See a video yearbook with highlights from RIT’s 2014–2015 academic year.
As graduating students Friday packed up to head home or to start new chapters in their careers, many paused one last time to look back on their college years and reflect on their achievements.
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 22.
The following day, students in NTID associate, bachelor’s and master’s degree programs received their diplomas at a ceremony at the Gene Polisseni Center. Retiring chairperson of the Visual Communication Studies Department, Kenneth Hoffmann, was the Mace bearer, and graduate Franly Ulerio Nunez was the student delegate. In total, 305 deaf and hard-of-hearing students earned degrees through NTID and the other eight colleges of RIT.
“Bring the spirit of RIT/NTID into the world,” said NTID President Gerry Buckley. “Stay committed to improving the world throughout your lives.
The graduates who received awards are:
- Franly Ulerio Nunez, a laboratory science technology major from New York, N.Y., received the Academic Achievement Award for students earning an associate degree.
- Adrian Kelly, an ASL-English interpreting major from Middletown N.Y., received the Academic Achievement Award for students earning a bachelor’s degree.
- Carly Leannah, from Green Bay, Wis., and Chelsea Powers, from Massapequa, N.Y., both Master of Science program in Secondary Education of Students who are Deaf of Hard of Hearing majors, received the Academic Achievement Award for students earning a master’s degree.
- Mason Chronister, an administrative support technology major from Red Lion, Pa., and Christine Gerard, an applied computer technology major from Bloomfield Hills, Mich., received the Outstanding Graduate Award for students earning associate’s degrees.
- Kyle Murbach, a computing security major from Wheaton, Ill., received the Outstanding Graduate Award for students earning a bachelor’s degree.
- Carly Leannah, a Master of Science program in Secondary Education of Students who are Deaf of Hard of Hearing major from Green Bay, Wis., received the Outstanding Graduate Award for students earning a master’s degree.
- Kayla Stanley, an ASL-English interpreting major from Bellport, N.Y., received the Outstanding Graduate Award for interpreting students earning a bachelor’s degree.
- Franly Ulerio Nunez, a laboratory science technology major from New York, N.Y., is the 2015 NTID college delegate for undergraduate students.
Other students who had recent achievements include:
Nathan Scott, an applied arts and sciences major from Schenectady, N.Y., Natalie Snyder, a biomedical sciences major from Rockville, Md., Brett Morris, a game design and development major from Farmington, Conn., Rachel Green, an ASL-English interpretation major from Springfield, Mass., Catherine Lambe, an ASL-English interpreting major from Marcy, N.Y., and Kyle Murbach, a computing security major from Wheaton, Ill., were named Outstanding Undergraduate Scholars.
Annette Tavernese, a Master of Science in Secondary Education student from Brick, New Jersey, took home the top prize at the Emerging Researchers National Conference in STEM, in Washington, D.C., earlier this year. Her presentation about the challenges faced by deaf and hard-of-hearing students pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields earned her top points in the science and math education graduate student category.
In her presentation and throughout her supporting research, Tavernese cited social isolation as a main concern of these students, but provided ways that the challenges could be overcome.
“The Deaf STEM Community Alliance is addressing social isolation by creating a model virtual (online) academic community for deaf and hard-of-hearing students in science, technology, engineering and math majors, their faculty, mentors and staff,” explained Tavernese.
Tavernese’s research—which includes identifying the ideal time of day for STEM students’ online social interaction and which STEM topics generate the most interaction—is being conducted through a collaborative effort between RIT and other universities, including Camden County College and Cornell University, as well as with deaf and hard-of-hearing STEM professionals across the United States. The research project is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
“Annette understands how important it is for students who are deaf or hard of hearing to understand science, technology, engineering and math concepts and to share that knowledge with others,” said Lisa Elliot, senior research scientist, principal investigator for the Deaf STEM Community Alliance and an NTID faculty member. “I was so proud to see her bring her enthusiasm about our project at the national conference, and I know that other attendees learned a great deal from her presentation.”
The conference was co-sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Providing experiential learning opportunities and establishing strong connections with his students are two contributors to Christopher Kurz’s success in the classroom. His triumphs are the result of thought-provoking and practical applications of his lessons and his ability to adapt his teaching style and philosophy to meet the changing needs of his diverse students.
Kurz, an associate professor in NTID’s secondary education of students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing master’s program and a 1995 graduate of RIT’s applied mathematics program in the College of Science, is one of this year’s recipients of the Eisenhart Award for Outstanding Teaching. Kurz helps develop the talents of his students who will soon re-enter classrooms around the world in a different capacity — as educators of deaf and hard-of-hearing secondary students.
“My inspiration comes from seeing my students improve their skills, grow, become professionals,” he said. “I have also learned to connect deeper with my students and learn more about where they come from, what they bring to the table. My students and I — we have a mutually beneficial relationship.”
