All posts by Kathy Johncox

Kathy is the editor and writer for Parent News. She is a Communications, Marketing & Multimedia Services Specialist at RIT/NTID.

Rochester Fringe Festival to feature acts with RIT/NTID connections

Black center with white and orange letters spelling Rochester Fringe Festival and icons of performers and building outlines.

This year’s Key Bank Rochester Fringe Festival will feature a variety of performances and films with RIT/NTID connections. 

Since the festival’s debut in 2012, deaf and hard-of-hearing performers, as well as captioned performances have been highlighted. Many of those performers have been RIT/NTID students, alumni, faculty and staff.

The 2018 festival features the following:

  • A showing of the film “Baby Driver” featuring RIT/NTID alumnus CJ Jones
  • A one-person comedy show “Becoming Kat” from alumnus Keith Banks
  • Former and current RIT/NTID students in the performance group “Dangerous Signs” in a performance of their original production “Beyond Words”
  • Alumnus and current Performing Arts faculty Fred Michael Beam’s one-man show “Black Deaf Male: Who Am I?”
  • A documentary featuring Performing Arts faculty Thomas Warfield “On the Way to Oz”
  • Performances by RIT/NTID’s traveling troupe, Sunshine 2.0
  • Stand-up comedy by RIT/NTID alumnus Tom Willard

Numerous other festival productions are being ASL interpreted. For more information on interpreted performances, dates, times, locations and tickets, visit the Rochester Fringe Festival website.

RIT named among the nation’s ‘Best 384 Colleges’

Rochester Institute of Technology is considered one of the nation’s best universities for undergraduate education, according to The Princeton Review. The education-services company features RIT in the just-published 2019 edition of its annual book "The Best 384 Colleges." Only about 15 percent of America’s 2,500 four-year colleges and only four colleges outside the U.S. are profiled in the book, which is one of The Princeton Review’s most popular guides.

Students cited RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf as “providing amazing accommodations for deaf and hard-of-hearing students who attend the university, including notetaking, interpreters and CPrint technology.” More.

RIT students learn value of entrepreneurship through Simone Center, Saunders College, NTID joint program

Manufacturing machine with small blue round disks.

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 alumni meet again, and love blossoms

Light skinned male and female hugging wearing winter coats on top of a snowy mountain.

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.”

Study abroad experience highlight for hospitality student

Light skinned male with short brown hair wearing hoodie, tan jacket and backpack in front of a world map.

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 Student Government president encourages community involvement

Light skinned male with brown hair wearing button down shirt and jacket holding a microphone and raising his other hand.

Bobby Moakley, Rochester Institute of Technology’s new Student Government president, thinks every student should feel welcomed at RIT, regardless of what their interests are, where they are from or their beliefs.

That’s one goal Moakley, a fourth-year environmental science major from Boston, and Vice President Corinne Mendieta, a fifth-year mechanical engineering technology major from Olney, Md., have for the coming year. They also plan to make sure students have the tools they need to succeed, including transportation, resources such as the free textbook library and finding funding for projects.

“We want to enhance the culture of creativity and innovation at RIT,” Moakley said. “We want to enable students to create what they came to RIT for, whether it is artwork or a new medicine.”

Other ideas planned for this year include adding two more vans for club and organization use, a bike sharing program in the fall, and a charging station installed in the Student Government office to encourage students to drop by if they need to charge a phone or laptop. Free popcorn will still be available to visitors.

And he wants to have more direct communication with student organizations representing international students, ALANA students, student athletes, LGBTQ students, and deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

“Student Government never had a formal working relationship with them. I’d like to work closely with those representative student organizations,” he said. “They are representatives for entire groups of demographics on campus.”

Two years ago, Moakley first joined Student Government as the cross-registered senator from RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf, and last year served as Student Government vice president.

He’s not worried about representing more than 18,000 students on RIT campuses or giving a talk in front of thousands of people.

“I’ve taken a few public speaking courses, so I know how to maneuver the nerves,” he said.

Born deaf, Moakley received his first cochlear implant and began learning sign language before he was 2. He knows there’s a wide range of communication preferences on campus among the students supported by NTID.

“People should feel comfortable using what communication they prefer, and everyone should respect people’s choices,” he said. “That’s one reason I wanted to come to RIT, there is this open and accepting feeling and a good mixture of deaf and hearing students. Here is a place I could have both of those.”

Moakley is the third deaf student to become RIT’s Student Government president. The first two were Lizzie Sorkin in 2006-2007, and Greg Pollock 2010-2012.

Moakley is uncertain what he’ll do after he graduates. He’d love to become a photojournalist for National Geographic, or work with the United Nations in international affairs.

