keep in touch occasionally to keep him in the loop with what I’m doing. Every time we touch base, he tells me that he has no doubts about my abilities or my accomplishments. Thank you to Dr. Pagano for the inspiration. I am happy to be where I am today.”
Jasmine Zambrano Oregel ’12, ’13 (computer-aided drafting, packaging science)
Job: Packaging engineer for American Honda Motor Company Inc.
How did NTID help prepare you for your career?: “My experiences at NTID prepared me not only for my career, but also for life. I got a better understanding and was prepared for anything once I got into RIT. NTID helped me improve my English, math and other skills dealing with the engineering program CADT (computer-aided drafting technology) by learning from my professors’ experiences. NTID also helped me by having a career fair that encouraged me to find some good job opportunities that would build my experience level, and it helped me figure out which companies I was most interested in.”
How did NTID help you get where you are today?: “My experiences at NTID and RIT helped me be prepared for my career and gave me many opportunities for hands-on experience working with faculty members I got to know personally. Also, I developed life skills through meaningful interaction with my sorority, Alpha Sigma Theta, students, professors, staff, and my family.”
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
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.”
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 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.