Deaf entrepreneurs on the rise

Deaf entrepreneur Alec Satterly wearing a green shirt seated at a desk, working on a computer.

This article about the growth of Deaf entrepreneurship by W. Scott Atkins, a business studies professor at RIT/NTID and nationally recognized deaf entrepreneurship expert, originally appeared in the Rochester “Democrat & Chronicle” and is reprinted with permission. (Photo credit:  A. Sue Weisler, RIT)

Deaf entrepreneurs on the rise, locally, nationally 

There is a revolution happening in Rochester and all across the United States. The number of deaf people running their own businesses has grown by leaps and bounds. Technological advances have made it possible for these individuals to access networks, customers and suppliers. There are now growing networks of deaf entrepreneurs.

Last weekend, I attended an event for local deaf entrepreneurs sponsored by Convo, a deaf-owned video relay service (VRS), and run by CEO Jarrod Musano, a deaf graduate of Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf. There were 30-35 deaf business owners at the event, and they were grateful for the opportunity to network. I overheard a deaf realtor say to a deaf business owner who owns several rental properties, “Contact me and let’s see if we can do business together.” Convo has coordinated these types of events in other cities and has invested in a “Deaf Business Ecosystem,” which includes the creation of an online directory that now contains information on more than 250 deaf-owned businesses from all over the country.

Last semester at RIT/NTID, I was involved with a student business competition called the Next Big Idea, sponsored by VRS provider ZVRS, which provided opportunities for students to work on cross-disciplinary teams to innovate new products and services. This year, 15 teams competed for the opportunity to win cash prizes. It is my hope that many of these concepts will develop into full-fledged businesses.

In a class that I teach at RIT/NTID, called Introduction to Entrepreneurship, deaf and hard-of-hearing students create their own business with less than $20 of their own money. One student, Alec Satterly, established a bike repair business and was able to earn $650 during his winter break. Over the next few years, Alec participated in several entrepreneurship efforts on the RIT/NTID campus and has been very successful.

In 2014, his team, Cenify, won the ZVRS Next Big Idea grand prize of $5,000, and that summer, he and his team gained entry into the Saunders Summer Start-up Program, an incubator program at RIT. Cenify has since moved into RIT’s Venture Creations business incubator, which helps companies move to the next phase of their businesses. This is just one illustration of how RIT/NTID fosters entrepreneurship on campus. In addition, RIT/NTID brings alumni who are business owners to campus to speak with students. Alumnus and RIT Trustee Rob Rice, owner and founder of the Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm BayFirst Solutions, presented last year. RIT/NTID also works closely with RIT’s Simone Center for Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship in an effort to boost the number of deaf entrepreneurs on campus. Currently, we have two all-deaf teams who are part of the Saunders Summer Start-up Program.

This is only the beginning. There are many deaf and hard-of-hearing people who want to create their own businesses, but they are not sure where to start. It is important that we invest in new infrastructures to make this happen. This requires a collaborative effort by universities, agencies, corporations and other entrepreneurs. With their support, I am optimistic that we will continue to see the growth of a new generation of deaf entrepreneurs, especially here in Rochester.

 

From co-op to career

Christopher Robinson wearing glasses, bright green golf shirt holding safety glasses standing with CNC machinery

Name:  Christopher Brown

Hometown

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Degree programs

A.O.S., Computer Integrated Machining Technology, 2016

Year of graduation

2016

Place of employment

Place of employment Cyromech, Syracuse, New York

Job Title

Computer numeric control (CNC) operator

Work Responsibilities

Some of my responsibilities were to use blueprints to create precision products on the CNC machine. I set controls; inspected machines; and scheduled maintenance and repair to ensure operation, quality standards and correct specifications.

How my career relates to my degree from RIT/NTID

I learned much about blueprints, following directions, working on several products at once and how to use a variety of other machines: HASS lathe, manual lathe and mill and turning machines. My co-op gave me relevant work experience and helped me develop my knowledge and skills. At RIT/NTID, I learned time management, assertiveness, persistence and to work with deadlines. These skills helped me to succeed on co-op and will help me succeed in life as well. I appreciate the experience I got on the CNC mill machine because that was really valuable on my co-op. And, I have accepted a full-time job with Cryomech for after graduation.