“People now are unwilling to cooperate with other countries and are letting imaginary boundaries dictate the way they live,” he said. “How do you expect to fix an issue when you don’t talk with the people living next to you? We’re all living on one planet.”

He’s spending his summer working on a fellowship for Project HOPE (Health Outcomes Through Participation, Education and Engagement) and the Genesee Valley Land Trust, helping residents in northeast Rochester make connections to improve their community and finding ways to preserve the environment.

His great uncle was Joe Moakley, a popular Boston Congressman for 28 years who died in 2001 and had several buildings in Boston named after him. Bobby Moakley said he hasn’t ruled out a political career in the future. “I guess there’s a little inspiration from him behind it.”

He said he uses time management effectively to juggle his work, classes, volunteering and Student Government responsibilities. He usually has several meetings a day and stays up late into the night to make sure everything gets done.

“Some days I may be tired and feel fed up with it, but then I realize I love all the work I’ve been doing,” he said. “I couldn’t think of anything better I could be doing with my time.”

Regardless of what lies ahead for him, Moakley wants to make sure he leaves behind “a Student Government that is efficient for students in the future.” He hopes more students decide to become active by joining a committee or attending just one of the meetings the Student Government cabinet holds from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. each Friday in the Bamboo Room, beginning the last week in August. The meetings are open to everyone.

“I hope students feel they can contact Student Government if they have anything on their mind,” Moakley said. “No issue is too small.”

RIT included in ‘Fiske Guide to Colleges’ 2019 edition

Blue and green oval with text that reads:

Rochester Institute of Technology is among the universities included in the 2019 edition of "Fiske Guide to Colleges."

The 2019 edition highlights RIT’s “big focus on connecting students with careers” and says RIT is “strong in anything related to computing, art and design and engineering.” The guide this year also cites RIT’s flexible general education program, which has added more than 80 academic minors within the past few years. More.

More than 3,000 celebrate at RIT/NTID’s 50th anniversary alumni reunion

Three alumni, two younger and one older, together smiling.

More than 3,000 alumni from Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf visited campus June 28 –July 1 to celebrate at the college’s 50th anniversary alumni reunion.

The world’s first and largest technological college for deaf and hard-of-hearing students kicked off a year-long celebration of its 50-year history, which coincides with RIT’s move to the Henrietta, New York, campus.

Festivities began with an alumni golf tournament at Mill Creek Golf Club Thursday, June 28, and an opening ceremony that evening, hosted by alumnus and actor CJ Jones. Jones, who recently starred in the motion picture “Baby Driver” and will be featured in the upcoming James Cameron sequel, “Avatar 2.”

Other events and activities during the reunion weekend included a barbeque dinner, mini-reunions for current and former members of numerous clubs and organizations, including fraternities and sororities, and entertainment by popular alumni such as hip-hop artist Sean Forbes, ASL performance artist Rosa Lee Timm and actors Amber Zion, Kris Pumphrey and Daniel Durant, who most recently starred on Broadway in the revival of “Spring Awakening.”  

In addition to alumni from the college’s ‘pioneer’ class and founding faculty, four of RIT/NTID’s past leaders attended the reunion: founding director D. Robert Frisina; Robert Davila, the college’s first deaf leader; James J. DeCaro; and T. Alan Hurwitz. The college’s current leader, Gerard Buckley, is the first alumnus to lead the institution, which boasts more than 8,000 graduates.

The college’s Dyer Arts Center hosted an exhibition “50 Artists, 50 Years” featuring works by 50 RIT/NTID alumni artists along with the unveiling of a three-paneled mural, known as a triptych, entitled “Together” created by deaf artist Susan Dupor and commissioned for the 50th anniversary. “Together” portrays the flourishing life and history of the National Technical Institute of the Deaf over 50 years.

RIT/NTID Performing Arts and MSM Productions, Ltd. reprised the popular “The Wonderful World of Oz” in the college’s Panara Theatre for four special performances with proceeds to benefit the theater program.

Founded by an act of Congress in 1965, with the first class enrolled in 1968, NTID represents the first concerted effort to educate large numbers of deaf students within a college campus planned principally for hearing students. Among RIT's 18,000 full- and part-time students are nearly 1,100 deaf students from the United States and other countries.

NTID alumni have gone on to work and leadership positions in all areas of business, industry, government and non-profit sectors.

“We are thrilled that so many alumni from near and far joined us to celebrate 50 years of RIT/NTID,” Buckley said. “The sense of Tiger Pride was evident throughout the campus all weekend, and will leave an indelible impression on all of us who were in attendance.”

To commemorate the milestone, a book, “A Shining Beacon: Fifty Years of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf,” edited by RIT/NTID alumnus James K. McCarthy, has been published by RIT Press.

A photo gallery of the weekend's events can be found in here.