Kurz is also known for making his lessons come alive. For several years, he has taught deaf history courses in which students examine artifacts like school diaries written by deaf students in the 19th century, war-era dollar bills that were published by a school for the deaf during wartime, and antiquated instructional materials to catch a glimpse into what life was like for deaf people over the past 400 years. He also enlists a technique called “Theatre in Education,” where actors dressed as Edward Gallaudet, Alexander Graham Bell and other famous pioneers in deaf history entertain and educate through debates designed to spark conversations about deaf life and issues in deaf education from decades past. Kurz’s students also develop partnerships and curricular and historical research projects alongside Rochester School for the Deaf that, accordingly to Kurz, is rich in local deaf history.
“I want to be a driving force in raising the bar for students in the field of deaf education,” he added. “I’m a product of deaf education, so it’s important for me to be a catalyst in educating and preparing the next generation of teachers of the deaf.”
Mason Chronister carefully files away colorful memories of people he has met, places he has traveled, unforgettable experiences he’s had. As he faces his bright future, Chronister is anticipating making memories in a new way as he copes with the gradual loss of his vision.
Chronister, who will soon earn his associate in applied science degree in administrative support technology from RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf, has Usher Syndrome, a rare genetic condition resulting in a combination of hearing loss and slow-developing visual impairment that causes night blindness, loss of peripheral vision, and ultimately, complete vision loss. About four people in every 100,000 are diagnosed with the incurable condition.
“I was born deaf to hearing parents and attended mainstream schools,” said Chronister, from Red Lion, Pa. “I didn’t start noticing the effects of Usher Syndrome until I was about 14 years old. As time has gone on, it’s gotten worse. Today, I’m not able to see at night and my peripheral vision is so limited that I can’t see objects in my walking path. Sometimes I look clumsy because my balance has been affected. But despite all of my challenges, I’ve always known that I can accomplish anything—including realizing my dream of one day working for the government.”
In many ways, Chronister is not unlike so many other successful RIT graduates. He currently carries a 3.34 GPA and is a certified Microsoft specialist in Word, Excel, Access and PowerPoint, and he plans to enter the workforce just weeks after crossing the commencement stage. At the end of May, he will use his skills as an administrative professional with the Defense Logistics Agency, a branch of the U.S. Department of Defense located about an hour away from his home in Pennsylvania. In fact, this is Chronister’s second “tour of duty” with the agency. A successful co-op assignment last year helped secure permanent employment.
“I’ve always been fascinated by government—how it operates and how it impacts people’s lives,” he said. “Although I’m deaf and have limited vision, I’m able to work with my supervisor and co-workers to expertly execute my job, which includes documenting sensitive military information.”
Further filling his mental “memory book,” Chronister was the first RIT student with Usher Syndrome to study abroad in Italy, taking in the sights of Rome, Florence, Vatican City and Siena. He has also traveled extensively throughout the United States, visiting one of his favorite spots, San Francisco, where he actually hugged a part of the Golden Gate Bridge.
“Yes, I hugged it,” he laughed. “And I hugged a column in the Roman Colosseum, too. When I see something famous, it’s what I do. It’s like it helps me commit it to memory and it literally helps put me in touch with these fascinating objects.”
Back at NTID, Chronister has performed small roles in theatrical productions including Damn Yankees! and Hairspray.
“It’s challenging for me to participate in theater because of the dramatic lighting and the many stage props in my path,” he said. “It’s a true team effort—from our director to the other deaf and hearing actors and interpreters—to be sure that everything comes together and works out for me. I saw another student with Usher Syndrome participate in the theater, and that really inspired me. And my participation seems to have inspired others to join in,” he said.
Those who know Chronister well say that he is destined to live a great life.
“Mason is awesomely intriguing,” said Jonathan Holmes, his employment adviser at NTID. “He is unafraid to step into vulnerability and embrace his own authenticity. Being around him is truly a breath of fresh air and inspires me to be better in my work and in life. He brings light to everyone that he comes into contact with and has a very keen understanding of life. Mason is one of the few individuals I have ever encountered that has found the secret of living an honest and fulfilling life at such a young age.”
“No one knows what the future holds,” Chronister adds. “Every day they are making strides in the medical field and I continue to keep my strong faith. With the support of my family and friends, I refuse to let my loss of vision and hearing prevent me from doing everything I want to do. I refuse to set up barriers for my own success.”
A collaboration between Steven Forney, an alumnus working as a research associate at University of Alabama at Huntsville and Gary Behm, one of his former professors at RIT resulted in Behm’s Manufacturing Processes class of RIT/NTID engineering students experiencing an exciting real-world work experience.
Steven Forney, began a 3D CAD venture with the students to benefit an on-going project he has developed—taking a drone with him to demonstrate the engineering technology at schools and other colleges. Forney needed to assemble and disassemble the drone each time he traveled with it—a tedious process. Behm saw an opportunity for his class to work with Forney as an actual customer, on an engineering project. The expected outcome was that the drone could be changed from a ready-to-fly mode to a travel-accessible mode in a significantly less amount of time than currently was required.
Behm and Forney set up the project so that Forney and the students could meet via Skype. There, Forney outlined his real-world work requirements—writing a technical document, understanding the customer’s requirements, and understanding the scope of the project. Each team sketched three different designs relating to a travel-friendly retractable and/or quick disconnect system for the drone. After Forney’s approval on one design for each team, the students began sketching with the 3D computer aided drafting technology and created actual plastic parts using the 3D printer in the Department of Engineering Studies for the drone that would make it more easily transportable for Forney. Wendy Dannels, who teaches the 3D CAD course, supported the students with their 3D drawings.