Advice

Be responsible, be prepared, be assertive, be persistent and don’t give up. Fight for what you believe in and don’t let anything or anyone get you down. Maintain a positive attitude and stay motivated. Stay safe and avoid risky behavior. Most of all, grab your opportunity.

RIT/NTID students graduate with accolades

eight students with President Buckley holding award plaques.

Several students at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf were honored with their families and friends at an academic awards ceremony May 20. NTID President and RIT Vice President and Dean Gerry Buckley hosted the ceremony.

The graduates who received awards are:

·         Marissa Woodruff, an applied liberal arts major from Binghamton, N.Y., received the Academic Achievement Award for students earning an associate degree.

·         Nathan Scott, an applied arts and science major from Schenectady N.Y., received the Academic Achievement Award for students earning a bachelor’s degree.

·         Kyle Murbach, a computing security major from Wheaton, Ill., received the Academic Achievement Award for students earning a master’s degree.

·         Caitlyn Alana Lacerra, a business technology major from Marlborough, Mass., and Leslie Williams, a laboratory science technology major from Harwood Heights, Ill., received the Outstanding Graduate Award for students earning associate degrees.

·         Natalie Snyder, a biomedical sciences major from Rockville, Md., received the Outstanding Graduate Award for students earning a bachelor’s degree.

·         Courtney Kellogg, a graduate student in chemistry from Lake Waukomis, Mo., received the Outstanding Graduate Award for students earning a master’s degree.

·         Hunter Ekberg, an ASL-English interpreting major from Coon Rapids, Minn., received the Outstanding Graduate Award for interpreting students earning a bachelor’s degree.

·         Leslie Williams, a laboratory science technology major from Harwood Heights, Ill., is the 2016 NTID college delegate for undergraduate students.

·         Chloe Ho, a graduate student from Hong Kong enrolled in the secondary education of students who are deaf or hard of hearing program, is the 2016 NTID college delegate for graduate students.

 

Other students who had recent achievements include: Chelsea Behrens, an ASL-English interpreting major from West Islip, N.Y.; Eliza Fowler, an ASL-English interpreting major from Hyde Park, Vt.; Rebecca Lucas, an ASL-English interpreting major from Schenectady, N.Y.; and Hunter Ekberg, an ASL-English interpreting major from Coon Rapids, Minn., were all named RIT Outstanding Undergraduate Scholars.

RIT/NTID associate professor earns service award from Visions Global Empowerment

Catherine Clark with many young Ethiopian children smiling and signing

Catherine Clark, associate professor, National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Rochester Institute of Technology, was honored for her “Outstanding Dedication to Service” by Visions Global Empowerment during its annual awards ceremony in April.

Clark, who has worked at NTID for 30 years and is also an audiologist and cochlear implant specialist, was recognized for her volunteer work with deaf and hard-of-hearing children and adults in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. During several visits to Ethiopia between 2014 and 2016, Clark administered hearing tests—the first for most in that area—and collaborated with a regional center that provides tutoring and preschool services to deaf children. In addition to hiring deaf teachers, the center established classes for deaf and hard-of-hearing learners; distributed sign-language dictionaries; taught Ethiopian Sign Language to deaf and hard-of-hearing children, adults, families, teachers, school administrators, university students and doctors; and developed a deaf entrepreneurship program. The staff invited Clark to establish an audiological assessment and intervention center to complement their educational efforts.

During a 2015 trip to the region, Clark consulted for a program that conducts community screenings, assessments and public education programs, and created a clinical audiology manual. She also helped with teaching parents about hearing-aid use and maintenance for their children. Since 2014, 111 individuals have received audiology services, 48 individuals have received hearing aids and 130 individuals have been examined by Ethiopian ear, nose and throat specialists. According to Clark, the Ethiopian deaf and hard-of-hearing community also served as audiology assistants.

“Many years ago, I mentioned to someone that one of my personal and professional goals was to open up a clinic for deaf and hard-of-hearing people of color,” said Clark. “Little did I know that I would end up doing this for the people in Ethiopia. Volunteering is a new piece of the puzzle for me, and the community in Bahir Dar is so appreciative of those who volunteer. It’s nice to go back every few months and bring a skill that I was trained to do in the form of audiology testing and directly impacting the deaf and hard-of-hearing community there. I really can’t wait to go back to Bahir Dar to see the kids and bond with the deaf adult community. There are similarities between American Sign Language and Ethiopian Sign Language. As a result, we have a language in which we can all understand each other.”