RIT/NTID earns international All Children Reading prize

Mel Chua (Co-PI), Stephen Jacobs (Senior Personnel), Tommie Sarchet (Senior Personnel), Kim Kurz (Co-PI) and Chris Kurz (PI)

Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf is one of five organizations from around the world that has earned a $250,000 grant to create literacy content for deaf and hard-of-hearing people.

All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development announced the winners of the first phase of Sign On For Literacy, a global competition to source technology-based innovations that increase access to local sign languages and advance language and literacy outcomes among deaf children. Chosen by a panel of experts from a field of more than 100 applicants from 39 countries, each of the five phase-one winners will receive $25,000 in seed funding to pilot their innovations during the next phase of the competition.

RIT/NTID will develop open source software that enables communities to create literacy content in their country’s local and national sign languages to be shared via an open-content digital library of folktales. These digital libraries will be viewable from any web browser, can be hosted locally and remixed by individuals (including children) with simple text and video editing tools.

The RIT/NTID team, which includes Christopher Kurz, Mel Chua, Kim Brown Kurz, Tommie Sarchet and Stephen Jacobs, collaborated with the Philippine Federation of the Deaf and De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde to develop their proposal and will work together to bring folktales and sign language to deaf and hard-of-hearing Philippine children.

“Deaf and hard-of-hearing children around the world have limited access to literacy and deaf adults who use indigenous sign languages,” Christopher Kurz, one of the project leaders, said. “Our team’s innovation project includes folders of indigenous sign languages and folktales, so deaf children can learn the sign languages and read the stories with sign language support.

“We are firm believers in using technology to bridge indigenous sign languages to written languages, so deaf children can enjoy reading, thus broadening their access to language and learning.”

Launched in 2011 by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), World Vision and the Australian Government, All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development is a series of competitions that leverages science and technology to source, test, and disseminate scalable solutions to improve literacy skills of early grade learners in developing countries.

Rochester Institute of Technology is internationally recognized as a leader in computing, engineering, imaging technology, fine and applied arts, and for providing unparalleled support services for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. RIT is home to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf.

Established by the U.S. Congress in 1965, the National Technical Institute for the Deaf is the first and largest technological college in the world for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. NTID offers associate degree programs for deaf and hard-of-hearing students and provides support and access services for deaf and hard-of-hearing students who study in the other eight colleges of RIT. NTID also offers a bachelor’s degree program in sign language interpreting and a master’s degree program in secondary education for individuals interested in teaching deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Deaf and hard-of-hearing students come from all over the United States and around the world to take advantage of the opportunities available to them at RIT/NTID.

RIT/NTID exhibits highlight 50 years of deaf art and history

artwork with a woman's face, butterflies, clocks, grid, colored balls, flowers and more.

As part of its 50th anniversary activities, Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf will host a “50 Artists 50 Years” exhibition in the college’s Dyer Arts Center. The exhibition opened June 22 and runs through Oct. 20, with an artists’ reception 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19.

NTID, the world’s first and largest technological college for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, has graduated many talented artists throughout its 50-year history. The exhibition showcases 50 alumni artists, displaying more than 100 works of art, including mediums such as painting, photography, mixed media, wood, textile, watercolors and more. 

Works by well-known artists such as the late Chuck Baird, along with local artists Laural Hartman and many others are included in the exhibition.

Along with the “50 Artists 50 Years” exhibition, the center will host an NTID's History exhibition in the Milton H. and Ray B. Ohringher Gallery, displaying a variety of memorabilia and highlighting the contributions made by RIT/NTID alumni, faculty, staff and students.

On Friday, June 29, as part of 50th anniversary reunion festivities, a triptych—or three-paneled work—by deaf artist Susan Dupor will be unveiled. NTID commissioned Dupor, who attended the college, to create this triptych to mark the college’s 50th anniversary.  

According to Dupor, the piece, entitled “Together,” visualizes NTID’s 50-year journey.

“‘Together’ honors the people of our past who have aspired to create a better future for us; we now take the time to look back and give appreciation and gratitude for their efforts,” Dupor said.

“Together” portrays the flourishing life and history of the National Technical Institute of the Deaf over 50 years. A vital and complex place that brings people together. In the painting, 50 people are gathered together on the Frisina Quad, which is central to NTID. Surrounded by the Dining Commons, Lyndon Baines Johnson Hall and Tower A, figures from five decades are juxtaposed by a color scheme and fashion trends of their eras.

“NTID is a palette of people from all walks of life, which makes it an extraordinarily global community,” Dupor said. “Figures are conversing in sign language; each signed word has a special connection and meaning representing NTID. The figures symbolize everyday people who elicit long-lost memories of people we have known in the past who have been buried in the deepest recesses of our minds.”