“Each team will deliver their prototype adaptor, engineering documents and poster at the semester’s end,” says Behm.
Forney is pleased with the work on a solution to his travel woes. “Also, I was happy that the student teams were excited about the project and excited that they got to keep their 3D printed parts,” says Forney. He will use the students’ prototype solutions to assist him in building a final adapter for his drone.
Deaf and hard-of-hearing girls and boys who are interested in science, technology, engineering and math and entering 7th, 8th or 9th grades in September can attend “TechGirlz” or “TechBoyz” summer camps at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf, July 25‑30.
TechBoyz and TechGirlz camps are designed to help students learn about and consider careers in science and technology. Through hands-on activities, campers will explore chemistry, computers, engineering and science, learn to build their own computer, and command a simulated mission to Mars. They also will meet other students with similar interests and participate in social activities.
Camp classes—held in English and in sign language—are certified by the New York State Department of Health and incorporate National Science Education standards.
The cost for the weeklong camp is $700 and includes tuition, housing in a campus residence hall, and meals and snacks. Limited scholarships are available based on financial need. Parents are invited to opening and closing activities.
For more information or an application, go to www.rit.edu/NTID/TechGirlzNR or http://www.rit.edu/NTID/TechBoyzNR, or call 585-475-7695 (voice), 585-286-4555 (videophone) or email TechGirls@ntid.rit.edu or TechBoyz@ntid.rit.edu.
Greyson Watkins knew that he and his team had the makings of a revolutionary idea that would enhance life for deaf and hard-of-hearing homeowners. To prove it, the all-student team entered their project—Hz Innovations—in “The Next Big Idea” competition at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf—and walked away with the $5,000 grand prize.
The team devised a cutting-edge wireless sound recognition system for deaf and hard-of-hearing homeowners. Sound-capturing units plugged into outlets throughout the home are tied into a single central processing unit, also in the home. When a doorbell rings, smoke alarm chimes or water faucet drips, for example, the unit notifies the homeowner via smart phone, smart watch, tablet or laptop. Virtually any sound deemed important to the homeowner can be recorded and “memorized” by the system during installation.
“I moved into a house and I started noticing all of the important things I was missing,” said Watkins, a fourth-year computer security student from Durham, N.C. “I missed the sounds of my friends knocking on my front door; my washer and dryer are in the basement and I wouldn’t be able to hear the buzzing of the dryer; my food would burn because I would leave the oven on. There are a lot of people out there, including senior citizens, who have similar issues. I just came up with the idea and it took off.”
The one-of-a-kind product—which the team has decided will retail for about $150—will soon be marketed to the deaf community throughout the United States.
Joining Watkins on the team are Keith Delk, third-year new media design student from Benchmark, Ill.; Jason Lee, fifth-year electrical/mechanical engineering technology student from Brunswick, N.J.; Nick Lamb, third-year electrical engineering student from Watertown, N.Y.; Zack Baltzer, third-year electrical engineering student from Rochester, N.Y.; and Chrystal Schlenker, second-year ASL/English interpreting student from Rochester, N.Y.
“Deaf people tend to have to just keep buying items to accommodate their needs—a device for the baby monitor, another one for the doorbell, and so on. This one system is the only thing they need.”
Hz Innovations has been accepted into RIT’s Saunders Summer Start-up Program, which is aimed at assisting entrepreneurs and innovators in developing their business concepts to a point where they are ready to begin to seek angel investment. The team hopes the finalized product will be ready at the end of the summer.
Other winners of The Next Big Idea were:
- Second place: Team Imhotep II created a website and DVD that allows people who are interested in developing American Sign Language skills to learn style characteristics including body shifts and facial expressions. The team, which won $3,000, includes students Eric Epstein (software engineering, Tucson, Ariz.), Haley Leet (business, Jeffersonville, Ind.), Sarah Margolis-Greenbaum (management information systems, Indianapolis, Ind.) and Perseus McDaniel (graphic design, Renton, Wash.).
- Third place: 3015 plans to develop software that allows deaf and hard-of-hearing people with cochlear implants to map, or program to the specifications and needs of the user, remotely without having to see an audiologist. The team, which won $2,000, includes students Christopher Fenn (industrial and systems engineering from Pittsburgh, Pa.), Melissa Keomoungkhoun (advertising/public relations from Plano, Texas) and Jonathan Pons (biomedical engineering from Ballwin, Mo.).
The Next Big Idea is an annual competition, sponsored by ZVRS, in which cross-disciplinary teams of deaf and hard-of-hearing students work together to create products, technology or businesses that will be useful to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.
A story about RIT/NTID alumnus Steven Forney appeared on WHNT-TV in Huntsville, Alabama. More
RIT/NTID student Skip Flanagan, a Pyschology major from Framingham, Massachusetts, became the fourth player in RIT men’s baseball history to reach 100 career RBIs. Flangan plays first base. More.