Gerry Buckley, NTID president and RIT vice president and dean, added: “I, along with the NTID community, admire Catherine for her dedication to improving the lives of deaf and hard-of-hearing people in Ethiopia, and we are all grateful for the amazing and impactful work that she does here on campus. We can all learn from her willingness to give of herself.”

Clark plans to return to Ethiopia this summer to continue her work.

Visions Global Empowerment is a global nonprofit organization dedicated to youth education and empowerment and changing patterns of inequality by supporting educational initiatives for youth affected by poverty, conflict and disability.

RIT’s President Destler announces 2017 retirement

RIT President Destler in brown suit and orange striped tie standing in front of podium with RIT seal and microphones.

William W. Destler, Rochester Institute of Technology’s ninth president, announced today (May 9, 2016) that he will retire at the end of the 2016-2017 academic year. Destler’s career in higher education has spanned more than 40 years, with his last decade serving as RIT’s leader.

“It has been a privilege to lead RIT alongside such great students, faculty, staff and alumni,” Destler said. “I credit RIT’s transformation into one of the world’s great universities to them. I am proud to have been along for the ride.”

A nationwide search for a successor will begin immediately.

Under Destler’s leadership, RIT’s enrollment has reached record levels, selectivity and diversity have improved, the value of research awards has skyrocketed and geographic draw continues to widen across the U.S. and overseas.

Destler accomplished his vision of turning RIT into one of the most innovative universities in the world. The Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival has attracted more than 250,000 visitors to campus since it launched in 2008, and RIT can boast about award-winning programs in a host of uncommon disciplines, including packaging science, computational astrophysics, sustainability and interactive games and media.

During his tenure, the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education reclassified RIT as a doctoral university, reflecting the rapid increase in the number of Ph.D. degrees the university grants each year; RIT’s ninth college, the College of Health Sciences and Technology, launched; the Vignelli Center for Design Studies opened; the Golisano Institute for Sustainability created the world’s first Ph.D. program focused on sustainable production; and RIT was among the first universities in the country to create a department dedicated to computing security.

Destler also helped make RIT a greener campus. Since 2008, RIT has opened three LEED certified buildings, including the first building in Monroe County to be certified LEED Platinum by the U.S. Green Building Council and a state-of-the-art green facility for the Golisano Institute for Sustainability. Last year, RIT took another step toward carbon neutrality by opening a massive solar energy farm.

Destler, who became president of RIT on July 1, 2007, and his spouse, Rebecca Johnson, expanded RIT’s relationship with the community. Destler and Johnson created the Rochester City Scholars program, which gives Rochester City School District graduates who meet certain requirements free full tuition to attend RIT. RIT also partnered with Uncommon Schools to develop a charter high school in Rochester.

“Rebecca and I have been proud to make Rochester our home,” Destler said. “This has been an amazing journey for both of us.”

In a memo to the RIT community, Destler added: “These years at RIT have been the most fulfilling of my professional career. To all of you, I offer my heartfelt thanks for your friendship, for your ideas, and for your steadfast service to RIT and our students.”

Christine Whitman, chairman of the RIT Board of Trustees, said Destler has positioned RIT well for the future and that growth will continue as the 2015-2025 strategic plan is deployed.

“RIT is leading the way in preparing our diverse student body for the rewarding jobs of the future while equipping them with the skills to become good citizens of our world,” Whitman said. “Under Dr. Destler’s leadership, every measurable indicator is up. RIT is having high impact and is recognized both nationally and internationally.”

Destler came to RIT from the University of Maryland at College Park, where he spent more than 30 years, rising from the ranks of research associate and assistant professor of electrical engineering to senior vice president for academic affairs and provost.

He is an international authority on high-power microwave sources and advanced accelerator concepts and one of the world’s foremost collectors of antique banjos.

RIT Presidents:

Carleton B. Gibson: 1910-1916

James F. Barker: 1916-1919

Royal B. Farnum: 1919-1921

John A. Randall: 1922-1936

Mark Ellingson: 1936-1969

Paul A. Miller: 1969-1979

M. Richard Rose: 1979-1992

Albert J. Simone: 1992-2007

William W. Destler: 2007-2017

Winners of the Next Big Idea 2-16

Winners of The Next Big Idea 2016

Update

On Wednesday, May 4, judges from ZVRS, sponsor of The Next Big Idea Competition, reviewed projects of the six finalists, asked questions and selected the folloing winners:

$5,000  First Place:      Team Ugyo; Ethan Young and Nicole Dugan

$3,000  Second Place   Team Dalmation; Adam Brodak, Keith Delk and Jefrey Spinale

$2,000  Third Place       Team ANOVA; Musab Al-Smadi, Michelle Chi, Steven McClusky, Radhika Mehra

 

_______________________________________________

Six teams of deaf and hard-of-hearing students from Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf will go head-to-head May 4 during The Next Big Idea competition.

The contest—6:30 to 10 p.m. in NTID’s Panara Theatre, Lyndon Baines Johnson Hall—is an annual event where teams of students combine skills related to their individual majors to create products, technology or businesses that will be useful to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. Teams work with mentors on their projects and compete before judges for cash prizes. The event is sponsored by ZVRS, a video relay company.

This year marks the fifth anniversary of The Next Big Idea.

Student teams are:

  • Anova— a voice-to-text translation system for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals that uses a mini processor and microphone.
  • Asymtotic—incorporates microphones, tactile feedback, pulsation and sound filters that vibrate to engage the wearer in important situations.
  • Dalmation—a software service that focuses on providing jobs, volunteering opportunities, networking and resources for the American Sign Language community.
  • Douror—a service app for deaf and hard-of-hearing patrons that helps with placing food orders.
  • Echo—a speech-therapy mobile app that allows users to practice speech and give instantaneous feedback to speech therapists.
  • Ugyo—an access-technology prototype for deaf-blind people with Usher Syndrome to improve communication with peers during meetings or other interactive settings.

“Every year the excitement around this competition builds,” said Gerry Buckley, NTID president and RIT vice president and dean. “Amazing projects are presented and some of them move quickly into the marketplace. We thank ZVRS for their support, and are grateful for the belief they have in our students.”

The event—free and open to the public—will be fully accessible for both deaf and hearing audiences. For more information, contact ntidoutreach@rit.edu.

RIT/NTID teams to compete for the chance to call their inventions ‘The Next Big Idea’

students presenting in front of large audience with two large display screens behind them.

Six teams of deaf and hard-of-hearing students from Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf will go head-to-head May 4 during The Next Big Idea competition.

The contest—6:30 to 10 p.m. in NTID’s Panara Theatre, Lyndon Baines Johnson Hall—is an annual event where teams of students combine skills related to their individual majors to create products, technology or businesses that will be useful to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. Teams work with mentors on their projects and compete before judges for cash prizes. The event is sponsored by ZVRS, a video relay company.

This year marks the fifth anniversary of The Next Big Idea.

Student teams are:

  • Anova— a voice-to-text translation system for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals that uses a mini processor and microphone.
  • Asymtotic—incorporates microphones, tactile feedback, pulsation and sound filters that vibrate to engage the wearer in important situations.
  • Dalmation—a software service that focuses on providing jobs, volunteering opportunities, networking and resources for the American Sign Language community.
  • Douror—a service app for deaf and hard-of-hearing patrons that helps with placing food orders.
  • Echo—a speech-therapy mobile app that allows users to practice speech and give instantaneous feedback to speech therapists.
  • Ugyo—an access-technology prototype for deaf-blind people with Usher Syndrome to improve communication with peers during meetings or other interactive settings.

“Every year the excitement around this competition builds,” said Gerry Buckley, NTID president and RIT vice president and dean. “Amazing projects are presented and some of them move quickly into the marketplace. We thank ZVRS for their support, and are grateful for the belief they have in our students.”

The event—free and open to the public—will be fully accessible for both deaf and hearing audiences. For more information, contact ntidoutreach@rit.edu.

2016 Leadership Award winners

Leadership Award winners

Elizabeth MacLaren is the recipient of the Joseph T. Ferraro Memorial Scholarship, and Jonathan Roman received the Alfred L. and Ruby C. Davis Leadership Award, which also includes a scholarship. Students must be nominated for these awards, which are given annually in the spring. Award recipients have a passion for their work, are involved in campus life and demonstrate leadership skills in their various activities.